Doctors and Medical Education in China

Doctors and Medical Education in China
By Leon Long
China Expert

Doctors are one of the most respected professions in the world. They use their extensive knowledge in the field of medicine to assist and improve patients' well-being and improve health-care facilities. Together with other medical practitioners, they are heroes in fighting against diseases especially during a pandemic like Covid-19. Doctors across the world continue to work hard to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.

Since the outbreak began in Wuhan, Hubei Province in China, in December 2019, more than 40,000 medical practitioners came together from every corner of China to help Hubei. They worked around the clock to battle the coronavirus outbreak and finally bringing the epidemic under control. There were more than 3000 medical practitioners infected with some, sadly, succumbing to the virus.

To cope with the increasing health-care demand, the Chinese government launched the “Excellent Doctor Training Program” in 2012 aiming to train more doctors for the next 10 years. Most medical schools in China offer courses in English, where foreign nationals are welcome to China for higher education. Today, you will find many international students studying medicine in China.

The Typical Process to Become a Doctor in China

To pursue a career as a doctor has become a very competitive and comprehensive process. The number of years and steps involved will depend on the course and specialty you choose to pursue.

To become a doctor in China, a student must pass the standardized national exams in high school, complete seven years (or eight years for two medical schools) of medical studies, and undergo an internship. Students undertake basic science, liberal arts, and clinical science courses in the program. The program also requires mandatory hours of volunteer work.

Medical students spend the first two years of their typical seven-year program studying liberal arts and basic science courses. Medical schools compress clinical science courses into a two-year program that spans the third and fourth years of study. After that, students must undertake compulsory hours of internship. The duration of the internship differs across different universities. However, students must complete an internship and a clerkship before they graduate their seventh year.

When is Chinese Doctors' Day?

19th of August is designated the observance of Doctor’s Day in China, which marks the significance of doctors in safeguarding people's health. Doctor's Day was first celebrated on August 19, 2018.

What Is a “Barefoot Doctor” ?

“Barefoot doctors” first existed in China during the Cultural Revolution(1966-1976). The farmers who received training worked in their rural villages to bring basic health-care to areas in which urban-trained doctors would not settle. They promote basic preventive health-care, family planning, and treat common illnesses. The name "Barefoot doctor" originates from southern farmers, who would often work barefoot in the rice paddies.

Barefoot doctors act as primary health-care providers at the grass-roots level. Often, they grow their herbal medicine in their backyard. They often spend 50% of their time farming, and as a result, rural farmers perceived them as peers and respect their advice. They were also integrated into a system where they can refer seriously ill patients to the township and county hospitals.

The Pantheon of Modern Medicine in China

1. Dr. Wu Lien-Teh - The Father of Modern Medicine in China

Dr. Wu Lien-Teh was born in Penang in 1879. He was the first of Chinese descent to graduate as a medical doctor from the University of Cambridge.

Dr. Wu was a physician renowned for his work in public health and particularly, as the 'Plague Fighter' who stamped out the Northeastern China plague of 1910–11. He was also the first Malayan and the first Chinese-heritage person nominated to receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1935.

In 1915, the National Medical Association was formed to promote western medicine in China. Wu was elected Secretary in 1915, and President in 1916–1920.

In 1930, the Chinese government created the National Quarantine Service (NQS) and appointed Wu as its first director. Headquartered in Shanghai and staffed by Chinese personnel, NQS enabled the Chinese government to regain quarantine control of all major ports in China.

His other claim to fame is as the inventor of the Wu mask, the precursor of today's N95 mask.


2. Dr. Qiu Fazu-The Father of Modern Surgery in China

Qiu Fazu was born in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China, in December 1914. He studied medicine as his mother had died after maltreatment of appendicitis. After his finals at the German School of Medicine in Shanghai, he went to Munich after gaining a Humboldt scholarship, graduating from the medical faculty, and receiving a German MD in 1939.

Back in China, Qiu introduced modern surgical techniques, and with his experience from Germany helped in establishing medical schools. Promoting the development of abdominal and general surgery, he is considered a surgical pioneer and the main founder of organ transplantation surgery in China. In the 1970s he began the earliest research program on liver transplantation—from experimental study to clinical treatment—founding the first institute of organ transplantation in China.

Qiu Fazu was the first Asian to receive the highest German honor, the Federal Cross of Merit, in 1985.

