Six Lessons Western Medical Practitioners Can Learn From Traditional Chinese Medicine

For BlogIn a culture dominated by Western medical philosophy, it’s sometimes nice to be reminded how much Traditional Chinese Medicine has to offer.  In an article published on Psychology Today’s website, Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and Director of Patient-Centered Care Research at Georgetown University, describes a recent trip to China where she became fascinated with TCM.

As one who grew up in China, Dr. Wen was culturally aware of TCM, but knew nothing beyond two facts: it involved herbs and many Chinese people embraced it.  Her medical education drew her to major academic centers in the U.S.—establishments that tend to devote little attention to alternative medicines.  When she returned to China primarily to study its medical system, she became preoccupied with TCM practitioners and spent much of her free time shadowing them.  Here are six simple, but profound things she learned from her time there:

  1. Listen—really listen.  To practice TCM is to listen with “your whole body.”  Pay attention and use every sense you have.
  1. Focus on the diagnosis.  Treatment should be diagnosis-based.  Moving forward with a treatment when a cause is not identified is fruitless.  Always begin with the diagnosis.
  1. Treat the whole person.  The difference between Eastern and Western medicine is that the latter treats the patient as an organ and the former treats the patient as a whole.
  1. Health is not just about disease, but also about wellness.  Many choose to see a TCM practitioner not when they’re sick, but to maintain and improve wellness.   This approach to health and prevention should be carefully considered by the west.
  1. Medicine is a life-long practice.  Eastern medical practices place value on age and experience, it is, after all, thousands of years old.  Practitioners are expected to commit to life-long learning.
  1. Evidence is in the eye of the beholder.   Evidence is important.  So is research.  But research is done on populations and medical treatment is done with individuals.  Sometimes the most important evidence is meeting those for whom TCM has made a difference.

Click here to access the entire article at Psychology Today where you can read more about Dr. Wen’s experience and observations.

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