KILN scholar Stephanie Mui in front of a nursing station

With funding from my Advanced Study Grant, I was able to spend this past summer in Beijing health facilities, learning about traditional Chinese medicine as well as the overall approach to healthcare in China. I hoped to obtain hands‐on experience in this field as I worked with both nurses and physicians in Beijing hospitals, gaining appreciation for diverse approaches to healthcare and ultimately becoming more culturally competent.

I spent two days in the largest cancer specialty facility in China, the Cancer Institute and Hospital of the Chinese Academy of Medical Science. During my time here, I shadowed an oncology physician who provided me with a glimpse of how healthcare is provided in large hospitals in China compared to America. For instance, the use of sterile technique in this hospital was much less stringent than in America. Overcrowding of patients and understaffing was common too, thus patients often had to wait for an open bed. Despite the differences, the hospital functions very well. Many of the physicians are highly acclaimed for their cutting edge research and comprehensive education within the facility, and I was fortunate to have the privilege of working with a few of these scholars.

After my time here, I spent the bulk of my internship at a Beijing Community Health Center. My supervisor was the director of the massage department in the clinic, so this was where I spent the majority of my time. I gained incredible respect for the art of massage, which involves much more thinking, manipulation, and strength than I had imagined. This department also specialized in cupping, a procedure in which a partial vacuum is created in a glass jar. The glass is heated, and then placed on the individual’s body, forming an airtight seal. As the air inside the glass cools, it contracts and applies suction to mobilize blood flow and promote healing. Cupping is thought to extract toxins, stress, and tension from certain parts of the body, and is used to treat backaches and sprains, among other things.

KILN scholar Stephanie Mui with her supervisor

The second part of my internship centered primarily on acupuncture, which is used to treat conditions such as sleeplessness, irregular menses, weight gain, infection, whiplash, and cancer. The acupuncturists believe that the body is composed of qi, an energy force that flows freely along the meridians of the body. This energy must be balanced in order for one to have optimal health. If qi is unbalanced or disturbed, illness or disease will result. In acupuncture, needles are inserted and manipulated into points along the body to restore the natural flow of qi.

Finally, I was able to witness and learn a bit about the use of herbal therapy in the acute care setting. The nurses store the herbs in a refrigerator on the floor and boil them in water when needed. The ingredients range from ginseng to snake skin, and there are tens of thousands of recipes with many functions. Chinese herbal therapy is used to treat a myriad of conditions, including fever, constipation, and amenorrhea.

After gathering enough background information on the traditional therapies and learning the basic techniques, I had the opportunity to practice my newfound skills. I was able to perform massage and acupuncture on the doctors and willing patients, and I was also able to experience the therapies for myself. It was very relaxing, much more comfortable and soothing than I imagined.

Students in China often devote years of their education to focus on massage, acupuncture, and herbal medicine. My three weeks in Beijing merely provided me with a glimpse of these traditional therapies, but I have definitely gained deeper respect and understanding for this type of medicine. Additionally, I have learned much about Chinese culture by interviewing patients and remaining very observant of my surroundings. My perspective on healthcare in China has changed immensely, and I can say, without a doubt, that I am more culturally competent. Keeping what I have learned in mind, I will now be able to better understand, communicate, and negotiate with patients in the healthcare setting as a nurse and nurse practitioner in the future.