As the general public in Hong Kong becomes increasingly health-conscious, the popularity of traditional Chinese medicine has soared and it has become widely recognised as a very effective means of health care. Consequently, the government has introduced more regulatory measures and local universities are putting greater efforts into enhancing overall standards.
As a leading example of this, the School of Professional and Continuing Education of the University of Hong Kong (HKU SPACE) has recently established a Chinese Medicine Master Practitioners' Clinic. Its aim is to raise the standard of teaching, research and clinical services provided by local practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine.
HKU SPACE has been offering a number of other Chinese medicine programmes since 1991. These range from short courses and certificate and diploma programmes to Bachelor's and Master's degrees, covering areas such as herbal medicines, acupuncture and therapeutic massage.
Two visiting mainland lecturers, Professor Han Mingxiang and Dr Meng Fengxian, have been invited to join the new clinic. The former is actually the first nationally recognised master practitioner of Chinese medicine to be based in Hong Kong. The latter also has extensive experience in the field.
According to Dr Shen Shir-ming, deputy director of HKU SPACE, there are only about 400 nationally recognised master practitioners. "To be qualified as such requires the approval of the Ministry of Personnel, Ministry of Health and the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine," she says, adding that it is also necessary to reach the appropriate level of seniority, have practised for not less than 30 years, and to have gained national recognition for academic and research achievements.
Both Professor Han and Dr Meng will conduct research and lead a one-to-one Initiation Programme with Master Practitioner for HKU SPACE. It is a postgraduate course for experienced registered Chinese medicine practitioners in Hong Kong. Under close supervision, the students will also be required to carry out research on specific topics.
Dr Shen points out that this is a simplified version of the type of mentorship programme which is already operating on the mainland. There, the requirements are stricter and the programme lasts for three years. She says that learning through practice is very important in Chinese medicine and believes that having recognised master practitioners to share their knowledge and experience will afford an invaluable opportunity for students in Hong Kong.
Regarding future developments, Dr Shen expects to see increasing integration with western medicine. While the two disciplines have a different focus – on prevention and cure respectively – she thinks they can actually complement each other, particularly in tackling illnesses such as cancer.
She also thinks it is necessary to establish a hospital for patients being treated with Chinese medicine. "It would allow better services for patients while also serving as a base for research and teaching," she notes. Besides that, it would provide job opportunities and a clear career path for trained practitioners.
Currently, there are over 8,000 registered Chinese medicine practitioners listed in Hong Kong. That number will continue to grow, since there are over 100 new graduates each year from HKU SPACE alone.