The delisting of eight academic institutions specializing in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) from an international directory of medical schools will not impact any students past or present, according to education authorities in China.
The Ministry of Education told Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper on Monday that the removal of the Chinese institutions from the World Directory of Medical Schools will not prevent those schools’ graduates from legally obtaining a license to practice as a physician.
The ministry also confirmed that two of the country’s top TCM schools — Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Beijing University of Chinese Medicine — are among the delisted institutions. The other six are in the provinces of Guizhou, Heilongjiang, Liaoning, Shanxi, and Yunnan, as well as the coastal municipality of Tianjin.
“Colleges and universities of traditional Chinese medicine are an indispensable part of China’s higher medical institutions,” the ministry said in a statement to The Paper. “Graduates of traditional Chinese medical colleges are awarded degrees, sit for qualification exams, and (if they pass) obtain the appropriate license. These facts won’t be changed or affected in any way because of the delisting from a nongovernmental organization.”
The World Directory of Medical Schools is a joint venture between nonprofits World Federation for Medical Education (WFME) and Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research, and lists medical schools from across the globe to help people “make informed decisions about medical schools and their graduates,” according to its website.
The WFME told Sixth Tone in an email that the eight traditional Chinese medicine schools were removed on Nov. 1 because “they did not offer a program leading to a qualification normally recognized as a medical qualification that permits clinical medical practice outside of China.”
“The World Directory of Medical Schools is mainly intended to be a source of information for verification of the existence of medical schools worldwide,” said the WFME. “To include a qualification which is not normally recognized as a medical qualification outside of the host country would be of little value.”
The decision, however, is “not a comment” on the quality or importance of TCM, staff from the federation said.
The removal of the institutions has alarmed many TCM practitioners, especially those working outside China. A staff member at the Canadian alumni chapter of Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine who declined to use her full name because of privacy concerns told Sixth Tone that the school’s removal from the directory has rattled many in the alumni network, leading to speculation that TCM degree holders wouldn’t be able to practice as medical doctors.
China now has 187 medical schools in the directory, including at least 20 TCM schools. A spokeswoman for the medical accreditation committee under the Ministry of Education declined Sixth Tone’s request for comment Tuesday, saying only that the issue is being investigated. It is unclear why some TCM schools were delisted while others were allowed to remain in the directory.
At a time when China’s TCM development has attracted immense political backing and investment — including plans to have at least one TCM clinic in every county by 2022 — the traditional medicine industry has also come under increased scrutiny from Western medical experts. In early November, Europe’s leading medical authorities urged the World Health Organization to reconsider including a section on TCM in the latest edition of its authoritative disease manual, arguing that doing so could legitimize unproven therapies.
But an alumna from the delisted Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, surnamed Li, told Sixth Tone that she isn’t worried about the industry’s prospects in China.
“Western medicine may be valid in diagnosis, but traditional Chinese medicine is adept at long-term curative effects,” said Li, a senior TCM doctor at Taiyuan No. 2 People’s Hospital in the northern Shanxi province. “Lots of people take TCM. I don’t think the removals will affect us that much.”
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: A pharmacist weighs TCM ingredients in Shanghai, Oct. 21, 2019. Yang Yi/VCG)