China 2007

Alexis Lawrence, University of Massachusetts Medical School

Document Type Report


I intended to participate in TCM courses at the Chengdu University school of TCM. Upon arriving in China my emails to my established contacts were not answered. I had arranged housing separately through an ex-pat friend living in the area, so my housing was not affected. My friend sent out an email to a female ex-pat group explaining my situation, and I was able to participate in multiple medically relevant activities during my time in Chengdu.

I worked with a couple of different TCM physicians, and had days spent learning about herbal medicine, the process of a medical visit to a TCM doctor, and the theory of TCM. Other days were spent with different practioners in acupressure, reflexology, and cupping. For these visits, I interviewed the doctors with the aid of a translator. I spent half a week with an Israeli doctor, the first westerner to open a TCM practice in China. His practices utilized both Western theories of medicine and TCM, in one clinic he saw entirely an entirely Chinese patient population, another was split between local Chinese and expat patients, and alternate weekends were spent doing outreach in rural communities. One day was spent in labs interviewing a PhD on her TCM research (herbal medicine in HIV and AIDS cases), this doctor had written her dissertation in the UK, and so I also did not employ a translator during this interview. Finally, I spent a day with a PhD student from Berkeley working with the Sichuan CDC on schistosomiasis reemergence in rural areas- again, no translator was used here.

For the first week I took Mandarin lessons in the mornings with a private tutor, thereafter I took lessons twice a week.

Ultimately I had an excellent experience, and one that I think was richer than the one I'd originally planned for myself. HOWEVER, I feel I was extremely lucky to get such a robust response for my cry for help upon arrival in China. I was terrified to find upon arrival that the nice, organized program I'd planned on was no longer returning my calls. I would, obviously, NOT suggest trying to complete a program through the Chengdu University of TCM, and would HEARTILY recommend participating in an already well-established program through Pathways. That being said, any international experience can be gratifying. Learning what it's like to feel helpless and alone in another country, especially one where you are not language proficient is a feeling all too familiar to many US patients. Being able to sympathize with those patients, and better grasp their predicament and priorities, is a valuable learning experience that can (and did) come out of the failure of my original plan.