As a former highly ranked competitive surfer, Alec Fisher ’19 learned a valuable life lesson from the sport.
“The thing about surfing is if you don’t land something or if you have a scary fall where you are stuck under water, you have to keep getting back on the board—keep trying and keep going because every time you paddle out, there is always an opportunity to improve no matter how good you are,” says the first-year Geisel student.
Passionate as Fisher was about surfing, another passion beckoned. With high school graduation looming, Fisher reached the proverbial fork in the road and had to decide whether to continue surfing professionally or go to college. Craving intellectual stimulation, which surfing lacked, he chose college intending to become a physicist. But during his freshman year at Johns Hopkins University he fell in love.
“Out of sheer spontaneity I took a neuroscience course and loved it,” Fisher says. “It’s a fascinating field and I ended up majoring in neuroscience.”
Enthralled with how changes in brain function affect people and the creativity needed to help alleviate patients’ pain and suffering, Fisher decided to become a physician in order to help solve these complex problems. “I wanted to go into surgery in order to make an immediate impact on these patients’ lives,” he says.
His desire to become a neurosurgeon pushed Fisher to another point of transformation. Self-described as someone who is always changing and growing, he was not ready to fully commit to medicine, so he postponed applying to medical school. Though difficult to make, he felt it was the right decision.
“I wanted to experience life outside the classroom, to be a contributing member of society,” Fisher explains. “Teach for America stood out as one of those opportunities where I could make a valuable impact yet still be able to achieve my goals.”
I don’t want to be just a body technician, I want to hear about who my patients are and help them get to the place they want to be."
- Alec Fisher '19
Teaching high school physics for two years in a large urban school with a student population of approximately 5,000, on the border of Compton and Watts in Los Angeles, proved to be a hard-won rewarding and humbling experience. South of downtown Los Angeles, Compton, with its relatively youthful population, is one of the oldest cities in the county. And Watts, a neighborhood in South Los Angeles with an equally youthful community, is among the most densely populated in the city.
Despite his sunny disposition and charm, Fisher didn’t immediately command respect from his cynical students. He looked more like a peer than their teacher. “At first it was really difficult, but I was eventually able to build relationships and earn their respect by putting in extra effort outside the classroom—playing sports together during lunch and making time to sit and talk with the ‘troubled’ kids,” Fisher recalls.
He believes teaching taught him what it means to be underserved and misrepresented. “I learned how to connect with others and that gave me a model for how treat my future patients,” Fisher says. “I didn’t immediately see the value of that experience, but when I left I felt more confident that I could make a difference in the lives of future patients—knowing how to establish a relationship and listening to understand rather than lecturing.”
Equally important, his experience shadowing a neurosurgeon influenced his bedside manner. “I don’t want to be just a body technician, I want to hear about who my patients are and help them get to the place they want to be,” Fisher says. “The neurosurgeon I shadowed was the kindest, most open-hearted person I’ve ever met. He made his patients feel comfortable because he took time to get to know them.”
When the southern California native interviewed at Geisel, he felt instantly at home despite the exceptionally frigid winter weather. “It was 19 degrees below zero when I woke up that day and it didn’t get much warmer, but I loved it,” he recalls. “I received a warm welcome and was so happy to be here.”
He so enjoyed talking with first-year medical students during his interview Fisher is returning the favor by leading campus tours for Geisel interviewees. “Maverick, my puppy, and I really enjoy showcasing this place,” he says. “I feel warm and at home with all of the friendly and caring people here who are as enthusiastic as I am about learning and teaching.”
Fisher’s intuitive choices have led him down the right road and he summarizes them this way, “Being passionate about what you do is essential,” he says. “I’m passionate about sports—surfing is still one of my favorite things—and I’m passionate about the work I’m now doing. Passion for me is the most important thing in life.”