A group of students joke and chatter on their way to the fourth floor of the Silver Center on a Tuesday night as though they are about to go to a party. They are actually heading to a meeting of NYU’s chapter of the Asian Pacific American Medical Students Association.
Despite the jovial atmosphere, the promptness of the proceedings and the food sitting on a table near the front of the room, Steinhardt senior Richard Hsu, the co-founder of NYU APAMSA, still seems a little uneasy. He is nervous and wants everything to be perfect for the guest speakers coming to the day’s meeting.
“Sorry this was a very stressful event,” Hsu said, a strange comment to make about a highly organized, informative and enjoyable gathering.
His worries make sense, however, when contextualized in his track record of accomplishments. Hsu maintains a busy schedule of working in the emergency room at Bellevue Hospital Center, serving as a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and the vice president of administration of the Interfraternity Council, leading APAMSA, serving as senior class president of the Steinhardt Undergraduate Student Government and holding a college record in weightlifting.
Hsu grew up with expectations of professionalism and excellence — members of his family attended Johns Hopkins, Yale and Cornell universities, and many are in the medical field.
“I’ve always felt like I have a lot to live up to, but I think since college I’ve formed my own identity, which has really given me a sense of meaning,” Hsu said. “When I was a kid, the last thing I wanted to be was a doctor because I wanted to do my own thing, but it ended up being that I actually loved medicine.”
Hsu learned his love for medicine and passion for helping people while on a January term trip to Guatemala during his sophomore year. While there, he provided health services and worked in a soup kitchen. He learned about the inequalities in the Guatemalan health system and the widespread malnutrition among the lower class.
“When I worked with a lot of people in the soup kitchen, they told me their stories and I was really touched by that,” Hsu said.
He recalled talking to one of the soup kitchen patrons.
“He said one of the main things about his struggle was that he hadn’t seen his family, and he started crying,” Hsu said. “It was one of those epiphanies for me, like, ‘This is what I want to do.’”
Hsu took his passion for outreach to co-found the NYU chapter of APAMSA with CAS senior Safi Ali-Khan when they were juniors
Now in its second year, NYU APAMSA has over 50 active and diverse members, as well as six members on its executive board that plan outreach with other organizations including Be the Match and the Albert Einstein Medical School.
Hsu was the recipient of the All-University Individual President’s Service Award this past spring because of his efforts with APAMSA and his other involvements on campus.
Ali-Khan, who has known Hsu since they were freshmen, said there is no one more deserving of the award than Hsu.
“His behavior and attitude have always indicated that he does what he does not for selfish reasons, or to fuel his own ambitions, but because he genuinely cares about his fellow NYU students and about the Asian and Pacific American community,” Ali-Khan said.
Sustaining the community he created within APAMSA is Hsu’s top priority. He turned down the position of president when he was re-elected this year so he could mentor a younger student in that role to ensure the club would be in good hands for years to come.
“I want the club to be able to outreach more and I want people to feel like they can find a community within NYU,” Hsu said. “I would hope to see the club be able to cultivate strong friendships.”
Fellow Phi Gamma Delta brother and co-worker at Bellevue Michael Avigneros, a CAS senior, said Hsu is a role model to other students who want to be involved at NYU.
“He is humble about his involvement, but his selfless attitude, attention to detail, entrepreneurial ambition and passion to lend a hand to others at any given moment should not go unnoticed,” Avigneros said. “Without realizing it, his actions constantly influence others around him.”
Hsu hopes to continue his service and involvement in public health after his graduation.
“My dream is to have a career in preventative medicine and emergency management,” he said. “When I see patients come into the emergency room, they’re at the last stage, they’re already injured, they’re already facing trauma, but my career would be to focus on prevention and what systems need to be in place to protect but also to preserve the community.”
Email Ife Olujobi at firstname.lastname@example.org. A version of this article appeared in the 2014 Influential print edition.