If you know only one thing about Dr. Paul Fischer, it would have to be that he has a natural ability to put people at ease. He has a quick and genuine smile, is a good listener, and has a relaxed, unhurried manner. These traits are no doubt a product of his experiences.
One of the first life lessons Dr. Fischer learned was to be adaptable. As a child, Paul, his four brothers and sisters, two dogs, three cats, and his mother drove across the country towing a U-Haul trailer every 12 months to meet up with his father, a career Navy man, at various ports, where they would live until his ship docked again at a different port. Until high school, Paul attended a different school every year. At the time, it seemed normal. I didnt realize until later that other kids did not move every year, he recalls.
When his father retired and the family settled in Connecticut, Paul finished high school and set off for Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, a small Quaker school in the Midwest, where his mother hoped he would escape the hippie movement brewing in the northeast. At Earlham, Paul majored in chemistry and graduated at the top of his class before returning to Connecticut for medical school.
The Fischer Family at Old Faithful
Paul, Asma, Tariq, and Shireen
While at the University of Connecticut, he met Asma Qureshi, a pediatric resident from Pakistan. They soon married but lived apart for the first 6 months while she completed her residency in pediatrics in NYC. Their first move together was to North Carolina, where they settled in Greensboro, about halfway between Bowman Gray, where Asma did a pediatric neurology fellowship, and Chapel Hill, where Paul was a family medicine resident at the University of North Carolina.
Dr. Fischers first practice site after his residency was in Weeping Water, Nebraska, where he fulfilled a 2-year commitment to the National Health Service Corps. He remembers it as quite similar to the fictitious town of Cicely, Alaska, on the television show Northern Exposure. As with Joel Fleishman in Cicely, Dr. Fischer was the only physician in the county and, for the first time, a very public figure. I learned what its like to walk down the street and have everyone know you, he says. While they were living in Nebraska, the Fischers first child, Shireen, was born in Omaha.
From the harsh Nebraska winters, the Fischers moved to Augusta, where Paul joined the Department of Family Medicine at the Medical College of Georgia. Soon after, the Fischer family grew with the arrival of a son, Tariq, in 1985.
While at MCG, Dr. Fischer conducted research and wrote the first text on office laboratory testing. He served as editor of The Journal of Family Practice, an original research medical journal, and conducted the now-famous research on the effect of cigarette advertising on children, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
This research created a firestorm of controversy about the appropriateness of cigarette advertising and thrust Dr. Fischer into the national spotlight. The most notable among the cigarette advertising highlighted in the study was the campaign for Camel cigarettes. The study became known as the Joe Camel study, based on the cartoon character depicted in Camel ads.
Dr. Fischers idea for the study came from a remark made by his son, Tariq, at age 2 1/2. Even though no one in the family smoked, Tariq declared, When I grow up, I want to drive fast cars and smoke cigarettes. That suggested to Dr. Fischer that cigarette ads were a powerful influence, especially on the very young. The study eventually led to an agreement between the state attorneys general and tobacco companies limiting such advertising.
In 1993, Dr. Fischer left MCG and began interviewing around the country for departmental chair positions. It wasnt until his daughter, about age 10 at the time, suggested to him that he could move and come back to Augusta on weekends to visit the family, that he realized Augusta had become their home. With the blessing of his family, Dr. Fischer decided to stay in Augusta and open a family medicine private practice.
Since there was no large family medicine group in the area, the timing was perfect. One of Dr. Fischers early concerns in his transition from academics to private practice was that he would miss teaching. I left academics for private practice but found that I was teaching even more in my practice than I had at MCG, he says. The difference was that, at the Center for Primary Care, he was teaching patients rather than students.
Dr. Fischer has found his niche in private practice, where he uses his knowledge of science and medicine to improve his patients health. In an editorial he recently penned for an issue of The Journal of Family Practice, he points to the need for physicians to carefully balance the science of medicine with the art of medicine, realizing the limitations of the science and the power of the art. It is easy for Dr. Fischers patients to see that he practices what he teaches.