By Pauline Dubkin Yearwood Dr. Joslyn Fisher (universally known as Joey) grew up in Houston in what she describes as a "healthy, loving" Jewish family with parents who were heavily involved in volunteer work.
When her mother became active in a Jewish organization that helped fund aid for victims of domestic abuse, "I had an opportunity to hear about family situations that were not as fortunate as mine," Fisher recalls. Over the years—as she graduated from Tufts University, then earned her medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston—she continued learning about domestic violence through her mother's volunteer work.
Some of it must have rubbed off. Today, Fisher, 36, is a domestic violence activist who directs an innovative interdisciplinary project designed to aid and treat victims of domestic abuse.
Fisher founded the VIVA (Volunteer Initiative vs. Violent Acts) Project after, having finished her training in internal medicine, she attended a meeting of a group that helped domestic violence victims and discovered that she was the only health professional there. She was immediately put in charge of the health committee.
Drawing on the collaborative skills that she developed working on moshavs (cooperative farms) in Israel while in high school and college, Fisher started VIVA, an intervention and prevention program that operates at two public hospitals and 14 clinics in Houston. By using the skills of physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains and community advocates, the organization takes what Fisher calls "a three- or four-pronged approach" to domestic violence. In addition to treating women and helping them with referrals to other agencies, the organization offers educational programs, presentations and guidelines "to help health-care professionals ask the right questions." There is also a clinic where Fisher herself provides primary care.
One of the main tasks of the organization is to educate other professionals. "We try to teach them that victims of domestic violence are not just the people with a black eye," she says. "A woman might come in with pelvic pain or some other kind of chronic pain. We teach them to make sure they ask their patients about their relationships."
Since Fisher founded the project, her life has become more of a juggling act. She and husband Ron, also a physician, are now the parents of six-month-old Jackson—luckily, "a very easy baby." After taking three months off, Fisher is back at work at the VIVA clinic at Ben Taub General Hospital and to teaching at the Baylor College of Medicine.
"It's challenging but very rewarding," she says of the project's work. "You hear such stories...It's frustrating and it makes me angry that there is so much violence in the world, but if you can make small strides, you can make it a little better. And we do have our success stories."
Pauline Dubkin Yearwood is managing editor of the Chicago Jewish News.