Traditional Chinese medicine schools removed from global medical school directory

Society & Culture

Eight Chinese medical schools that specialize in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) have been removed from the World Directory of Medical Schools, a country-by-country listing of institutions approved by the World Federation for Medical Education (WFME) and the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG).

Beijing University of Chinese Medicine (BUCM) and Shanghai University of Chinese Medicine (SUCM), two of the oldest and most reputable TCM schools, were among the delisted.

Some students at these schools have already felt the chilling effects of the removal: Hé Xīnyí 何心怡, a 2013 graduate of BUCM, told China News Weekly (in Chinese) that she was ineligible to take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), a three-step exam for medical licensure in the U.S., because her school was no longer on the list. According to He, some of her classmates who had already taken the exam received notices from the test organizer saying that their scores would not be delivered.

Per a string of emails sent by ECFMG to explain the delisting, BUCM, by definition, is a “TCM school” that can’t be appropriately accredited and thus its graduates aren’t allowed to take the USMLE. Contacted by Chinese blog DeepTech, David Gordon, the president of WFME, clarified (in Chinese) that the decision was made after years of deliberate consideration and internal debates about how to incorporate TCM schools into the list. In the email response to DeepTech’s questions, Gordon mentioned that there were examples of Chinese graduates from those universities not disclosing their TCM background and successfully becoming doctors in foreign countries, which he regarded as fraudulent.

“The decision has nothing to do with how good these schools are in teaching TCM knowledge or how TCM is perceived in the country,” Gordon said in the reply. “The directory is a reliable source of information in terms of globally recognized medical schools. Therefore, how important TCM is in a certain country is meaningless to us.”

Schools that got booted out have expressed frustration over the removal. Zhāng Jùnhuá 张俊华, a school official at Tianjin University of Chinese Medicine, told China News Weekly that the decision revealed the poor understanding of TCM. Zhang stressed that TCM was a “mainstream medical practice” in China and had formed a “independent and comprehensive system” of its own.

Though it’s been around for centuries, TCM has become a hot-button issue in recent years largely due to the increasingly aggressive endorsement by the Chinese government, which has been trying to promote the use of the remedies despite a lack of scientific evidence to prove their safety and effectiveness.

The news has sparked a flurry of reactions (in Chinese) from both sides of the argument, with TCM believers condemning the decision, and skeptics applauding it as further proof that the ancient and predominantly experience-based medical methods had no appeal in the international community.

Below are some of the most passionate responses:

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“Chinese people boycott our own medical practices. So pathetic.”

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“So many trolls in the comment section. I hope you never use TCM in your life. You are such a disgrace to our ancestors. TCM and Western medicine have their own values. I have no time for debates, but I have to tell you to shut the f**k up if you know nothing.”

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“I see a bunch of TCM haters talking nonsense here. You think you are on the right side of history because of a decision made by a non-governmental organization. With a history of thousands of years, TCM will continue thriving despite your slandering. Our country has stated its determination to promote TCM on multiple occasions. The future of TCM is bound to be bright!”

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“After all, TCM is a homemade product that only appeals to Chinese people.”

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“TCM is an art of language.”

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“I feel empathy for the students who majored in modern medicine in those schools. They studied science but are now considered swindlers.”

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“I assume those who studied TCM never planned to practice it abroad. I’m sure they will find enough patients in China who are gullible enough to believe them.”