Dr. Frank J. Fischer’s father was one of the nation’s first surgeons when his life was cut short during World War II. As his dad’s namesake, he followed in his footsteps in the medical profession, and was heading for a career in heart surgery until fate took an unexpected turn. Drafted into the Navy during the Vietnam conflict, Dr.Fischer learned about another medical career he liked better: Ophthalmology.
In flight school, he learned more about eyes and checked pilots’ eyes for refractive error. “That kind of perked my interest a little bit,” the Polk County Medical Association member recalls. “That’s why I ended up choosing the specialty that I did.”
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, he relocated to Hillcrest Heights with his mother, Martha Forbes Fischer, and three sisters after his father’s death. He grew up there and attended Lake Wales High School, where he played trumpet, served as president of the Student Council, and graduated as valedictorian of his senior class.
Dr. Fischer was drawn to the medical profession, in part, because of his interest in biological sciences. “I enjoyed working with people. I thought it was an area where I could still be useful, have my own business, and still make a good living,” the 78-year-old recalls.
Dr. Fischer earned his bachelor’s of science degreein pre-medicine from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IND, where he graduated cum laude in 1957. He chose to continue his education at the Gainesville-based University of Florida (UF) College of Medicine because of its “tremendous young faculty” and state tuition.
Afterwards, he opted for a rotating internship in medical, surgical, pediatrics and obstetrics/gynecology at Cleveland’s University Hospitals at Western Reserve, where some folks still remembered his dad. But when he was drafted, he applied for and received an assignment to the flight surgeon school in Pensacola.
“After graduation, which included learning to fly, I was assigned to the United States Marine Corp (aviation). I eventually was transferred to Da Nang Vietnam,” he explains.
With the Helicopter Search and Rescue Division, he was awarded two Air Medals for 58 missions under fire. After returning home safely, instead of doing a cardiovascular residency, he began his residency in ophthalmology at UF in January 1965.
It was in Gainesville that he met his wife, Kathy, who was taking an operating room technician course. A certified medical technologist, she hoped it would help broaden her employment opportunities.
After the residency program, Dr. Fischer Jr. joined one of his professors, Dr. Richard Copenhaver, and Dr. Howard Lucas in practice in Winter Haven in 1968. “At that time, only a very few ophthalmologists specialized in one area of eye care,” he says.
He started a solo practice in 1974, and was joined by Dr. Gary Schemmer in 1986, Dr. Jonathan Silbiger in 1993, his son Dr. Frank J. Fischer, III in 2000, and Dr. Alexei Moraczewski in 2007.
“I am still actively employed by the professional corporation (Fischer, Schemmer, Silbiger, and Moraczewski PA, also known as Ophthalmology Associates),” he says. “Dr. Schemmer is the president, and Dr. Silbiger is the managing partner, but we all participate in practice decisions.” The firm works out of six offices and two eye surgery centers serving all of Polk and Highlands counties.
And so, the medical legacy of Dr. Fischer’s dad continues. In Dr. Fischer’s family, it continues through Dr. Fischer, III and his two sisters: Kaki Lucas is running a wellness center and Mardy Lacroix is a board-certified registered nurse practitioner.
Through his career, Dr. Fischer has given back to the community, serving as president of the Winter Haven Hospital medical staff, the Polk County Medical Association, the Florida Society of Ophthalmology, the Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce, and the Winter Haven Rotary Club, in addition to a six-year stint on the council for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. He also received the Bankers Cup Award from the Winter Haven Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Ophthalmology is a great specialty,” he says. “It used to be called the prince of specialties. You can take care of both sexes, all ages, practice medicine, and perform surgery. It involves the full realm of everything.”