Traditional cures

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2007, 12:00am

Name: Bill Guan; Age: 44; Occupation: Chinese medicine researcher

Young Post: What made you become a Chinese medicine researcher?

Guan: I studied pharmacy and western medicine in Guangzhou in the 1980s. I went to Australia to work as a pharmacist in the 1990s. The interest Australians showed in Chinese medicine really intrigued me.

Many rich people wanted help from Chinese medicine practitioners as an alternative to western medicine.

I wanted to know why Chinese medicine was held in such high esteem in the west, so I began to conduct research on Chinese medicine.

In 1997, I returned to Hong Kong and worked as a herbalist and clinical researcher.

YP: You have studied both Chinese and western medicine. How are they different?

G: Western medicine is a precise science which focuses on the study of pathology and the anatomy of the human body.

A western doctor will only prescribe medicine to a patient after he finds out what is causing the disease. For example, a doctor will administer medication to a patient with a cold to kill off the bugs that caused the cold in the first place.

But a Chinese medicine practitioner finds it unnecessary to pinpoint the origin of the disease before prescribing medicine.

After assessing the general well-being of the patient, he prescribes a concoction that helps restore the balance of the patient's body.

YP: Given the differences between Chinese and western medicine, how should a patient choose between them?

G: Both western and Chinese medicines have their strengths and shortcomings.

The ideal solution would be a comprehensive treatment that incorporates both.

For example, a western doctor may prescribe chemotherapy to stem the growth of cancerous cells.

While the treatment is successful in stamping out cancerous cells, it also damages healthy cells and weakens the immunity system.

Chinese medicine can come in handy at this point. By strengthening the resistance of the patient, Chinese medicine can reinvigorate the ailing body and lessen the side effects of chemotherapy.

YP: Although many locals still prefer to visit western doctors, Chinese medicine has received more recognition over the years.

How do you think Chinese medicine will develop in the future?

G: The importance people attach to Chinese medicine has been increasing over the past decade.

Local universities began to offer degree programmes in Chinese medicine in 1997.

And a registration system for Chinese medicine practitioners was put in place in 2002.

Big pharmaceutical companies specialising in Chinese medicine are also expanding beyond China.

More and more clinical research is being carried out on diseases considered incurable in western medicine, such as eczema and Alzheimer's disease.

With the rising popularity of herbal treatments, the development of Chinese medicine will soon catch up with that of the west.

YP: Chinese medicine doctors prescribe herbal treatments to patients who have to boil the herbal ingredients for several hours before consumption.

In contrast, western medication is much more convenient. Do you think this will hinder the development of Chinese medicine?

G: Absolutely. Western people find it very inconvenient to boil the mixture which also fills the house with a noxious smell.

To adapt Chinese medicine to modern times, more and more Chinese herbs are pulverised into powder and then made into capsules.

However, traditional Chinese think that essential elements are lost in that process and insist on boiling the medicine for consumption. It's a dilemma.

YP: Do you like your job?

G: Yes. When I see that Chinese medicine is increasingly acknowledged in Hong Kong and overseas, I feel very excited and happy.


1986-88: Studied western medicine and worked as a pharmacist in Guangzhou

1995-97: Studied Chinese medicine at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia

1997: Returned to Hong Kong and worked as a Chinese medicine researcher and practitioner

2002: Joined the department of applied science at the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (Chai Wan) as a senior lecturer

How to get there

Course: Higher Diploma in Pharmaceutical Technology

School: Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (Chai Wan)

Duration: Three years, full-time

Characteristics: The course has two streams: western medicine and Chinese medicine. It provides students with medical knowledge and skills, such as manufacturing practices, pharmaceutical analyses and quality assurance. The application deadline for next year's course is April 18.


Course: Bachelor of Science in Chinese Medicinal Pharmaceutics

School: Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (Chai Wan)

Duration: Two years, part-time

Characteristics: The course covers different aspects of Chinese medicine, including the equipment for making Chinese medicine, introduction of ancient Chinese medical texts and classification of Chinese herbs.


The path

Graduates can work in private or public Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) clinics. They are also qualified for research and development posts in TCM companies, or managerial, marketing or sales jobs in TCM-related businesses. Some may do postgraduate studies and research herbal medicine, acupuncture and other branches of Chinese medicine.