RISING interest in Chinese medicine has prompted the introduction of a number of new courses by Hong Kong educational institutes which aim to upgrade the quality of studies in the field. Yet academics say a full-time training school would guarantee students received a quality education in Chinese medicine. Many have supported a suggestion made in a report on Chinese medicine, published on November 8 after being endorsed by the Executive Council, which proposed setting up a central training school to offer full-time courses. Reader in Bio-medical and Health Science at the University of Hong Kong's School of Professional and Continuing Education (SPACE), Dr Sarah Hui Siu-chun, said the establishment of a Chinese medical school responsible for providing a formal education was necessary for quality control, something that would benefit both the public and practitioners. 'The public recognises the value of Chinese medicine, but when it comes to the choice of practitioner, they have no standard for judgment,' Dr Hui said. 'The qualification obtained from the central body would guarantee the quality of graduates and raise the public's confidence in the profession.' In the meantime, continuing education programmes should be offered to existing practitioners so they could upgrade their professional knowledge. Dr Hui said the college should include a training hospital, similar to the Western teaching system. 'Chinese medicine teaching, like that of the Western medicine, should not be separated from practice,' she said. This year, SPACE introduced three new courses - the Foundation Certificate Course in Chinese Herbal Medicines, the Foundation Certificate Course in Traditional Chinese Medicines and the Certificate Course in Medical Science - on top of their four existing courses in the field. The director of the Chinese University's Chinese Medicinal Material Research Centre, Dr Paul But Pui-hay, agreed formalising Chinese medicine studies at local universities was an effective way of maintaining standards. 'As we can see, the technological and methodological development of Western medicine in Hong Kong is huge,' he said. 'Once Chinese medicine education is formalised, it will be able to develop its own characteristics and strength within the system.' Accreditation of qualifications obtained by graduates from the mainland and Taiwan would also be considered, he said. The research centre has plans to introduce short workshops for bio-medical students at all seven University and Polytechnic Grants Committee-funded institutes some time next year. The Chinese medicine report, which was drawn up over five years by a group comprising government officials and academics, also recommended establishing a list of practitioners and herbalists which could eventually lead to registration.