At age 41 and a newly retired veteran of the U.S. Army, Dr. Joshua Herzog has far more experience than an orthopedic surgeon his age should have.
Three deployments in Iraq since the war began in 2001 thrust him into a demanding, high stakes environment where learning on his feet was mandatory.
“I’ve been in some pretty austere environments where resources were limited,” he says, “and I think it takes not just a flexible physician to be able to succeed, but a versatile and creative one.”
Prior to his retirement from the military, Dr. Herzog headed the department of orthopedics and rehabilitation at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas. “These guys came back from Iraq,” he says, “and we put them back together — often very complex surgeries and very advanced surgeries.”
His patients were young, active, and given the far-reaching implications of spinal injuries for the rest of the body, each surgery presented a unique challenge.
Veterans aren’t always young, however. Larry Lewis, a Vietnam War veteran, met Dr. Herzog when the vet was volunteering at Beaumont. He’d undergone five surgeries on his spine but still was in a lot of pain. Dr. Herzog thought he might be able to help and ordered a new MRI for the patient. The physician then came up with a way that was far less invasive than those proposed by previous surgeons. The procedure might, the doctor said, provide Mr. Lewis some relief.
“When I woke up,” Mr. Lewis said, “I knew the pain was gone coming down from my neck to my shoulders and to my arms immediately.” As he recovered, the pain throughout his back diminished even more.
“I can’t say enough about Dr. Herzog, because he really took an interest in me,” Mr. Lewis said. “When I was volunteering, he’d always pull me aside and talk with me. He’s just a tremendous surgeon.”
As Dr. Herzog contemplated private practice this past year, a few of his ex-Army friends and colleagues at OrthoVirginia gave him a call. At the time, he was interviewing for positions in California — he’d grown up there, one of 11 brothers and sisters — but he says, “I loved the practice [at OrthoVirginia]. They had a great system — a very efficient shop and exceptional surgeons. I wanted my name to be associated with this group.”
It wasn’t difficult to persuade his wife and five children. They were used to moving from place to place and were looking forward to putting down roots. And Richmond’s abundant bike and running trails, plus the James River, made this active family particularly excited to come here. From marathons, 5K’s and fun runs, “we will be doing all of that,” says Dr. Herzog, who has completed 15 triathlons and is also passionate about soccer.
Beaumont was also a teaching hospital, and education is still an important part of what Dr. Herzog wants to continue. Before he came to Richmond, he organized the El Paso Spine Society. All of the spinal surgeons from practices across the city would come together to share information, discussing problems and solutions to improve patient care. He also created Step Up (Sports Training El Paso Universal Prevention), an annual seminar for primary-care providers, coaches and athletic trainers to help them to better understand sports injuries. He hopes to start similar organizations here in Richmond.
But the most important part of education, Dr. Herzog says, is helping patients understand every aspect of their care.
“I want to be able to take patients and their families through a descriptive process of complex spine surgeries so that they understand their options,” he says. “That’s my passion.”