A Vision for the Future
From notes of Dr. Debra Fiser at the time of Dr. Robert Fiser’s death—
“Dr. Robert Fiser was raised in Morrilton, Arkansas and attended Arkansas Tech and Hendrix College. He graduated with honors from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) College of Medicine in 1966. He trained in Pediatrics at UAMS, William Beaumont General Hospital in El Paso, TX, and the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. He continued his training with an Endocrinology Fellowship at the University of California Los Angeles, where he joined the faculty as an Associate Professor and Associate Program Director for the UCLA Clinical Studies Center. Fiser returned to UAMS in 1973. In 1975 he was appointed Chair of the Department of Pediatrics, the youngest Pediatric Department Chair in the country at the age of 32.
Fiser was widely known for his vision, boundless enthusiasm, and incredible energy. During his nineteen-year tenure as chair, the Department experienced dramatic growth. The number of full-time faculty members increased from 15 to more than 140. The number of residents increased from just 18 to 75. At the peak of his career, more than 80% of the practicing pediatricians in Arkansas had trained in his program.
Fiser was instrumental in the Department’s relocation to Arkansas Children’s Hospital in the late 1970s, a move that fostered growth in both institutions. During his leadership, the number of hospital beds at ACH increased from 60 to 240, and the Department’s budget grew from $800,000 to more than $20 million. Not only did the inpatient clinical service thrive in its new home, but the Department continued to grow in its activities outside the walls. Under Dr. Fiser’s direction, the Department implemented regional clinics which met in dozens of locations around the state and served over 2,500 children per year. He also founded the Child Health and Family Life Institute, funded with an annual $2.1 million grant from the state. This led to the evolution of the KIDS FIRST Program which at its peak served over 800 medically and developmentally at-risk preschool children per year in 11 sites around the state. At the same time, he established the Co-Mend program (which stands for community, medical, education, nursing and nutrition and development).
In addition to clinical programs, the research programs in the Department received much of his attention. Dr. Fiser worked with UAMS and Arkansas Children’s Hospital leadership to establish the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute and its new state-of-the-art space for it. He recruited scientific leadership for the program and a cadre of faculty to develop basic, clinical and applied research. Starting from a base with very little active research, the Department’s research funding grew rapidly and exceeded $7.5 million at the time he left the chairmanship.
In 1994, Fiser stepped down as Chair to become UAMS Assistant Vice Chancellor for Regional Programs. He became a Professor Emeritus in 2000. Among many honors, he served as President of the Southern Society for Pediatric Research and was later a recipient of that organization’s Founders Award. He was also named an inaugural member of the UAMS College of Medicine Hall of Fame in 2004.”
The following pages attempt to document the years of Fiser’s leadership, as well as the subsequent years, in the words of many faculty members present during those years.