Freedom, Medicine, And West Point: The Story Of An Orthopedic Trauma Doctor

Joseph Hsu


Joe Hsu was born in 1972 and grew up with his brother Chris (USMA 92) and his younger twin sisters. His father had been born in China, escaped to Taiwan, and briefly served in the Taiwanese military before coming to the United States to pursue a PhD in linguistics. He was stridently anti-communist based on the experiences of his youth. Joe’s mother was a nun who felt a calling to become a mother and left the sisterhood. She was also a nurse, following in her parents footsteps; her father was a physician and her mother was an Army nurse during WWII. Joe describes his mother as a warrior. His parents faced discrimination as an interracial couple, as did Joe as a child growing up. Later, he remarks that “West Point levels the playing field,” where Cadets from all backgrounds and socio-economic classes are treated equally. As a boy, Joe was always outside, frequently playing Army with friends, and in school he enjoyed sports like wrestling. In the Hsu home, there were three pictures prominently displayed on the living room mantle: Chiang Kai-Shek, Jesus, and Ronald Reagan. His father was very patriotic and focused on opportunities to exercise freedom, such as service and voting every chance he had. In fact, he was struck by a car and killed on his way to the voting booth. His older brother, Chris, started at the Military Academy in 1988, and when Joe visited, he was immediately impressed, noting “this place sells itself.” His brother initially tried to discourage Joe from attending, telling him, “Don’t do this because of me.” Joe was undeterred and joined West Point with the Class of ’94. Having had a great experience in high school biology and the positive examples of his mother and grandparents, Joe knew he wanted to go into medicine and focused on that at the Military Academy. Chris did not tell Joe what to expect during Beast, allowing him to navigate West Point himself. During Cadet Basic Training there was an instance when Joe felt that he could not hold his rifle steady, and doubt began to creep into his inner monologue. An upperclassman must have sensed this and gave Joe some much-needed words of encouragement. That was a powerful lesson that Joe has held on to ever since. Joe was grateful for the assistance of classmates who had prep school or prior service experience and helped him square himself away. Later, he repaid them by helping them with academics. Recognizing a weakness in reading speed, Joe took a “power reading” class through the Center for Enhanced Performance, which helped him manage his academic load. He tracked into the pre-med program at West Point and felt pushed by the high caliber students in his classes. Joe realized that West Point academics actually followed the syllabus, with course objectives guiding how he approached each class. Wanting to make sure that the medical field was really for him, he minored in Nuclear Engineering to exercise that aspect of his brain. Militarily, he suffered a setback at the end of his Plebe year and entered his Yearling year as a Cadet Private. He felt that colored the company’s perception of him, but scrambling between his Yearling and Cow year gave him a fresh start. By his Firstie year, he was selected as Company Commander for A4, proving the importance of resilience. He felt that both of his companies, C4 “Cowboys” and A4 “Apaches,” were family. He appreciated West Point’s support of his medical school applications, noting that he felt that interviewing in uniform was a discriminator between him and all the other “blue-suited” applicants. He selected Tulane because it was close to home, and remained there because it was a major trauma center. After graduating from medical school, he got a deferment to remain at Tulane for residency and completed a trauma fellowship. He felt that West Point had prepared him well for the time and stress management required to complete medical school. Six years after completing medical school, he came on active duty, completing the basic course as a Major. At Beaumont Medical Center in El Paso, he “got the research bug,” realizing that “research is my true contribution.” Joe feels that if everything he “proves” gets disproved later, he has still pushed the envelope on trauma orthopedic care. After commissioning, he wanted to deploy right away, and got his opportunity in his second year when he deployed to the trauma hospital in the Green Zone during the height of sectarian violence. There, he operated on American and Coalition Forces as well as Iraqi military, civilians, and others. The experience was life changing. He was on the cutting edge of combat casualty care, where patients were surviving seemingly unrecoverable injuries and their treatment was being documented by the Army’s Institutional Surgical Research team. Joe describes how innovation in surgical care happens, frequently in collaboration with patients who refused to accept limitations. The “Return to Run” program was created by patients (often Special Operations) who wanted to return to the lifestyle they knew before their injuries. Joe reflects on EFP (Explosively Formed Projectile) injuries that took a long time to heal, but notes, “Our ability to keep a wounded Soldier alive is breath-taking,” and the “resources committed are astronomical.” Joe believes that “if you innovate, you’re obligated to publish,” and he wants doctors to share their learning to improve care for everyone. Near the end of the interview, Joe talks about his family. He met his wife in 4th grade, and was reintroduced to her as an adult. They were married in his fourth year of residency, and now they have two sons and a daughter. Joe and his brother Chris established the Ching C. Hsu Freedom Scholar Award at West Point in honor of their father. Their endowment is a way to give back to Cadets. Joe states that his father was a refugee who established the footprint for their family here in America. He remembers his father explaining how communism prevented people from being free, and the award recognizes a Cadet who writes an essay reflecting on freedom. At the end of the interview, Joe reflects on his service and on what West Point means to him, stating, “Service makes me feel good.”


conflicts Iraq War
topics Leadership Teamwork Camaraderie West Point History Military Family Injuries Military Medicine
interviewer David Siry
date 27 June 2024


name Joseph Hsu
institution USMA / Tulane
graduation year 1994
service Medical
unit Institutional Surgical Research Team
specialty Orthopedic Trauma Surgery
service dates 1994