RMIT’s Chinese medicine students get to grips with one of the world’s most ancient and respected therapies when they spend a semester at a busy hospital in Nanjing, China.
In a partnership that has lasted more than 20 years, Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine (NUCM) and RMIT have worked together to provide a well-rounded learning experience for students.
For RMIT’s Chinese medicine students, this means spending a semester in Jiangsu Provincial Hospital of Chinese Medicine where they can focus on applying their knowledge of Chinese and western medicine in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases in a real-world environment.
The internship gives students a comprehensive clinical training experience involving extensive observation combined with practice in various therapies and approaches in Chinese medicine under close staff supervision.
Students are rotated through different departments every few weeks so they receive exposure to many different health conditions.
Recent graduate Johannah Shergis said she was drawn to the Chinese medicine double degree at RMIT because she was keen to receive a unique learning experience.
“The dual program meant that I could learn about the body, disease and physiological processes from a contemporary perspective as well as learn the traditional system of Chinese medicine,” Shergis said.
“In addition, the offer of a semester abroad as an intern in one of the largest Chinese medicine hospitals in China really appealed to me.”
According to Shergis, the first thing that hits you when you arrive in China is the sheer size of everything.
“The first day I arrived at the hospital I was in awe,” she said.
“The scale of everything in China is big – buildings, population, distances – the number of clinical departments and breadth of speciality doctors is astounding.”
She said one of the major challenges was the pace of the work environment and the language barrier.
“I studied Chinese for one year as did many of my classmates, however my Chinese language was not good enough to understand the patients and doctors, especially in terms of medical language and fast-paced talking.
“The NUCM organised translators for me and other students who were not fluent in Chinese.
“The translators were excellent and they even took us to some local activities and we become good friends.”
Shergis said at first it was difficult to adjust to the pace of the busy hospital, but after a few weeks it began to feel routine.
“I was working in the outpatients department and from the moment the doors opened in the morning until the end of the day there was a constant flow of patients, doctors and students,” she said.
“I enjoyed learning from the doctors in the respiratory medicine department because they were very generous with their knowledge and I was able to see some interesting cases, some of which are quite rare in Australia.
“Undertaking the internship with my classmates reassured me about living in a new country as well as providing familiar faces to talk about the experience and share stories with and it was also great to have a social network for participating in activities outside of the hospital.”
During their time in China, students are immersed into the local culture, attending events celebrating Chinese culture and festivals or events related to Chinese medicine.
“I enjoyed attending early morning tai chi classes run by the hospital where patients, doctors and even locals came down for a community exercise session,” Shergis said.
“It was fantastic to see that people, especially the elderly, are committed to exercising and staying healthy.
“My time in China certainly gave me a better understanding about how Chinese medicine is influenced by Chinese culture.”
To enhance the learning experience and for quality assurance, Dr Tony Zhang, discipline leader of Chinese medicine, travels to Nanjing with the students for support during orientation and then again during clinical examinations in the final week of the program.
“In Australia, the practice of Chinese medicine is community-based whereas in China, it is largely hospital-based,” Zhang said.
“This work-integrated learning experience in China allows students to apply their knowledge and skills in a real workplace context and the feedback from industry and community is integral to their learning experience.”
Students observe and treat patients with a variety of clinical conditions under the supervision of a Chinese medicine practitioner within the hospital’s departments of internal medicine, acupuncture, gynaecology, paediatrics, traumatology and dermatology.
They also attend lectures and tutorials at the hospital to supplement their practical learning with theory and study.
“This experience enables students to develop their ability to apply knowledge and skills of medicine principles in diagnosis of diseases,” Zhang said.
“This includes the ability to diagnose and differentiate diseases and disorders according to both Chinese and contemporary medicine and to formulate an appropriate acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine treatment plan.”
So far, more than 400 RMIT Chinese medicine students have finished their internship in Nanjing. Eligible students can apply for an RMIT Student Mobility Grant and or Equity Travel Grant to support their internship.
Story: Rebecca McGillivray