During a rotation at the Salud Family Health Center in Fort Collins, Victor Hsu saw that his future did not lie, as he had once suspected, in a specialty like oncology or neurology.
“I realized that everything I was good at is in primary care,” he says. In clinic, “I was able to build a therapeutic alliance with my patients, which is essential to good medicine. In the primary care field, you get to know the whole person. I would have loved to be a specialist, but I realized I would always wonder what happened with them after they left my office. That bugged me, knowing I wouldn’t have that continuity.”
Enthusiasm, passion and commitment come easily to Hsu, who once stood outside a Wal-Mart playing violin to drum up money for a threatened school arts program.
His interest in medicine officially started in his sophomore year at CU Boulder when he was accepted to the Medical Scholars Program, which guaranteed him acceptance into CU School of Medicine upon graduation from college.
But unofficially, it started when he was in grade school. His mother, a nurse, often brought home scrubs and stethoscopes and other items from her work. But most important, she brought home stories.
“I remember her telling me about some of the patients she cared for who had HIV back when the disease was first emerging as an epidemic. When she told me that HIV was a virus that hijacked the immune system I was wide-eyed with fascination wondering ‘How can a virus hijack an immune system?’ I was always fascinated by science.
At that time he believed he was on the road to a musical career.
“I practiced (violin) four hours a day. It was my life,” he says, but a heart-to-heart with his father changed that trajectory. “He asked if it was truly something I wanted to pursue, given that it isn’t really a stable career. And unless I really, really loved it … “
His father recommended his own field of engineering, which Hsu tried, but instead he found himself attracted to molecular biology. “I started volunteering at my mom’s hospital, working in post op. I was wheeling patients around and I shadowed some physicians, did some volunteer blood draws. At that point, I knew.”
He burst into medical school with his signature enthusiasm. He became president of the state student chapters of the American Medical Association and Colorado Medical Society, and of PRISM, which promotes awareness of issues affecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered populations. He also played violin in a quartet, received a student cancer fellowship to do ophthalmology research, was a member of the Medical Student Council and campus-wide Student Senate, assisted at Stout Street Clinic and took part in an academic mentors program, working with a Denver Public Schools student. Hsu’s student is an eighth-grader with an interest in medicine, and Hsu is seeing to it he’s learning how to suture, take blood pressure, gown up, etc.
“I want the experience to be thrilling for him,” says Hsu, who has been selected by his peers for induction into the Gold Humanism Honor Society. “I’m trying to give him the best session ever.”
He found his dream internship at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco after becoming impressed with its emphasis on preventive medicine - sponsoring farmers markets, obesity clinics, smoking cessation classes and diet and exercise.
He hopes to get into Kaiser’s HIV Module to help gay men and HIV patients, populations that he says are often overlooked and underserved.
“It’s a burgeoning field,” says Hsu, who turns 26 the week after graduation. Many doctors don’t think to ask about sexual orientation, or if they do, he says, they don’t know what questions to ask. Hsu acted as a mentor to teach fellow CU medical students how to take a comprehensive, relevant sexual history.
“Suppose you have a male patient who is gay, but you assume he’s straight. He presents with fever, chills and a cough, you wouldn’t think of HIV. In the back of your mind you assume he’s married or at least straight so he couldn’t possibly have been exposed. That’s a classic example of the difference in treatment.”
Gay men need to know their provider is supportive and knowledgeable, Hsu says.
“I can relate to the GLBT population and that’s huge. A lot of gay men have been shunned by not only their family and friends, but by their doctors as well. I want to be the bridge between the GLBT community and the medical community as a whole. We’ve come a long way but there are so many gay men out there trying to find themselves and love themselves.
“I want them to know it’s possible to be happy with yourself and to know people are going to love you for you.”