3. Dr. HuangJiasi -Pioneer of the Chinese Thoracic Surgery

Graduated from the Peking Union Medical College, Huang became the leading thoracic surgery specialist and medical educationalist in China. Huang went to the University of Michigan Medical School in 1941, where he was instructed by Dr. John Alexander (Michigan’s first Director of Thoracic Surgery). Huang graduated from the school with a Master of Surgery Degree in 1943. Huang returned to China in 1945 and became a Professor at the Shanghai Medical College. During his position in Shanghai, Huang helped founded the Shanghai Chest Hospital and served as the first Dean of the Hospital. After his appointment, Huang moved to Beijing, where he became President of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and President of the Peking Union Medical College from 1958 to 1983. Huang’s endeavor in his career as a medical practitioner and educator helped China through the development of Thoracic Science and produced a significant number of thoracic surgeons for the country.

4. Dr. WuJieping- Pioneer of Urology in China

Born in January 1917 in Changzhou, Jiangsu, Wu studied medicine after his father said that an intellectual should strive to be either a good prime minister or an excellent doctor. Wu earned his Ph.D. in 1942 from the Peking Union Medical College, a world-class medical school at the time. He then worked at the Zhonghe Hospital before heading off to further his skills in urology at the University of Chicago in 1947. In the United States, he was instructed by Professor Charles Brenton Huggins, who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1966. Wu was also the first person on the mainland to carry out kidney transplant surgery.

5. Dr. Wu Mengchao-Father of Chinese Hepatobiliary Surgery

Wu was born in Minqing County, Fujian, in southern China, and spent a few years in East Malaysia where his father worked, returning to China for education in 1940. Wu graduated from the School of Medicine of Tongji University in July 1949 and was elected the academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1991.

During his 50 years as a hepatic surgeon, Wu has performed surgery almost every day. Until June 2011, Wu had performed over 14,000 hepatic surgeries, including more than 9,300 liver tumor resections. His success rate stood at 98.5 percent. Wu maintained a steady record of more than 200 surgeries each year.

Wu was given the honor of "Leading Medical Expert" by the Central Military Commission in 1996 and was presented the 2005 National Science and Technology Award in 2006.

He served as Director of the Research Institute for Hepatobiliary Surgery and Director of the Department of Hepatobiliary Surgery of Changhai Hospital under the Second Military Medical University, and Vice President of the Second Military Medical University.

6. Dr. Lin Qiaozhi (1901-1983) - China's Pioneer Gynecologist

Known as “the Mother of Ten-Thousand Babies” and “Angel of Life,” Lin Qiaozhi, a famed obstetrician and gynecologist in China, delivered over 50,000 babies in her career, though she didn’t marry or have any children.

Born at Gulangyu Island, in Xiamen, Fujian Province in southern China in December 1901, in 1921 she entered Peking Union Medical College(PUMC). She received her Doctor of Medicine degree and became a doctor in the PUMC hospital in 1929. Lin was later sent to London and Manchester in Britain in 1932 and Vienna in Austria in 1933 for advanced training. She then entered Chicago University Medical School for further study in 1939 and was later named an honorary member of the Chicago Academy of Nature in 1940. She was elected academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1959.

7. Dr. YanFuqing-Pioneer of Modern Medical Education in China

Born in Shanghai in 1882, he graduated from Yale Medical School with a doctorate in medicine in 1909. That same year, he was elected a member of the American Natural Sciences Association. Upon completion of his studies, Yen made his way to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in Liverpool, England for one semester's advanced study. For his work, Yen earned a certificate of study.

Yen returned to Shanghai in the winter of 1910 on a two-year Yale-China Association contract, where he worked with Dr. Edward H. Hume. His presence as a Chinese doctor in the leadership of a Western medical organization inspired confidence and interest among other Chinese medical practitioners.

In 1914, he founded the Xiangya Medical College (now part of the Central South University) in Changsha and served as the first principal. In 1926, Yen also co-founded and became the first Dean of the Institution that would ultimately become the Fudan University Medical School. He would go on to spearhead the opening of the Shanghai Medical Center and the establishment of the Hunan-Yale Medical School.

8. Tang Fei-fan (1897-1958)- Pioneer of the Vaccine in China

Born in Liling County, Hunan Province in 1897, he graduated from the Xiangya College of Medicine (now Xiangya School of Medicine, Central South University) in 1921. In 1925 he went to the United States to study bacteriology under Professor Hans Zinsser at Harvard University. He returned to China in 1929 and became a Professor at the Medical School of National Central University. In 1935 he was recruited as a researcher at the British National Institute for Medical Research, a position in which he remained until 1937.

