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A doctor reflects on the joy of medicine

Sunday, September 09, 2018

WHEN Horace Fisher enrolled in the medical faculty of The University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona in 1962, a passion for medicine was already coursing through his veins.

From an early age Fisher had a burning interest in medicine that was ignited by his interactions with his mentor and family doctor, Dr Horace Henriques. It was no surprise to anyone, therefore, that in 1968 he graduated along with 39 other doctors, becoming the first cohort to receive the UWI MBBS degree.

“It was a big deal at the time. It was the first time UWI was issuing a degree that was not in conjunction with the University of London,” Dr Fisher recalled.

Based on his performance, the new graduate got the opportunity to work at the University Health Service after completing his internship. The year-long experience left an indelible mark on the young doctor, influencing his switch to general practice.

“When I returned to the faculty of medical sciences to do my specialisation in surgery, I realized I wanted to do general practice instead as it would allow me to have more interactions with patients. That is the true joy of medicine for me. I get great satisfaction when a patient says they feel better just from the visit, and you feel like you have helped someone and contributed to their wellness,” said Dr Fisher.

After considering several offers, he accepted an invitation to be an associate with the firm Swaby and Shoucair, which later joined with another group of doctors to form the Newport Medical Group with offices at Oxford Medical Centre and Newport Medical Clinic, where he still works as a general practitioner.

In subsequent years, having developed an interest in occupational health, Dr Fisher completed certification from the American College of Occupation and Environmental Medicine and a medical review officer course in Chile in 1993. He is also certified in Hearing Conservation.

In 1995 he attended an intensive workshop in Occupational Health and Safety in Holland at the end of which he presented a paper entitled 'How to Establish an Occupational Health Programme in a Manufacturing Company', which was well received.

“This was destiny as this document was the basis for the development of the Occupational Health (OH) unit at Red Stripe. Services like this in companies such as Red Stripe are extremely important, because the healthier the workforce, the more productive they will be and so the company benefits,” explained Dr Fisher, who recalled that in 1999, the company reached out to him to make some urgent changes.

In February of that year, an internal audit had given the beer company a 33 per cent rating for OH, way below desired levels. Dr Fisher's task was to transform what was a mere clinic to a fully developed OH programme, a feat which he achieved in less than a year.

“By December the rating moved to more than 90 per cent. With the full support of the management and staff, the OH unit continued to do well and based on audits, was later rated as the best OH programme in the entire global company of which Red Stripe was a part,” Fisher explained.

His work entails risk assessment of the entire plant as well as grading the hazards and the effects they can potentially have on workers. Hazards that cannot be eliminated are minimised to reduce harmful effects on people and the appropriate personal protective equipment recommended. Additionally, all staff exposed to hazards are tested regularly to ensure their exposure in the plant does not adversely affect them.

The department has also implemented programmes covering occupational health protection and promotion, which involves a focus on lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise that promote wellness with a special emphasis on hypertension, diabetes and obesity.

“Since the implementation of these programmes the staff have become more aware of proper lifestyle choices,” said Dr Fisher. “I work on site once per week and I maintain good relations with the staff, especially the nurses who make my job much easier. From being at Red Stripe I've proven that staff morale is boosted when workers see their employer investing in their health and wellness.”

Outside of his love for medicine, Fisher is an avid sportsman. During his high school years at Munro College, Fisher captained the football and field hockey teams and played cricket as well. During his UWI days, he also played football, water polo and hockey, which he continued at the national level.

“Sports is a very important part of my life and I still play squash twice weekly.”

A past president of the Jamaica Amateur Swimming Association, he managed the Jamaica Olympic swim team to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Fisher is also the longest-serving chairman of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) of Kingston.

“One of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences was the successful oversight and management of the rebuilding of the Kingston YMCA and the establishment of an endowment fund when the building was completely destroyed by fire.”

Over the years, Fisher has received several awards for voluntary service in medicine, YMCA and swimming.

Dr Fisher and his fellow medical alumni will celebrate their 50th anniversary this year as graduates from the UWI's faculty of medical sciences. He is proud of his achievements and all the work he has accomplished in his career. The first UWI medical cohort will celebrate in conjunction with the university in October.