My name is Ashley and I am a current fourth-year student in the Bachelor of Medical Sonography and Graduate Diploma of Medical Sonography program at the CQU Melbourne campus. I commenced study at CQUni in 2014 after completing a Bachelor of Health Science on the Gold Coast. Although I was born in South Africa, I moved to Australia when I was five, and now call Melbourne “home”.
In recognition of my academic achievement throughout my studies, I was invited to join the Golden Key International Honours Society in 2015, who partner with ‘Envision’ and the International Scholar Laureate Program (ILSP). I was given the opportunity to explore health care and medical education in a different culture as part of the Delegation in Medicine and Science, hosted by the ISLP in China. The international program offers educational opportunities and experiences to high achieving students in delegations such as Medicine and Science, Engineering, Business, Nursing and Healthcare, and Diplomacy, visiting countries across the world.
As part of the experience, I travelled to Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Beijing was the first stop on the itinerary, where a speaker on cross-cultural communication enlightened the group about common Chinese traditions and practices, as well as some useful Mandarin phrases such as good morning, hello and thank you. Our next speaker was Dr Xianyun Li from the Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Centre in China, who presented a lecture on psychology and psychiatric health, and the statistics and stigma surrounding mental health disorders compared with westernised cultures. As a doctor at the suicide prevention centre, Dr Li enlightened us on the incidence and social implications of mental health disorders, particularly making a comparison between metropolitan and rural areas in China. Dr Li highlighted the trends in youth suicide in China compared with western cultures.
A clinical site visit to Beijing’s Guang’anmen Hospital, was an eye-opening experience into the practice of traditional Chinese medicine. As a hospital that practices in traditional Chinese medicine as well as scientific research and teaching, it was a great place to learn about the theories behind TCM, and the differences when compared with our practice of medicine.
I was delighted to introduce the speaker, Dr Cui Yongqiang, who is has a wealth of knowledge surrounding acupuncture, herbal remedies and Chinese massage in the treatment of different conditions. It was interesting to learn some of the beliefs and rationales that form the basis of traditional medicine; for example, there are five broad principles that define disease processes, which can be based on physical cues such as the appearance of the tongue. “Yin and Yang” is a traditional Chinese phrase that is figuratively a world apart from western thinking; it is symbolic for “opposite but complementary energies” that reflect two unique entities that are interdependent of each other. This applies to the treatment of diseases in restoring the balance between two interdependent qualities to blend into a seamless “whole”. Dr Cui described the difference between TCM and Western Medicine, saying that TCM adopts a more holistic approach to treating each patient as a unique and organic whole; incorporating mental, emotional, physical and spiritual components, rather than delving deeper into the physiological counterparts of scientific / evidence-based research adopted by western medicine. As part of the hospital tour, I was able to experience TCM from a health professional’s perspective, from the diagnosis through to the treatment of conditions using traditional and herbal remedies. Many clinics incorporate TCM into western medical practice, while others rely solely on traditional practice.
An afternoon at the Peking Union Medical College (PUMC) was a great learning experience into the training of doctors in China. The University was founded in 1917 and is considered to be one of the best Medical schools in China. Bao, a first-year medical student at PUMC, introduced the campus and gave a tour of the teaching labs, where a group of students were able to demonstrate the use of cadavers as a learning tool for anatomy. TCM comprises a small component of learning material within medical training; however, most students choose to take the path of western medicine.
Some of the cultural experiences in Beijing included tours of Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City, climbing the Great Wall of China, visiting the ‘Water Cube’ and ‘Bird’s Nest’ (which were home to the 2008 Beijing Olympics), exploring the Summer Palace, as well as interacting with local residents at the English corner.
The Great Wall of China was one of the highlights of the trip. The Badaling section is the most popular and well-preserved region of the wall (built in 1504), winding through the undulating peaks of North Beijing. The wall is approximately 5000 km in total length, constructed to protect against raids and invasions, and remains one of the well-known symbols of China. The wall itself is built from stone and rocks, with steps of various sizes and shapes. Climbing to the highest point of the wall opened up to amazing views and an unforgettable experience.
The water cube and ‘Birds Nest’ are well-known stadiums built specifically for the 2008 Olympic Games hosted in Beijing. Each mascot is given a name, which uses repetitive syllables (a traditional Chinese way to show affection), and collectively a called FUWA (“Good luck dolls”). The names of the mascots translate to “Beijing welcomes you”.
One of the highlights of the experience was the English Corner at a local University. This is an open space for local Chinese students and community members to visit to practice their English. Interacting with a group of local students and residents was a truly humbling experience, and taught me so much about the culture and gave me an opportunity to learn more about the daily life in China.
