Last month, the World Directory of Medical Schools delisted eight universities specializing in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), removing the institutions from its databases.
Some prestigious Chinese higher-education institutions, such as the Beijing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, are among those removed.
The Chinese Ministry of Education later responded and dismissed worries among aspiring physicians, saying that TCM universities will remain an important part of China’s higher education and that such a removal would not affect graduates’ eligibility to attend medial licensing examinations.
According to an emailed reply from the directory, the eight Chinese universities were delisted because they did not provide “a complete or full program,” a requirement which is deemed necessary in order for students to qualify to apply for licensure to practice as physicians.
The World Directory of Medical Schools is a publicly available list of institutions that provide medical education. Being listed indicates a medical school’s credibility.
First published by the World Health Organization in 1953, the nongovernmental organization is now managed by the World Federation for Medical Education and the Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research.
The directory is quite authoritative and frequently used by universities in the United States and other Western nations to confirm the qualifications of foreign applicants.
Despite the fact that the removal will not influence graduates’ ability to obtain a medical license in China, it will surely affect those schools’ international profiles and the reputations of their programs, thus posing a threat to Chinese students majoring in TCM who want to pursue further education in Western universities.
TCM has long been regarded as a national treasure of China. However, how to make TCM better understood and recognized by the world is a pressing task at present. Apart from communication problems caused by language barriers, this removal of TCM institutions also tells us that there is still much room for improvement in the field in terms of production, tracing and rating systems.
The shared mission of TCM and Western medicine is to contribute to public health and save lives. As herbs are the main ingredient in TCM products, strengthening the management of TCM drugs and ensuring quality and safety during the entire production process is of great significance to maintaining public health and the sustainable growth of the industry.
Although the quality of TCM drugs has been improving in recent years in China, some problematic practices still exist, such as excessively using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in growing the herbs, using substandard herbs and substitutes, preserving raw materials through sulfur treatments, adulterating materials in the production process, and overpricing the final product.
More efforts should also be made to establish a tracing system that covers not only production but also the distribution, sale and even original sources of the raw herbal materials used in TCM so as to form a strict and law-abiding environment for the growth of the industry in China.
Rating and promotion are also important. Apart from within China, TCM is used in more than 180 countries and regions all over the world. Efforts should be made to promote the dissemination of TCM, and more programs for international TCM cooperation should be carried out.
At the same time, since TCM was initiated in China and is mainly used by people of Chinese origin, it is important to develop our own evaluating system rather than simply borrow standards from Western medicine.
(The author is the editor-in-chief of Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University)