Joe: According to His Purpose
Joseph W. Semien Jr, M.D.
Undergraduate (Bachelor of Science): Xavier University of Louisiana
Master’s Degree: Tulane University School of Public Health
Doctor of Medicine: St. Matthew’s University School of Medicine
Residency: Central Michigan University College of Medicine
On the journey to finding his dream, Joe fought through seemingly insurmountable odds and made many mistakes, but God’s forgiveness and grace have always welcomed him home.
Growing up in New Orleans, La., Joe’s parents were hardworking people who always made it a priority to take care of him and his three sisters.
Joe remembers his childhood neighborhood as full of close-knit, working-class people, and he was happy playing sports with his friends and letting his imagination run free.
He spent many summers with his large family on his grandparents’ farm just outside of New Orleans. There, he discovered a passion for living things, but the dream of becoming a doctor just didn’t seem possible in his world.
As Joe grew up, he noticed his neighborhood begin to change around him. Fights became more common. So, Joe’s mother taught him how to defend himself and his sisters. However, being a product of his environment, as the neighborhood changed, so did he.
Joe struggled to control his temper and found himself involved in fights and other physical violence.
In sixth grade, he began learning more about human anatomy, which excited him, but he was afraid to pursue his passion because of what his peers may have thought of him.
Joe’s life took an even more dangerous turn when he began selling drugs and hanging out with a more violent group of individuals. This was the beginning of him living a double life as he hid his violent endeavor from his parents, relatives and childhood friends.
His senior year, Joe rebelled against the low expectations that many had for his life and applied to college, yet he still felt trapped and didn’t know how to get out of the environment in which he’d become tangled.
Around the same time, Joe began working at a bank where he found a mentor whose faith in his potential heavily impacted how Joe saw himself and the world around him.
Getting into college was just one hurdle -- succeeding there was another. Even at Xavier University, Joe struggled to put his past behind him and found himself still running with the wrong crowd. So, he made the decision to leave college and enroll in the military in order to stay out of trouble and learn discipline. He enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he trained as a medical specialist. Life in the military helped Joe manage his temper. It also made him a calmer, more mature young man, with stronger resolve.
After finishing his duty, Joe signed up for the U.S. Army Reserve and re-enrolled at Xavier, but being back in New Orleans, he reverted to many of his old habits.
On Oct. 13, 1996, Joe’s cousin was shot to death, which sent him into a downward spiral, but then, God began to give him clarity.
After getting into trouble with the law, Joe ended that part of his life for good. He returned to Xavier and later met Max and Pierre—brothers in whom he saw a better reflection of himself. Joe never returned to his old life of drugs and violence, and his brothers supported him with his movement towards something greater.
Unable to gain entrance to medical school, Joe enrolled in the public health master’s degree program at Tulane University School of Public Health, which he completed in 2003. It was during this time that Joe began to see his calling from God. He started teaching high school chemistry to inner-city kids, sharing his childhood struggles with them as a way to motivate them to change their lives like he had changed his.
Joe began dating his now wife after graduating from Tulane, and when she later became pregnant he was determined to always be at her side with love and support. His wife’s labor was difficult, but they were blessed to have a healthy son.
He graduated from St. Matthew’s University School of Medicine in the Grand Cayman Islands and prior to starting residency he and his wife had their second son.
Joe completed his residency at Central Michigan University College of Medicine, and after a decade and half of perseverance, he became a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist. He later relocated to his home state and continued his career in Lake Charles, La.
Throughout his life, Joe battled an environment rife with drugs and violence, one that helped fuel the perception that black men aren’t supposed to be doctors. He has worked hard everyday to defy that stereotype.
Today, Joe sees it as his responsibility to speak to young black men about ambition and achieving their dreams. He believes the most important obstacle young black men encounter when reaching for success is that so many people expect them to fail. Joe’s life is proof that challenges or failure don’t have to define you -- they can be overcome.