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Following my Masters program, I had the exciting opportunity to intern through the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine at Wangjing Hospital. It was an eye-opening experience to see Traditional Chinese Medicine being practiced first-hand, and with a scope far beyond what we can do here in the States. There were many striking parts for me. One was the seamless integration of western and Chinese medicine being practiced side by side in one hospital. Another, the length of time that patients would stay for treatment. Once admitted, many would have daily acupuncture and herbal treatments for weeks or months before being released. Families would often move to Beijing for the duration, and provide bedding, food and nursing care for their family member. Acupuncture treatments cost less than $1 per day. Hygiene seemed strangely unimportant anywhere in the hospital. It was normal for a doctor to treat 200 people per day.
I was very lucky to have my good student friend, Emily, as my travel partner, study partner, and translator. We managed to organize an internship just for the two of us. What this meant was that we were basically on our own, without a local guide or larger support group. Staying in the BUCM dorms outside the 3rd ring, well away from the tourist areas afforded us a close look at the Beijinger lifestyle. We found our favorite markets and noodle houses, ate some delicious local foods, and passed on other interesting looking “foods”. We navigated the busses and subways, walking what seemed millions of miles. We survived crossing the crazy streets each day, and enjoyed the springtime blossoms bursting everywhere. Although it was the cleanest time of year in Beijing, the smog was still quite visible. We took in the sights, sounds and smells of a completely foreign (to me) land. Without Emily as my translator and guide, I would have been lost. English speakers were few and far between, and everything was written in Chinese.
Our internship was shared between 2 clinics: Galvano Acupuncture (a type of electric acupuncture you won’t find in the US) and Rheumatology, which was 100% herbal medicine. As not all doctors spoke English, the teaching style was “watch and learn”. In one clinic however, the doctor had learned to speak excellent English partly by watching American TV and delighted in having two American interns to practice with. His favorite show was “Friends”. We observed tongues and took pulses on up to 75 patients per morning. Even at this pace he would sometimes take little breaks to recount a favorite episode about Monica, Rachel or Ross.
Between shifts we explored other floors of the hospital, stuck our heads into various clinics, ordered herbs from the pharmacies, and Emily scheduled a tuina (medical massage) treatment with a cute doctor! After our clinic work, we were extremely fortunate to make our way across Beijing to study with the legendary (now late) Dr. Wang Ju-Yi, who lectured and demonstrated from his famous book, “Applied Channel Theory in Chinese Medicine”. The memories and lessons of those hours in his clinic are extremely precious and will stay with me for a lifetime.
Rare free time was spent grabbing a quick view of Beijing’s historic sites such as the Forbidden City, Tienanmen Square, Summer Palace and the Great Wall. We rode the bullet train for a weekend in Shanghai. What an amazing jam packed adventure!