Sunday November 16, 2008
BY TAN EE LOO
For those who love to heal, traditional Chinese medicine is becoming an increasingly attractive career option.
LOI Ching Yuan’s ambition was to become a zhong yi shi (traditional Chinese medicine practitioner) although he knew that his father wanted him to pursue a career in business.
He wasn’t ready to give up his dream so this led to a period of tension between him and his father.
“I was very sure about what I wanted to do. It took me about six months to convince my father that I am genuinely interested in traditional Chinese medicine,” he says.
His father finally supported his choice of study subject when he passed the entrance test after his Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examinations and was accepted into the Bachelor of Traditional Chinese Medicine programme at the Traditional Chinese Medical Institute Malaysia, an educational institution under the Malaysian Chinese Medical Association (MCMA).
Students taking the five-year degree programme have to study the history of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, moxibustion (therapy that involves the burning of the herb mugwort), anatomy, pathology, and the prescription of traditional chinese medicine such as herbs, among others.
Ching Yuan, 20, is currently in his second year and enjoying every minute of it.
After four years at the Traditional Chinese Medical Institute Malaysia, he will head for Shandong University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, China, to do his clinical practice and final year.
He is excited about his future as qualified practitioners are expected to be given greater recognition once the Traditional and Complementary Medicine (TCM) Bill is passed next year.
The Bill aims to regulate practitioners via compulsory registration, validation of qualifications against certain standards, and issuance of practising certificates.
“This will cut down the number of bogus practitioners and change people’s perception of the profession. Hopefully, more people will view it as ‘mainstream’ and give it the same regard accorded to xi yi (Western medicine),” says Ching Yuan.
MCMA (formerly known as Chinese Physicians’ Association of Malaysia) secretary-general Dr Lim Liang Yu says such a move will also boost professionalism among traditional Chinese medicine practitioners as well as encourage more young people to venture into this field.
“It will give consumers, including parents and prospective students, the assurance that zhong yi is a good career option.
“When parents have more confidence in ancient medical practices, they will encourage their children to study traditional Chinese medicine,” he says.
Some see the Bill, which is being drafted, as one way to “re-brand” the image of the industry, which is becoming increasingly popular.
This can be seen from the good response given to traditional and complementary medicine services introduced in three government hospitals — Putrajaya Hospital, Kepala Batas Hospital, Penang, and Sultan Ismail Hospital, Johor — under a pilot project by the Health Ministry.
The services include acupuncture, Malay traditional massage, and herbal medicine as adjunct therapy in treating cancer. These services will be expanded to three more hospitals in Terengganu, Sabah and Sarawak next year.
Of east and west
According to MCMA, zhong yi is deeply influenced by ancient Chinese culture and philosophy. It is also often viewed as complementary medicine in the West.
Currently, our country recognises traditional medicine degrees from the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine.
According to Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai, two other universities whose degrees will soon be recognised are Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine. Graduates from these universities need not sit for any local examination before starting work at government hospitals.
The Health Minister also said that Malaysian universities will be able to offer 12 traditional TCM courses after the Bill is passed. Several private higher education institutions have already applied to offer twinning programmes in traditional Chinese medicine with Chinese universities.
Prospective practitioners have to undergo formal training, and one of the pre-requisites for this is a strong command of the Chinese language, says Dr Lim.
“As most information is in Chinese, students need to be fairly proficient in the language so that it is easier for them to build up a strong foundation,” he says.
Capital TCM institute principal Lim Yew Chee says plans for degree and masters programmes in traditional Chinese medicine in the English language are in the pipeline.
“We have been receiving enquiries from those whose first language is not Chinese, so we feel it is timely to introduce programmes in English,” he says.
To ensure that students have a more holistic view of medicine, Lim’s students are required to study Western medicine, which constitutes 30% of the content in the degree programme.
“I used to think that only the elderly believe in traditional Chinese medicine but I realise now that is not true. An increasing number of young people are showing interest in this field,” says Capital TCM Institute student Tan Ker Shin, 19.
However, prospective students need to be wary of marketing ploys when they check out institutions offering TCM programmes.
Do your homework and ask the right questions, advises Capital TCM Institute student Ho Sin Khee, 28.
“You need to know if you will be awarded a certificate or degree upon graduation. The duration of clinical practice and quality of teaching staff are other factors that need to be taken into consideration,” Sin Khee adds.
Many people perceive the career prospects for traditional Chinese medicine graduates as good.
“The graduates have great career opportunities. They can work for non-profit organisations, set up private clinics or work at companies dealing in healthcare products,” says Dr Lim.
“I am not worried about jobs at all as I have confidence in this discipline. Both my uncle and brother are zhong yi shi,” says another Capital TCM Institute student, Lim Chiang Fong.
Meanwhile, Ker Shin, who hails from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, is keen to go back to her hometown and set up a Chinese herbal store there once she completes her degree.
“There is even less competition in East Malaysia because of the low number of practitioners there,” she says.
The Government needs to set up an effective system to cope with the supply and demand of traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, says Dr Lim.
As such, it should recognise more traditional Chinese medicine qualifications from Chinese universities to ensure that the country has enough trained practitioners, he adds.
Challenging task ahead
Chiang Fong is not the only one nursing hopes that traditional Chinese medicine will be more widely accepted as the country progresses.
However, promoting this can be a challenging task as there is still scepticism among Western-trained medical doctors.
“Most people seem to think that traditional Chinese medicine is only about acupuncture. That’s not true. There are other forms of treatment as well such as tui na (massage) and ba guan (cupping),” says Yang Feng, who has been a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner for more than seven years.
Dr Lim says inadequate access to information about traditional Chinese medicine is one of the obstacles to developing this field.
“We should have more open days, talks and seminars to promote this discipline to parents and students,” he says.