CHINESE MEDICINE CHINESE MEDICINE has been practised for thousands of years but has only recently been formally recognised in Hong Kong. From this month, existing practitioners will have the authority to issue sick leave certificates to their patients, while universities are beginning to offer degrees in the field. These developments may be regarded as milestones, but insiders said the industry had a long way to go before it became a streamlined profession. Chinese University, the University of Hong Kong and Baptist University currently offer courses in Chinese medicine. 'The traditional culture of old Chinese medicine practitioners passing on their skills to adherents is no longer acceptable in modern society,' said Che Chun-tao, director of the School of Chinese Medicine at Chinese University. 'The new generation wishing to practice must obtain a relevant degree.' Although Chinese and western medical practices are two different disciplines, it has always been the industries' ideal to have the two merge for effective treatment. This may take a long time to realise, but many patients already visit both separately. For this reason, undergraduates must have a biomedical background. 'Mutual understanding and respect of each other's professions are helpful to these patients,' Professor Che explained. At Chinese University, the number of bachelor graduates has been increasing steadily from 12 in 2004 to 18 last year and 26 this year. Professor Che said most graduates had joined the nine Chinese medical clinics in public hospitals on three-year contracts as junior Chinese medicine practitioners. Others were working for clinics in private hospitals and medical centres or those run by non-profit organisations. Graduates who opt to further their studies for master's and PhD degrees must undergo research studies. Since Chinese medical practice is now regarded as a profession in itself, its quality of service and medicine are guaranteed. Professor Che said more young people were interested in establishing a career in this field. Each year, Chinese University, the University of Hong Kong and Baptist University produce about 100 graduates. 'Our school's intake [will remain] under 30, at least for the coming years, as formal training for the profession is still in its early stages,' Professor Che said. Chinese University's bachelor of Chinese medicine degree consists of 3? years of full-time course work and 1? years of clinical study, with students receiving clinical training in hospitals in Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Professor Che commented that it would be ideal if Hong Kong had a Chinese medicine hospital for clinical training, but added, 'Like those hospitals in China, it must offer both eastern and western medical practices. 'This concerns technical problems in order to strike a balance between the two.' Feng Jiu, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Registered Chinese Medicine Practitioners Association, said the body had been lobbying the government to build a Chinese medicine hospital to provide fresh graduates with the opportunities to practice and obtain clinical experience. 'They now have a limited choice apart from working in clinics, but many are unwilling to recruit them because of their lack of experience. Although several hospitals like Kwong Wah and Yan Chai have Chinese medical clinics, vacancies are limited,' she said. Ms Feng estimated that less than 20 per cent of Chinese medicine practitioners could afford to run a proper clinic in busy commercial districts as a result of sky-rocketing rents in Hong Kong. Many Chinese doctors practise from herbal stores and even private residences, and practitioners' incomes vary from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars. She said while Chinese schools of medicine at local universities also taught western medicine, Chinese medicine, however, was not featured in western medical schools. 'Therefore, Hong Kong is not able to blend the best medical practices of the east with the west to the benefit of patients.' The 4,000-strong member association was set up in 2003 with the aim of asserting the rights of Chinese medical practitioners and to strengthen ties between members. The universities also offer courses that train professional herbalists, who are required to study Chinese medicine and herbal drugs. In November 2006, Eu Yan Sang (HK) Limited, a leading health care group with a focus on traditional Chinese medicine, opened a HK$110-million research and development centre at Yuen Long Industrial Park. The quality assurance centre helps to research Chinese medicine in a scientific and technological way. The facility provides current and aspiring professionals in the discipline an opportunity to increase their competence. The centre is collaborating with local universities in conducting research. By the 2007 academic year it will launch an internship programme with the Hong Kong Baptist University for herbalist undergraduates. Alice Wong, managing director for Eu Yan Sang, said with gradual expansion of the centre's work, it would offer more job opportunities to herbalist graduates wishing to develop their careers in advanced research. The Yuen Long facility currently has a staff of more than 100. Key players Nurse Chinese medicine practitioner Herbal dispenser Herbal pharmacist jargon Acupuncture The practice of puncturing the body with metal needles at specific points to regulate construction, defence, qi (air) and the blood. Moxibustion A method of applying a heat stimulus to the body by burning the dried and sifted leaf particles from the herb mugwort (ai ye) on or close to the skin, with the aim of freeing qi (air) and the blood, coursing qi, dispersing cold, eliminating dampness and warming yang.