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The 2022 Women of UD

Dr. Mary Insana Fisher

Mary Insana Fisher




Guiding an entire cohort of Doctor of Physical Therapy candidates to graduation, on schedule, while in the middle of a global pandemic, would reflect the work of a strong leader, and Mary Insana Fisher believes that was the reason she was appointed as department chair and program director in July 2020. “I think there was this realization that we had some real challenges ahead of us, and there was a need for someone who has the strength to face them. I really feel, consistently, people choose Mary Fisher because she has strong skills.”

Fisher credits the department’s former chair with creating the structure to facilitate the DPT students’ return to the classroom before other UD students were coming back to campus. DPT students needed to complete lab classes, because while some of the coursework could be handled remotely, “PT is a hands-on profession. We can’t do it over ZOOM.” With the lab skills component and COVID safety protocols in place, the DPT students could continue their degree work. Fisher, with support of the faculty, required that students take the necessary steps to protect not only themselves as healthcare professionals, but those vulnerable people they serve. While UD’s position at the time was recommending COVID vaccination for the community, Fisher and her department made vaccination a requirement for enrollment and continuation in the DPT program, a decision that aligned with the science and requirements for healthcare providers. Similar to the immunization requirements for the flu, MMR, polio, and tetanus shots all healthcare workers must have, the DPT requirement was put in place to protect the patients physical therapists treat. Fisher consistently sought to focus on the vulnerable populations in our community, and on those occasions when she received student pushback said, ‘I respect your individual decision [to make a choice about vaccination], but this is not about you. This is about the vulnerable populations that we serve and I will not back down from protecting them.’ ” The doctoral students are required to complete clinical rotations each year, so for the experiential learning component, Fisher “really wanted them to consider that this is about the greater good.” Under Fisher’s leadership, all cohort members graduated on schedule by Summer 2021. In addition, UD's DPT program had a 100 percent pass rate for those students who took the licensure exam.

Most effective leaders would recite a litany of life experiences or perhaps name former supervisors as instrumental in the development of their professional strengths. Fisher credits her third-grade teacher. “I probably wasn’t performing as well as Mrs. Hank believed I could perform.” So in 1975, that red-haired teacher, who was “wearing a cute little button down shirt and a skirt, said ‘Mary, there is nothing you can’t do. If you put your mind to it, you can do anything you want.’ ” To this day, Fisher says, Mrs. Hank is the reason she can accomplish anything. “When I get panicky, I tell myself, ‘Mrs. Hank told you, all you have to do is put your mind to it.’ So, I put my mind to it.”

Mrs. Hank had her work cut out for her, as Fisher seems to have a penchant for seeking out challenges. 

There was that time in high school when she got her first job: manager of a local neighborhood swimming pool. “So I’m 18 years old and I’m running a swimming pool. I got to coach the swim team and have two or three employees under me. Definitely learned how to lead.”

Then there was that time in college when, as an English major, she decided she really wanted to become a physical therapist. “I just took a slight detour. I got my prereqs done for PT school, finished out with my bachelor’s in English, then went away to get my master’s.” After 10 years of clinical practice, Fisher started a family and worked on-call in PT for the next seven years, but wanted to teach in UD’s new DPT program. “They pretty much said to me, ‘Mary, you need a PhD.’” So, she started her doctoral studies in 2007, came on board at UD in 2008, and even with the birth of her “bonus” third child during this time, finished her PhD in 2013. “I just didn’t give up.”

Another facet of Fisher’s strength is her diplomacy. Faced with a multitude of challenges since becoming department chair, from navigating professional healthcare education through a pandemic, to working with fewer resources and managing budgetary challenges, Fisher consistently seeks information which she uses to support her faculty and program. When faced with “no,” or “not possible,” she looks to compromise and work with what is available to accomplish goals. 

Just as Fisher believes in her tenacity and diplomacy, she also believes the University will find its way through current uncertainties. “I believe in the power of humankind to solve all the problems in the world, but humankind has to come together mutually and want to solve those problems.” Discussion she hears in her CSIT committee meetings gives her hope that the University is on the right track. “When I see my committee getting together and saying, ‘well, let’s look at it from this angle,’ that shows the focus is always on somebody other than themselves. I know that the University is full of people who really want the right kind of success, and that is seeing our students move into the world and become servant leaders.” 

For her part, Fisher will continue to contribute in her effective way, “Mary’s going to say, ‘OK, that’s the hurdle in front of us? How do we jump over it? How do we go around it? How do we keep moving forward?’ ” But she already knows how: “Just put your mind to it, Mary.”