Lisa Marii Cookingham, M.D.
Tell us About Yourself
I grew up in a military family and the majority of my childhood years were spent living around the country and also overseas. Before practicing medicine, I was in the fine arts industry appearing in theatre and stage work in Chicago, NY, Boston, etc. In 1999, I moved to Phoenix, where my parents had retired, to go back to school. A few months after I got there, my father had a brain aneurysm and was hospitalized for a few months. It was the first time I had someone so close to me experiencing a serious medical issue. Through that experience, I knew that I wanted to become a physician, so that I could impact people’s lives the way the neurosurgeon impacted mine.
While completing my undergraduate degree at Arizona State University, I worked in multiple medical and insurance administration offices in a variety of positions such as data entry, billing, client liaisons, physician contracting and credentialing. I completed my medical degree at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, and then completed my Ob/Gyn residency at Maricopa Medical Center and St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. An interesting note, while in residency I did a research rotation at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, where I met Dr. Karenne Fru, who is now my colleague here at PREG/Columbia. We’ve remained close friends ever since.
I then completed my fellowship in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics. During my time there I met my husband, Greg. After fellowship, we moved to Northern California where I served as an associate physician at Kaiser Permanente (2015-2020), providing reproductive health care to women of all ages. I also established a fertility preservation program for both female and male cancer patients and served as its director. That is one of the most rewarding aspects of my career as a reproductive endocrinologist – helping people preserve the opportunity to have their own genetic children once they beat their cancer diagnosis.
And One of Your Passions is Medical Education, Right?
Yes! While in Northern California, I started a new rotation for the Ob/Gyn residency program at the University of California – Davis. I served as the director of the rotation and earned multiple awards for teaching and resident support. I taught the residents all about what I do as a reproductive endocrinologist – from helping couples get pregnant, to performing minimally invasive surgery, to correcting congenital abnormalities in pediatric and adolescent girls. I am still very passionate about medical education and also spend a great deal of time educating my patients as well. I firmly believe that the more my patients know about their diagnosis, the more comfortable they will feel about their treatment.
What Drove You to Reproductive Endocrinology?
As a resident, I took care of a young woman in her early 20’s that was newly married and ready to start her family. She had a long history of irregular periods and had always been told that she had a condition called PCOS. In talking with her, I found out that she had actually undergone chemotherapy for a kidney-related disease during her teenage years. After evaluating her, we found that she didn’t have PCOS – she actually had premature ovarian failure. Her ovaries were essentially menopausal from the chemotherapy she had been exposed to. She was understandably devastated and had no idea that this could be a consequence of the treatment she received. It was eye-opening to me because she was never counseled about the risk of early menopause or infertility due to chemotherapy. It was heartbreaking and I felt helpless as her doctor. It really spoke to me about the importance of educating patients about their available options, so they can make an informed decision about their future family and fertility.
What Led You to PREG?
I actually interviewed for a position at PREG several years ago, but the timing just wasn’t right. I remained impressed, though, with the organization, their culture, and their approach to patient care. This past year, I reached out to the group again, as PREG had an opening in their Columbia center, and everything just fell into place. We wanted to be closer to my sister and her family in Georgia, so it was a win-win for us. Since then, my parents have also relocated to Georgia, so now we’re all just a short drive from each other.
Why is PREG Special?
While working in corporate medicine, I became frustrated with the limitations of my practice. Although their model for some aspects of healthcare was excellent, I felt restrained in what I could and couldn’t do within the system. I also found that it was difficult to practice medicine from an individualized perspective and take care of patients the way that made the most sense to me. Joining PREG has allowed me to provide the kind of care that I have always wanted to. It’s been so refreshing to be around a group of medical professionals with a shared philosophy and approach to patient care. I love the diverse backgrounds of the patients I serve and the friendliness of the South!
What Do You Think Is the Most Critical Characteristic in Your Specialty?
I think one of the most critical things to be aware of in my specialty is how stressful, terrifying, and anxiety-provoking this process can be for our patients. Many of them don’t even tell their family and friends about seeking care because of the stigma attached to infertility, as well as the often-times unrealistic pressures family members unconsciously impose on them. One of the things I love most about my specialty is that it is not just about the medical aspects of their care – it’s medicine, surgery, psychology, mental health, and more. Every aspect of their life is impacted by a diagnosis of infertility. And if we are doing the best for our patients, we can’t ever forget that.
About Dr. Cookingham
Dr. Cookingham and her husband, Greg, a professional photographer, live in the Columbia area with their two daughters and two Boston Terriers, 14 year-old Twiggy and their foster failure rescue Boston-Pekinese mix, Joey. They enjoy family time on Lake Murray and cooking vegan meals together. Dr. Cookingham has recently discovered Peloton cycling and is well on her way to becoming addicted to it. She’s not ruling out a return to community theatre when the time is right. She also promises she’s learning how to say “y’all’” and “hey” instead of “you guys” and “hi.”
PREG has centers in Greenville, Spartanburg, Asheville, Columbia and the Lowcountry where we offer highly personalized fertility care and management. Dr. Cookingham sees patients in our Columbia center. For more information on your reproductive options contact us today at 866.725.7734, or online at www.pregonline.com/contact-us.php
Dr. Lisa Cookingham, M.D.
PREG, Columbia, SC