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Medicine

Healthcare Professionals Renew their Calling

Humanistic medicine is about giving of oneself to patients, and this was a recurring topic at the Singapore Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) Conference held at The Matrix, Biopolis, earlier in March. Inspired by the program and speakers, conference participants, many of whom were healthcare professionals, rekindled their sense of mission to serve.


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At the closing ceremony, some 200 volunteers and TIMA members went on stage and led the audience in singing the song, “We Are One Family”. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

Humanistic medicine is about giving of oneself to patients, and this was a recurring topic at the Singapore Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) Conference held at The Matrix, Biopolis, earlier in March. Inspired by the program and speakers, conference participants, many of whom were healthcare professionals, rekindled their sense of mission to serve.

The Need to Develop Humane Qualities

On the first two days of the TIMA Conference, Singapore TIMA members staged four skits re-enacting scenes from the day to day life of medical professionals. In the final skit, a Dr. Kee was reproached by the daughter-in-law of his patient for being sloppy in treating her mother-in-law; he was in a rush to attend a meeting then. However, another doctor, Dr. Ho, carefully attended to the mother-in-law despite having other matters to attend to. The son of the patient, who was a doctor himself, hastily arrived at the hospital to visit his mother, but was chastised by his wife (the daughter-in-law) for not caring enough for his family as he always put his work before his loved ones. “I’m working so hard every day to earn money to support my family, is that wrong?” he thought to himself.

These skits portrayed how a few new doctors adapted to their work environment and the challenges they faced, such as demanding patients (and their families), reproaches from senior colleagues, etc., and how they still held on to their initial aspiration in the face of such challenges. One of these lead characters, “Dr. Ho”, grew up in a poor family and had made a promise to his mother to work hard and be a good doctor. Filled with warmth and humor, the scenes of the skits struck a chord with the audience. Bouts of laughter and applause could be heard throughout each of the short presentations.

“I know there’s love in this world that’s worth waiting for. Shielded hearts will open up eventually……” After the final curtain, a group of twenty TIMA members went on stage to present a Tzu Chi song, “Love in the World”, in sign language. “Whenever I hear this song, I will be moved to tears. It reminds me of my own son, who used to shut his heart off to me, ” said optometrist Cai Shen Ling, who was one of the sign language group members. The mother believed that with love and patience, she would be able to reconcile with her son. She also commented that healthcare workers must treat patients, especially elderly ones, with patience, and that she had gradually learned to do so in the course of volunteering at the Tzu Chi Free Health Screening and Medical Clinic in Jurong.

Compassion, Respect, and Gratitude

Conference attendee Xie Su Lian, a TCM doctor from the Public Free Clinic Society in Singapore, used to think that Tzu Chi was just an ordinary VWO (Voluntary Welfare Organization). After having attended the conference, she found that it was quite different from other medical conferences and was especially touched by how Tzu Chi doctors and nurses not only care for patients’ health but also their emotional well-being.

Another attendee, Tang Ming Shi, a doctor from Tan Tock Seng Hospital, was impressed with Tzu Chi’s efforts in organising the conference and commented that he never expected he would be able to learn so much in a day. Though it was the first time he came into contact with Tzu Chi, he felt a sense of belonging at the conference. Dr. Tang admired the respect shown to the “silent mentors” (body donors) at Tzu Chi University’s medical school and expressed his wish to attend the Annual TIMA Convention in Taiwan in September this year.

Yao Zhao Kang, a Hongkonger who has been working in Khoo Teck Puat hospital as a social worker for over half a year, shared that he felt he had gradually lost empathy for patients, and that he kept asking himself how he could maintain a compassionate heart. “I’d never expected that Tzu Chi is such an enormous organisation. It’s hard to find another NGO like Tzu Chi in Hong Kong. It’s really great that Tzu Chi University’s medical students get to learn about the life stories of their silent mentors; this helps to inspire compassion in them. I should show more respect to patients,” said Yao.

Angeles, a Filipino dentist who had attended the Annual TIMA Convention in Taiwan remarked that even with translation, she could not fully understand the speakers, who all spoke in Chinese. She happily added that as this conference was conducted entirely in English, she was able to understand the talks clearly and had gained much from them. She was most touched by the talks on the silent mentor programme, and even said that she would consider donating her body for medical education if there was a similar programme in the Philippines. Another Filipino dentist, Santos, commented that the images of Tzu Chi Hospital doctors thanking nurses and volunteers with tokens of appreciation moved her most, and that she hoped to do the same after she returned to her home country. Both of them were looking forward to participating in a Tzu Chi free clinic to be held in Tacloban (a typhoon devastated city in the Philippines) in April.

