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Three tips for success in Traditional Chinese Medicine School

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Avatar for Casper00
Written by   1
2 months ago

Hi, this is my first article here, please enjoy!

After three years of TCM school full of studying, connecting with classmates and professors and contemplating what I can learn from my time in school, I have arrived at three simple ways that can make a student’s journey through the rigors of Chinese Medicine school a little bit easier. So without further ado, here are my three tips for success in TCM Graduate school!

1) Study everyday!

            From highschool through most of my undergraduate program, I never studied more than looking back over my notes from class or talking to a classmate about the topics the exam may cover. It was not until I encountered my favorite French professor in the latter half of my junior year of college that I began to actually study on a daily basis. I was a sociology major, a field that has more emphasis on understanding and citing previous theories without any rote memorization needed. When I started learning French, I was useless. Languages have always been a very difficult topic for me to excel in as I have never been taught how to properly study for memorization. When I started in my French class (I’ll refer to my professor as Madame), Madame would drill us on verb conjugation for the first third of the class, going around the room giving each student the limelight to show that they had been studying. At first this exercise scared me to death, I would often flounder and feel ashamed that I was the weak link in class. I considered switching my required language class to Spanish, a more familiar yet equally difficult language for me, but I did not want to give up without a fight. I used my anxiety of my impending twice weekly French spotlight as motivation to hit the ol’ French exercises book every night, along with testing myself on verb conjugations. As my practice routine built steam, I started feeling very confident showing up to class, my anxiety about floundering in front of my classmates diminished and I started to really enjoy French!

            The study skills I learned from that one class has been essential for my journey in graduate school. In TCM school, there is a constant stream of information being transmitted from multiple professors, books and peers with relatively little amount of time to process and digest the information. The practice that has helped me keep my head above water these last three years has been a short, daily review of the wide range of topics we are expected to understand. I do this by keeping all of the flashcards I’ve made from previous classes in the same box, grouped into stacks of three to four classes each. Every morning (except the weekends, everyone needs a break) I take out a stack of flashcards and I review three flashcards per class. At first this did not seem to be enough to be classified as retroactive studying, but, the simple practice of continually refreshing my memory with flashcards that I have already memorized in the past helps to keep those memories alive and easier to recall when needed.


2) Dress the part

            I only know the demographics of my particular school and the way my classmates operate so if this does not apply to you then move on. At my school we have a majority of “Hippy”-type students that range in age from mid-twenties to mid-sixties. Many of the patients that come in to be treated at my school are also of a similar Hippy stereotype but, the majority of people dress in a way that suggest they did not drive a Subaru or a Prius to their appointment. The reputation of Chinese Medicine in the United States is lumped in with the spa modalities of Reiki and crystal healing. Despite this reputation, Chinese Medicine is a very old and very successful medical profession that deserves the same respect we give “Western” or Bio-medicine. I believe that if we, as future practitioners of Chinese Medicine, want to be respectful to the tradition and long history of TCM and its broad ability to help where Bio-Medicine falls short, then we need to dress the part. This can be medical scrubs or it can be a nice blouse but, it should not be hoodies or ripped jeans shorts.

            This might not be a popular opinion among my fellow students but I truly believe that we need to dress in at least business-casual in order to be perceived as medical professionals. The power of appearance is well documented and proven to sway the way people perceive each other’s worth and intelligence. When we have patients taking time out of their day to listen to our medical advice, who do you think they will listen to more:

A) the acupuncturist wearing a nice button-down shirt and clean chino pants under their lab coat

B) the acupuncturist wearing an old hoodie and faded jeans under their lab coat

If you don’t want to take my word on this, try it out! For one week, dress your best for every day you see patients and make a note of how patients and your peers respond to you. Then the following week, dress as casually as possible (without violating your clinic appearance minimum standards) and make a note of patient’s responses. Take a moment to reflect on the difference between the two weeks and let me know what you discover!


3) Live the lifestyle

            The classmates and professors I look up to the most are those that possess a personal relationship with Chinese medicine that they have nurtured through years of seeing the medicine manifest in their daily lives. These people watch the seasons unfold as the progression of qi, they create relationships with the herbs by using them in their teas and cuisine, and they contemplate the dynamics of pathology as they pick apart their own lifestyle. I look up to these individuals because they have garnered the ability to see the mechanisms of TCM as the living organism that it is. At the beginning of school, starting as a completely blank slate to the eastern medical mode of thinking, it took months of constant study and memorization to begin to grow a second brain that could interpret the multitude of associations that Chinese Medicine uses as its groundwork for disease rectification. After three years of studying, I can read a list of symptoms and my brain will categorize them into the major patterns we are taught but, I am still working to expand this ability into the rest of my life as those whom I look up to have been able to do.

            Why does this matter? It matters because this medicine is not a cookbook in which we can look up the symptoms our patients tell us and automatically spit out a clear-cut diagnosis of a singular pattern. Human beings are infinitely complex and thereby have infinitely complex pathologies that require the practitioner to take in as much information about their patients lives as possible so that the root causes of their disease can be discovered and changed. When the medicine remains a separate part of your life, you lose the opportunity to discover the beautiful interplay of qi dynamics and the human body that is available to us, within our own bodies! Every student of medicine I have had the pleasure of meeting has been fundamentally motivated to be the best doctor they can be for their patients. When we take our own advice and use the medicine we are learning to try and better ourselves, we become that much better of a practitioner for the patients we aim to help!

            My challenge to you is this; identify a simple formula that you frequently recommend or prescribe to your patients or friends and that you feel could be beneficial for yourself, purchase the herbs for that same formula, and cook it at home. I guarantee that the next time you recommend this formula to somebody and you mention that you have taken it yourself, your patient will trust you much more. As a bonus, you now have herbs to play and experiment with at home! Chinese medicine, at its core, is an herbal/dietetic medicine. Being able to smell, feel and taste the herbs that have been cultivated for their medicinal use for over 3,000 years will bring your Materia Medica books to life.


 That’s all for this one, if you have any questions, constructive criticism or feedback, leave me a comment!

Hope you all are well,

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