Afternoon at the summer palace – caught the subway to the summer palace, which has a remarkable place in Chinese history as well as being the largest and most well-preserved imperial garden. An ensemble of lakes and gardens, the summer palace was first built in 1750.
The high-speed train between Beijing and Xian was an impressive way to experience the countryside of China.
The Terra Cotta Warriors were thought to be built during the reign of the first emperor of the Qin dynasty; his belief was that the terracotta soldiers would stand to protect him in the afterlife. The warriors were buried and discovered amongst farming land accidentally. Since the discovery, archaeologists work to uncover more warriors and piece them together. Each life-size warrior was created individually, with unique facial features and characteristics that define the military, cultural, social and economic history.
We were invited for lunch with a local resident farmer and famous artist in rural Xi’an. They put on an amazing spread of Chinese food, and traditional Chinese dance and entertainment.
A day at Xian Medical University, interacting with students and faculty advisors as well as a presentation from Jing Hongjun surrounding the training of medical and healthcare professionals in China, including nursing, pharmacology and medical sciences. I was paired with two of the first year nursing students, who had prepared small gifts for me, and later gave a tour of the university and the medical labs. Also attended the hospital affiliated with the university, and was given a tour of the facilities and consulting rooms by some of the medical students.
Our clinical visit to Zhongshan hospital in central Shanghai was designed to explore modern medicine with of focus on pulmonary and respiratory health. A consultant pulmonary specialist spoke about the use of ultrasound guidance in tissue biopsy sampling of lung nodules.
As part of the academic program, each delegation was separated into groups, and we had the task of presenting on a topic that focused on China’s healthcare. For the final group presentation, my group decided to compare TCM and western medicine and discuss the potential barriers that TCM would face being integrated or accepted into the western world. The conclusion of the trip was celebrated with a farewell dinner with scholars, tour guides, faculty advisors and event organisers.
I spent an afternoon taking in the profound architecture and atmosphere of the French Concession, an area that was once designated for the French government. It has since expanded and is now a popular tourist attraction. The Yu Garden is located close to the concession – ‘Yu’ in Chinese translates to pleasing and satisfying, which captures the essence of beauty and serenity in this classical garden. The garden was originally designed for the emperor’s parents as a tranquil environment for them to enjoy in their old age.
Interacting with doctors, nurses and researchers at some of China’s urban, rural and traditional Chinese medicine hospitals gave me a greater appreciation for the diversity in healthcare, as well as the similarities and differences in our health systems.
Having visited multiple hospitals during my time in China, my most memorable moment was the TCM hospital in Beijing. Having the opportunity to experience the traditional practice of herbal medicine in a hospital setting (which is completely different to our healthcare system in Australia). It was particularly interesting to visit the TCM pharmacy and observe the process of making prescriptions.
As an optional extension to the trip, a small group of scholars from all delegations travelled to Hong Kong. In our free time, we were able to explore the famous Jade and ladies markets in an afternoon of shopping. We travelled to the top of Victoria Peak on the famous funicular tram railway taking in the scenic views at an almost impossible incline. The top of the peak has spectacular views of the Hong Kong skyline and Victoria Harbour.
I toured around a picturesque Aberdeen fishing village on a sampan boat, seeing rows of old-fashioned sampans, junks and houseboats where fisherman and their families still live. The boat dropped us off at the renowned Jumbo Floating restaurant for a traditional Cantonese lunch. I spent an afternoon soaking up the sun and relaxing on the sand at repulse bay, which was a great way to enjoy the beautiful views of the southern part of the island. Took an evening open top bus tour around Kowloon, viewing attractions and historic landmarks as we travelled through the streets.
A small group visited Nong Ping and the Big Buddha on Lantau Island. The Buddha is a bronze statue that symbolises the harmonious relationship between people, nature and faith. The large central Buddha is surrounded by 6 smaller statues that represent the “6 perfections of generosity”, and are thought to offer flowers, fruit, lamp, ointment, incense and music. Took a 25-minute cable car trip to the top of the mountain, which is the longest bi-cable ropeway in Asia and travels 5.7km. 400 metres above sea level, the island views from the cable car were amazing. The cable car took us to the top of the mountain, where we then walked through the Nong Ping village and up to 268 steps to the Buddha Statue.
Throughout the experience, I gained a valuable appreciation of the Chinese culture and their healthcare system, visiting urban and rural hospitals and universities, as well as engaging with doctors, faculty members and students. In addition, the cultural excursions enabled me to explore the history and culture. This once-in-a-lifetime adventure gave me the opportunity to explore a foreign country and immerse myself in the culture, all while making some great friends and connections with advisors and doctors from around the world.