As a child growing up in China, I was always aware of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM is what we refer to as Eastern medicine, in contrast to the Western medicine we know from U.S. hospitals. I never understood much about TCM, only that it somehow involves herbs and that many Chinese people believe in it. The more I progressed in my medical training in major U.S. academic centers, the more distanced I felt from TCM. Why should I learn about something that lacks evidence, when there’s so much to know about for which there is good research?
#1. Listen—really listen.
The first TCM practitioner I shadowed explained to me that to practice TCM is to “listen with your whole body”. Pay attention and use every sense you have, he said. I watched this doctor as he diagnosed a woman with new-onset cervical cancer and severe anemia the moment she walked into his exam room, and within two minutes, without blood tests or CTs, sent her to be admitted to a (Western) medical service. I’ve seen great emergency physicians make quick diagnoses and disposition decisions, but this was something else! “How could you know all of this?” I asked. “I smelled the cervical cancer,” he said. “I looked and saw the anemia. I heard her speak and I knew she could not care for herself at home.” (I followed her records in the hospital; he was right on all accounts.)
#2. Focus on the diagnosis.
I watched another TCM doctor patiently explain to a young woman with long-standing abdominal pain why painkillers were not the answer. “Why should we treat you for something if we don’t know what it is?” he said. “Let’s find out the diagnosis first.” What an important lesson for us—to always begin the diagnosis.
#3. Treat the whole person.
#4. Health is not just about disease, but also about wellness.
#5. Medicine is a life-long practice.
Western medicine revers the newest as the best; in contrast, patients revere old TCM doctors for their knowledge and experience. Practicing doctors do not rest on their laurels. “This is a practice that has taken thousands of years to develop,” I was told. “That’s why you must keep learning throughout your life, and even then you will only learn just a small fraction.”
#6. Evidence is in the eyes of the beholder.
Though the views expressed above are solely the writer’s, University of Maryland Medical System supports “The Dose with Dr. Goodhook” and is partnering with Adventures in Medicine to create an open, inspiring and insightful community for residents and physicians. Click here to learn more about ways that University of Maryland Medical System is making practice purposeful.
About the Author:
Dr. Leana S. Wen, M.D., is an emergency physician at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital and a clinical fellow at Harvard Medical School. She is the author of the new book, When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests. For more information, visit her blog The Doctor is Listening or her website. You can also follow her on Twitter at @DrLeanaWen.