Relieve Suffering with Compassion and Empathy

The talks on the silent mentor programme on the first day of the conference helped TCM doctor Cai Yu Chun gain a renewed understanding of the concept of body donation. Cai is an acupuncturist at the Department of Complementary Integrative Medicine Department in Tan Tock Seng Hospital. She commented that human cadavers are normally treated as “inanimate models” as they are being dissected during Anatomy classes, and that this is a far cry from what is practiced in Tzu Chi University’s silent mentor programme. Through participating in the conference, Cai was able to return to what is fundamental to medical practice. It reminded her to bear in mind the words of Sun Simiao, a renowned TCM physician in the Tang dynasty of China: “Care for patients with a compassionate and sympathetic heart regardless of whether they are rich or poor.”

One of the topics covered at the conference was about promoting environmentally friendly practices in hospitals. Cai remarked that hospital staff usually focused more on the efficiency of treatment and paid less attention to the impact of their work on the environment. She was very supportive of the concept of “green hospitals” and felt that efforts in environmental protection would certainly benefit the Earth in the long run.

Dr. Nandakumar, an experienced doctor from the National Kidney Foundation (NKF), is no stranger to Tzu Chi. Many NKF patients had received subsidies from Tzu Chi for their dialysis treatments before their application for NKF subsidy was approved. He was especially touched by how medical staff at Taipei Tzu Chi Hospital were able to help diabetic patients by carefully tending their festering wounds and thus saving their legs from amputation. “Besides patience, it is also important to treat patients and their families with mindfulness and empathy,” said Nandakumar.

Bringing About a Cycle of Great Love

Dr. Fan Li Hua, who was from Wuhan, China, revealed that she used to regard her job merely as a means of livelihood. She would be very protective of herself and was extremely careful with her words while communicating with patients, for she was afraid of saying something that could be “used as evidence against her”. “After joining TIMA in 2012, I started treating patients with sincerity, and they would usually be more agreeable when I do so. A doctor should not just treat the illness; it is even more important to care for the hearts and minds of patients,” she said.

Once, a son brought his mother to see Dr. Fan. They were from a poor and remote village in China. The patient needed to be referred to another specialty, so Dr. Fan helped to contact the doctor in charge. She comforted the patient by patting her on the back and giving her a hug. A week later, the mother and son returned to thank her. “I felt that I didn’t do much. I only comforted the mother. It turned out that the mother and son were very apprehensive about seeing a doctor; they didn’t expect to see such a nice doctor in the city,” shared Dr. Fan. “The son even said he hoped to be a doctor in the future and promised to study hard.”

“When I learned that more than half of the participants came into contact with Tzu Chi for the first time at the conference, I recalled how I first joined TIMA,” said Xie Jin Long, a doctor from Taiwan. In 2000, he took part in a Tzu Chi free clinic in Fuding, China, and was surprised to see students there greeting him warmly even though they did not know him at all. He then realized that they had recognised him as a Tzu Chi volunteer from the uniform he wore.

Dr. Xie explained that the warm welcome he received was a result of Taiwan Tzu Chi volunteers’ continued efforts in providing regular aid and care to people around China. At the time, Taiwan’s relations with the PRC were quite tense. Seeing how Master Cheng Yen had lived out her words that “there is no one in the world one cannot trust, love, and forgive”, and how she had overcome obstacles with love and determination, Dr. Xie was deeply moved. He hoped that healthcare professionals who attended the conference would join TIMA members on the path of Great Love.

During the closing ceremony on Day Two, some 200 volunteers and TIMA members went on stage, and both volunteers and participants expressed thanks and appreciation to each other. Then those on stage led the audience in singing the song, “We Are One Family”, with sign language, filling the auditorium with warmth and good cheer; this brought the second day’s programme to a close. On the third and last day, the participants would be separated into different groups, including Western medicine, TCM, nursing, and dentistry, where they would get to delve deeper into their respective areas of specialization.

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Twenty TIMA members presented a Tzu Chi song, “Love in the World”, in sign language on stage. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

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TIMA members prepared and staged four skits which portrayed how a few new doctors adapted to their work environment and the challenges they faced. (Photo by Wong Twee Hee)

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Conference attendee Xie Su Lian, a TCM doctor, shared that she was especially touched by how Tzu Chi doctors and nurses not only care for patients’ health but also their emotional well-being. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

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Tang Ming Shi (second from right), a doctor from Tan Tock Seng Hospital, was impressed with Tzu Chi’s efforts in organizing the conference and hoped to attend the Annual TIMA Convention in Taiwan in September this year. (Photo by Wong Twee Hee)

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Acupuncturist Cai Yu Chun (third from left) was very supportive of the concept of “green hospitals” and felt that efforts in environmental protection would benefit the Earth in the long run. (Photo by Wong Twee Hee)

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A conference group leader explains Tzu Chi and its missions to Dr. Nandakumar with the help of posters. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

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Dr. Fan Li Hua from Wuhan, China, shared that after joining TIMA in 2012, she had learned to be more sincere when communicating with patients, and commented that doctors should not just treat the illness; but also care for the hearts and minds of patients. (Photo by Lai Tong Heng)

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Dr. Xie Jin Long (right) from Taiwan encouraged healthcare professionals who attended the conference to join TIMA members on the path of Great Love. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)


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