After the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, he founded the Central Epidemic Prevention Laboratory in Kunming, capital of southwest China's Yunnan Province, and served as its director. He made China's first batch of penicillin vaccines and serum with his team for the soldiers at the frontline. After the war, he established China's first antibiotic research and penicillin production workshop, as well as the BCG vaccine laboratory.

In 1950, a terrible plague hit northern China, he developed an attenuated live vaccine of Yersinia pestis. He also developed China's yellow fever vaccine which helped eradicate smallpox in China in 1960.

In 1955, he first cultured the Chlamydia trachomatis agent in the yolk sacs of eggs.

Medical Education in China

Medical School in China is entered from high school, whereas in the US it is entered after an undergraduate degree that is usually 4 years in length.

Medical school in China takes a minimum of 5 years leading to an MBBS, sometimes followed by a 3 year MM or Master of Medicine. Another route is the 8 year MD route leading to a Doctor of Medicine that is given mainly at the top medical schools in China. In the 8-year MD program, students will typically do 3 years of “pre-med” followed by 2–3 years of “pre-clinical” and then 2-3 years of “clinical” training. Many academic physicians will later do a 3 year PhD after their MBBS or MM.

Top 7 Medical Schools in China

1. Peking Union Medical College

The top medical school in China, it was founded in 1917 and one of the most difficult to be admitted. For students that are pursuing university degrees in China with a focus on medicine, Peking Union Medical College is one of the top institutions to attend. Peking Union Medical College was the first medical school in China to introduce the eight-year M.D. program.

2. Peking University – Health Science Center (HSC)

Peking University Health Science Center (PUHSC) is one of the nation’s leading institutions of modern medical education in China and is recognized as a renowned medical school both at home and abroad. Established in 1912 as the first public western medical school in China, its former name was Peking National Medical School, and then Beijing Medical University, which successfully developed into a multi-disciplinary comprehensive health science center.

3. Fudan University – Shanghai Medical College (SMC)

Founded in 1927 by Dr. Fuqing Yan—a dedicated Chinese medical educator and scholar in public health, Shanghai Medical College, Fudan University (SMCFU) has a long-standing reputation of excellence in medical teaching, research training for medical professionals. Ranked among the nations leading medical universities since its establishment under the name of Shanghai Medical University, it aims high for academic excellence in addition to the advocation of integrity, devotion, and commitment of society and human beings as a whole. Shanghai Medical College, Fudan University was inaugurated since its merge with Fudan University in 2000.

4. Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU)–School of Medicine

Previously known as the Shanghai Second Medical College which was established in 1952 the name was changed in 1985 to the Shanghai Second Medical University. It is comprised of Medical School of Aurora University (Shanghai), Medical School of Saint John's University, Shanghai, and Tong De Medical College. It was merged with Shanghai Jiao Tong University in 2005 and was named Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine.

5. Sun Yat-Sen University (SYSU)–Zhongshan School of Medicine

Sun Yat-sen University Zhongshan School of Medicine originated in 1957. It can be dated back to Boji Medical School founded in 1866 -- the oldest school of western medicine established in China. Zhongshan's reputation for quality education, science innovation, and social services have attracted outstanding and diverse teachers and student body with over 18,000 full-time faculties and clinicians, and 8,915 medical and health science undergraduates and post-graduate students including over 400 international students from 28 countries.

6. Central South University (CSU)–Xiangya School of Medicine

Central South University Xiangya School of Medicine dates from the specialized Xiangya Medical School, founded by the Hunan Institute of Education and the Yale-China Association of America in 1914. It is a pioneer of western medical education in China. Through a century's development, it has 8 national key disciplines, 13 provincial key disciplines and 10 undergraduate programs all top-level in China.

7. Sichuan University–West China College of Medicine(WCCM)

The West China School of Medicine, Sichuan University, was founded in 1910 as a private medical school, then named HuaxiXiehe College (West China Union College). It was established by five Christian missionary groups from the US., UK, and Canada, with disciplines in stomatology, bio-medicine, basic medicine, and clinical medicine. At present, it consists of 5 Divisions: Clinical Medicine, Laboratory Medicine, Higher Nursing Education, Maternity and Child Hygiene, and Allied Health Professions. More than 1,500 students are studying for a bachelor's degree and over 1,500 students for Masters or Doctorate. There are 165 foreign student placements to study medicine in the school. Over the last five decades, it has been regarded as one of the top 5 medical schools in the country.

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