HARLINGEN — He’s seen great changes in the medical community, and it’s not over yet.
When Dr. Stan Fisch first arrived in the Valley, Su Clinica was a migrant health center, babies were underserved, and the vaccine preventing meningitis hadn’t been invented yet.
It was 1973, and Fisch was in the United States Public Health Service. He remained to open Harlingen Pediatrics. He’s now putting his decades of experience to use as a member of the faculty at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
He remembers his work at Su Clinica, which shaped his career.
“The population it served was migrant farm workers for whom the Valley was home,” he said. “Several hundred families each year moved north to work in the fields and then came back and so Su Clinica was established as a migrant health center.”
Babies and young children were extremely underserved, he said. He was one of only two pediatricians in Harlingen.
“I was immediately faced with the challenge of taking care of very sick newborns,” he said.
“At that time about a third of all babies were born outside of hospitals. Most babies did fine, but the few who did not do well, they did extremely badly.”
Numerous factors contributed to this, one being economics. Parents would try to wait out symptoms because they couldn’t afford adequate care.
“They didn’t have money, they didn’t have insurance,” Fisch said. “Medicaid was extremely limited back then. Most people who needed it didn’t have it.”
Financially strapped, residents tried to care for ill babies the best they could. By the time they realized the symptoms were worsening without letup, they were extremely ill.
“There was a huge challenge in trying to take care of them,” he said. “At the time, Valley Baptist did not have a nursery capable of taking care of sick babies, so we had to create one.”
The first nursery was created in 1974, and it was the forerunner of today’s neonatal intensive care unit.
“We immediately filled up with sick babies born at Valley Baptist as well as babies who came from outside, from home, to the hospital directly,” he said. “Within a year or two we had babies transferred to us from other hospitals in the Valley which at that time did not have neonatal ICUs.”
The work was tremendous, he said.
“All of a sudden I found myself spending an enormous amount of time in the hospitals taking care of very sick newborns which was a huge challenge,” he said. “It was very gratifying work to do, very sad sometimes because some of those patients did not do well and they did not survive.”
Fisch saw changes in the local population over a period of years.
“We don’t have very many people in the Valley who identify themselves as migrant farm workers,” he said. “There are sons and daughters of migrant workers, but they are certainly not doing that work anymore.”
With the change in population came changes at Su Clinica.
“Su Clinica became a community health center that enlarged its focus and began to serve underserved people regardless of the kind of work they did,” he recalled. “So their mandate expanded and changed over the years.”
While the population changed, the need for pediatric care continued. To meet that need, Fisch opened Harlingen Pediatrics with Dr. Rick Kelley in 1982.
“I was a founder and officially I was the president and CEO of the practice,” he said. “That grew from a two-person practice. Today, it’s seven doctors, a nurse practitioner and a social worker. We functioned very well as a group. We made decisions together as a group as far as expanding and hiring people and how we ran our office, so it was a very collaborative process.”
Fisch left Harlingen Pediatrics on March 1 to help develop the medical school at the fledgling University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
“I’m the vice chair of the department of pediatrics,” he said. “I am the chairman of the curriculum committee for the medical school and I am a professor of pediatrics.”
“The challenge is to complete building our curriculum for all four years of medical school,” he continued. “We are close to finishing that process and it’s a great group of people here who are working on that.”
He said that process would be complete within the next few months. The inaugural class of 2020 will begin its third year of training in July.
This is quite a change from how medical students have trained here in the past.
“We’ve had students from San Antonio here for their third and fourth year of their clinical training,” he said. “The school of medicine in San Antonio will stop sending their students after July but we’ll have a class of 55 of our own.”
Dr. Stan Fisch remembers moving here in the early 1970s from a small town in upstate New York. He was 29, just out of medical school, and he’d just finished his residency in pediatrics.
“I was in the United States Public Health Service and I was assigned to the National Health Service Corps which was just starting in 1971 and 72. My wife Nidia and I were actually in the second wave of volunteers who came out to serve underserved communities,” he said.
“The National Health Service Corps today is of course much larger, but it still has the same function to serve underserved communities. In those days we were a handful of people just starting out. “My wife and I wanted to do that kind of work. We didn’t have any particular preference for staying in New York. But we didn’t expect to end up in Texas nor to stay in Texas as long as we have.”
Why did they stay?
“The need was incredible and the work was very challenging and very gratifying. So we were just really busy and it was just kind of hard to back away and break it off,” he said.
“Before we knew it, we were having children of our own and getting more and more involved in our community. Their roots took hold. We have two sons.”
A.B., Hamilton College, Clinton, NY. Major and honors in Philosophy (1966)
M.D., Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY (1970)
Internship and residency, social medicine/pediatrics, Montefiore Hospital and Medical Center, Bronx, NY (1970-73)
Licensure and certification
Diplomate, American Board of Pediatrics (1975)
Fellow, American Academy of Pediatrics (1976)
Current professional and community commitments
Founder, CEO, pediatrician – Harlingen Pediatrics Associates (1982 – 2018)
President and CEO, Child Abuse Education Program of South Texas, Inc. (2014 – )
Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, UT Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine (2015 – )
Chair, Central Curricular Authority Committee (2015 – )
Clinical Professor, Regional Academy Health Center of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio (2000- )