Saturday, June 30, 2001

UC's chief of surgery leaves today

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For 23 years, almost every surgeon in Greater Cincinnati and nearly every patient who had an operation at University Hospital has felt the influence of Dr. Josef Fischer.

        Dr. Fischer resigns today as chairman of the department of surgery at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, a post he has held since 1978. In September, he will move to Boston to become chief of surgery at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, one of several teaching hospitals affiliated with Harvard.

        “It is hard to enumerate all the things Dr. Fischer has done in Cincinnati. He has had a great influence on the medical school and his students have gone all over the country,” said Dr. John Tew, a nationally prominent Cincinnati neurosurgeon whose connections to Dr. Fischer reach back to the late 1960s.

        Dr. Fischer, 64, is an internationally acclaimed surgeon who built the UC surgery department from a 10-member faculty into one of the crown jewels of the UC College of Medicine with more than 60 faculty members and a national reputation as a top surgical training site.

        Thousands of patients have benefitted from his expertise in gastrointestinal surgery. Hundreds of surgical residents he trained have gone on to important posts throughout the United States.

        In the 1980s, Dr. Fischer played a major leadership role in converting the once city-owned General Hospital into the academic medical center now called University Hospital.

        And as a long-time, high-ranking member of the American College of Surgeons, Dr. Fischer has influenced surgeons nationwide, from taking stands on national health policy to debating how much surgeons should be paid.

        As recently as this year, as a trustee of the Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati, Dr. Fischer has influenced the course of a health system that employs more than 13,000 people and collects revenue of about $1 billion a year.

        The Hyde Park resident also has been an influential force in the classical music scene, including serving since the early 1980s as a trustee of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra.

        “I think we've done pretty well here,” Dr. Fischer said in a recent interview with the Enquirer. “This is the only institution in the country that I'm aware of that successfully made the switch from being primarily an indigent care institution to being a university hospital.”

        Dr. Fischer said he has been especially proud of the national reputation the UC surgical residency program has developed.

        “He really was a surgical father to the residents. And like any father, he could be intense, demanding and uncompromising,” said Dr. Elliott Fegelman, a Cincinnati surgeon and a former student. “He totally altered the landscape of surgery in this community.”

        Although widely respected, Dr. Fischer was not universally liked. His words could be blunt. His attitudes about the supremacy of academic medicine could turn off community physicians.

        “In the world of surgery, he's done it all,” said Dr. Walter Matern, a long-time Cincinnati surgeon and leader in the Academy of Medicine of Cincinnati.

        Among the frustrations that Dr. Fischer recalls was failing to build up UC's Barrett Cancer Center as quickly as many had hoped.

        “I think we could have done better there,” Dr. Fischer said.

        Some also recall that Dr. Fischer was among the few outspoken proponents of a controversial plan to privatize University Hospital, which occurred in 1997.

        As Dr. Fischer leaves for Boston, his successor at UC comes from the same Boston institution.

        Dr. Jeffrey Matthews, formerly chief of general and gastrointestinal surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, takes over the department effective July 1.

        “Jeff Matthews is a nationally recognized superstar in academic surgery,” said Dr. John Hutton, dean of the UC College of Medicine.


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