Dream Job: The first Gator in space

The first Gator in space says life is never boring…in space or in the E.R.

The UF commercials don’t lie. “The Gator Nation” is everywhere – even in space.

A 1975 graduate from the College of Medicine is not only the first Gator to travel in space, he also has taken not one but two space walks.

“The most beautiful sight in the world is viewing Earth from several hundred miles above,” says William Fisher, MD ’75. “No photography can capture the subtle hues and colors seen by the human eye.”

Twenty-four years after his eight-day mission on-board the space shuttle Discovery, Fisher’s “calling” to space still resonates. Even now, at 62, he has vivid dreams several times a year about living and working on Mars.

“I would not think twice if the opportunity came up,” said the emergency room physician about returning to space.

On Aug. 27, 1985, Fisher was a mission specialist on-board the Discovery when it lifted off from Kennedy Space Center. STS-51-I, NASA’s identification for the mission, has been called one of the most successful Space Shuttle missions flown, thanks in part to two space walks by Fisher and Dr. James van Hoften to repair a satellite.

According to Fisher, though, stepping back on Earth took some adjustment.

“On our first night back from the mission we had a welcome home party, and someone asked me to pass him a can of Coke,” Fisher explains. “When I gave it to him, I just let go of the can, forgetting all about gravity. It fell straight to the floor and popped.”

The former astronaut has several stories of his days with the space program. He smiles every time he thinks about hot-wiring a stranded satellite and re-launching it in space. According to Fisher, you can never be bored in space, but he says the best job after being an astronaut-physician is practicing emergency medicine.

“There’s no such thing as the perfect job, and emergency medicine is nothing like the medical dramas on TV,” he says. “I’ve been frustrated, angry and tired, but I’ve never been bored.”

Fisher says he dove into full-time emergency medicine because he wasn’t sure he’d be selected into NASA’s astronaut program.

“You can’t live your whole life on a tenuous and uncertain dream at the expense of your future,” he says. “I didn’t want to end up as some 40-year-old still trying to become an astronaut and not have done anything else with my life.”

With that attitude Fisher completed a surgical residency at UCLA’s Harbor General Hospital in Torrance, Calif., after medical school. He practiced emergency medicine until 1980 and served as an instructor of medicine at the University of South Florida. He realized his lifelong dream in 1980 when NASA selected him for its astronaut training program. However, he continued practicing emergency medicine in Houston, working it around his NASA schedule.

“I haven’t left emergency medicine since the day I started,” he says.

After leaving NASA in 1991, Fisher began practicing full time at Clear Lake Regional Medical Center in Webster, Texas. Since 2002, he has been an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Texas School of Medicine in Houston.

“I enjoy teaching emergency medicine in the academic setting,” Fisher explains. “The emphasis is on education and the quality of care, rather than seeing how quickly we can move patients through the department.

“I like helping the younger physicians with what I know from my experience. And I feel an obligation to prepare them for the real world. It’s both rewarding and fun,” says the man who has been counting down from 10 since he was 5 years old.