Dr. Steve Fisch pays forward the inspiration he received from CVM alumni, faculty

Dr. Steve Fisch (DVM, 1982) was inspired to become a veterinarian by fellow alumni of the University of Georgia who cared for the animals on his grandparents’ Southwest Georgia farm.

“I knew I wanted to have some type of career that involved horses,” Fisch says. “I think what spurred me towards being a veterinarian were two veterinarians in Moultrie that would come out to the farm to take care of whatever needed to be done.”

Those two veterinarians were Dr. Jimmy Matthews (DVM, 1962) and the late Dr. Quincy Darbyshire (DVM, 1950). “I worked for Dr. Matthews on weekends, summers, and holidays a lot during my later high school years and for some of my time at (Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College). Dr. Matthews is a hard worker and a super good veterinarian and person. He could do a C-section on a cow or an abdominal surgery on a dog faster than anyone I have seen. We had lots of talks as we went on farm calls and on Saturdays at lunch.”

Although his high school guidance counselor discouraged Fisch from pursuing a career in veterinary medicine because vet school was so competitive and “too difficult to get accepted,” his parents were supportive of his dream. “Mom was always making sure I didn’t miss a day of school and that my grades stayed high. She was one of those moms that had you reading if you weren’t busy at something else,” Fisch recalls.

“Dad drove me up to UGA CVM during my senior year of high school and we met Dr. Paul Hoffman. Dr. Hoffman gave us a tour of the large animal hospital and directed me to start out at ABAC and then transfer to UGA and major in Animal Science. I followed his advice and was accepted into UGA CVM in 1978.”

Hoffman, who died in 2001, was a specialist in equine locomotive diseases who conducted nearly 85 research and evaluation studies dealing with equine medicine during his career. Hoffman was chief of staff of the teaching hospital, having taught at UGA for 42 years and later serving as professor emeritus of large animal medicine.

Dr. Steve Fisch founded AVS Equine Hospital in Tallahassee, Fla. (Provided Photo)

Since graduation, Fisch has been inspired to give back to the college by the veterinarians that came before him. “When I graduated, I became part of one of the most honored and trusted professions. I was instantly part of a group known for its incredible work ethic, high integrity, and great desire to provide service to other people and their animals,” he says. “This was all because of the dedication and hard work of the generations of DVMs that had come before me. A great reputation takes decades to build, and I was able to grab onto their coat tails while starting my career. Since I can’t pay them back, I can at least say ‘thank you’ to them by paying it forward to the future generations of DVMs.”

He donated to construction of the Equine Physical Diagnosis and Surgical Lab, which bears his name, and also established the Dr. Steve Fisch Professorship of Equine Medicine and Surgery, a position held by Dr. Canaan Whitfield-Cargile. He also supports the UGA Large Animal Medicine and Surgery scholarship.

Fisch also hosts UGA students for externships at the clinic he founded in Tallahassee, Fla., in 1984. AVS Equine Hospital is where fourth-year student Merrianna Parker, a native of Bainbridge in Southwest Georgia, worked with Fisch and Dr. Rachel Lacey performing as many procedures as she would with patients and residents of the hospital.

Dr. Steve Fisch performs an ultrasound on a horse. (Provided Photo)

“He was determined that we have opportunities to practice clinical skills that we did not feel as confident about,” Parker says. “If there was not a client patient available, he would make sure we got to practice our imaging (radiograph and ultrasound) techniques on resident horses at the hospital.”

Fisch’s lessons also extended to the business side of running a practice, such as negotiating contracts, and intangibles such as bedside manner.

“You may be a great veterinarian, but clients notice how their horse reacts to you and will determine how they feel about you as a veterinarian based on those interactions,” Parker says. “It is important to stay calm and use desensitization techniques to be most successful when handling difficult horses. He was always calm and patient when working with patients.”

Like Fisch, Parker has aspired to be a veterinarian since childhood, planning to be a mixed animal practitioner with an emphasis on canine, feline, and equine species. Growing up on a farm, Fisch had several dogs and three horses of his own at various times. “I loved all my dogs, but horses were always my focus,” he says.

Fisch has remained loyal to the CVM since his graduation and remains grateful for the opportunity to attend. “When I was majoring in Animal Science at UGA I parked in a parking lot that was across the street from the vet school. Each day as I parked there and walked up AG Hill to my classes I would say, one day, I will be part of that school,” he recalls.

“Even now when I go to visit the College of Veterinary Medicine, I still get goose bumps when I walk between those big white columns that were the main entrance back in the ‘70s and ‘80s.”

His first child – Joe Fisch, DVM – was born in Athens during his time with the CVM. Joe is a 2004 graduate of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine and currently serves as bureau chief of the Florida Department of Agriculture’s Division of Animal Industry. Like their older brother, siblings Jessica, Casey and Zoey were all involved with horses and worked at AVS Equine Hospital while growing up. Together, Fisch and wife Kelley raised a DVM, two Ph.D. holders, and a nurse practitioner. “Our four children are our greatest source of joy,” Fisch says. “We are very proud of all of them.”

Leading by example is the cornerstone of Fisch’s service and support for the CVM. “Hopefully the future generations of veterinarians will feel the same way.”

Kelley Fisch with a statue of her horse, Hank, in the Butler Garden at the UGA CVM Veterinary Teaching Hospital. The garden memorializes pets and honors their caregivers. (Provided Photo)

A tangible reminder of that support can be found among the statuary in the Butler Garden, where a statue of Hank, one of Kelley’s favorite horses, overlooks the fence where trailers and horses enter the hospital grounds. A serene green space on the grounds of the VTH, the garden is dedicated to the relationships humans share with their companion animals and the health specialists who care for them. Gifts also help to support the College of Veterinary Medicine Scholarship Fund for students.