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Medical Profile: Biology buff joins staff at Tennessee Heart

Liz Engel Clark
Friday, Mar 2, 2012


Dr. Thomas Little.

It seems only right that someone like Dr. Thomas Little would end up in the medical field - as enthusiastic about biology and genetics as he was at a young age. But how Little wound up in cardiology was a little different of a scenario: It took last minute switch in medical school, and now, more than 30 years later, the staff at – and patients of – Tennessee Heart are thankful for that.

Little is the most recent addition to that Cookeville cardiology group, whose office is located on West Fourth Street. And while the New Jersey native, and until recently, Pennsylvania resident, is still settling into Cookeville, it’s not his first rodeo in Tennessee.

Early indications

Little said he knew early on that he wanted to be a physician: while in high school, as a matter of fact. “I was interested in biology,” he said, “and to me, medicine was kind of the pinnacle of biology.”

He received his undergraduate degree in genetics from McGill University in Montreal. He received his masters, also in genetics, from Rutgers in New Jersey, his home state, and then headed to the Medical College of Georgia, where he graduated in 1981.

While in medical school, he thought oncology, a branch of medicine that deals with cancer, was his calling. He researched leukemia and, while a resident, was actively applying for hematology training positions when he came to the realization that he “enjoyed taking care of patients in the ICU and was interested in heart failure and heart disease.” He switched fields.

“It was late,” Little admitted. “I did a year of research before starting my cardiology fellowship. After I finished my cardiology training, I actually practiced in Chattanooga.”

Little soon after moved his young family from Tennessee back North to be closer to family. But, in recent years, the health care climate there has changed so drastically, he said, making it harder and harder for private physicians, and prompting his decision to move here.

“It’s very difficult,” he said. “The government is paying private physicians a lot less than they used to. Hospitals are buying up doctor’s practices. There were multiple cardiology groups (in Pennsylvania), multiple hospitals that were buying up cardiology groups. The hospitals competed against each other. The cardiology groups competed against each other.

“Here, it’s just one group and one hospital, and it’s more collaborative. We work together,” he continued. “Since our kids are grown, we thought it would be a better opportunity. It’s much better.”

Outside of work, Little and his wife Ann, a pediatric nurse practitioner, have three kids – a daughter in graduate school at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, a son at Syracuse and another boy who is about to graduate high school and is Penn State bound.

He enjoys the outdoors, he says – camping, backpacking and canoeing. He helped with Boy Scouts before moving to Cookeville. He says he looks forward to fishing again in his free time.

He also played quite a bit of rugby back in the day and is hoping to find a way to get involved in the sport again.

“This is the friendliest place I’ve ever been in my life,” he said. “Everyone at the hospital has been so cordial, but even people at the restaurants and shops are very welcoming. Everybody just has a wonderful demeanor. They’re very friendly. The practice has been great. This is a wonderful group of people. The docs are all very skilled at cardiology.”

As far as his patients, Little practices most aspects of cardiology, but takes a personal interest in patients with peripheral arterial disease, a disease in which plaque builds up in the arteries. He performs catherizations, stents and carotid stents, and can insert pacemakers, defibrillators and more.

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Dr. Thomas Little is a physician at Tennessee Heart, located at 228 W. Fourth St., Cookeville. He can be reached at (931) 372-0405 or (888) 391-0048.


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