Medical Care With Love Extending Around the World:

Aiming to Build a Hospital Advancing Humanism

Chinlon Lin delivering a speech at the 2019 TIMA Global Forum
Chinlon Lin returns to the U.S. to deliver a speech at the 2019 TIMA Global Forum. Photo/Tzu Chi USA National Headquarters


Time flies, and 30 years have passed in the blink of an eye. Thirty years ago, my wife Xiumei Hong and I returned to Taiwan from California to visit our families. We made a memorable trip to Tzu Chi Global Headquarters in Hualien, marking the first time we visited Master Cheng Yen. As a Buddhist, I felt deeply touched by the sight of a petite Dharma Master who had stepped forward to raise funds to construct a hospital for the eastern part of the country, which had minimal medical resources. It also answered a question I had had for many years, which was why all other religions had established hospitals but not Buddhism! After returning to the United States, I immediately joined Tzu Chi.

I recall it was around the second anniversary of the official establishment of the U.S. Branch of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation at the end of 1991 that Master De Hsuan visited Los Angeles. He mentioned that medical care was absent from the four primary missions in the United States. At that time, the U.S. Branch office was in Alhambra, California, and I remember clearly that the address was 1,000 S Garfield Ave. Later, because the congregation grew and the space was insufficient, Tzu Chi relocated the office to a church in Monrovia, California, and the location on S Garfield became the venue for the future Free Clinic. From then on, everyone worked together to plan for this, which marked the beginning of Tzu Chi’s medical mission in the United States.

Before Tzu Chi’s establishment of the Free Clinic, I visited several private free clinics in the Los Angeles area, including in Hollywood, with Brother Stephen Huang and others. Everybody knows Hollywood as a world-renowned and envied Los Angeles neighborhood producing movies and celebrities. Yet, concurrently, it is populated by people who are experiencing homelessness and individuals who need medical care and resources. We started by consulting local charity organizations about the model for free clinic activities, followed by planning for the Tzu Chi Free Clinic.

At that time, it was a matter of making every minute count. In addition to my busy clinical work, I was fully engaged in preparing the Free Clinic. The application and approval process was very complicated, and I needed to rely on the assistance of a consulting company. I’m grateful to the owner of the firm, who exempted all the consultancy fees after hearing that Tzu Chi was going to apply for the Free Clinic. He volunteered to help Tzu Chi complete all the application paperwork, which is the best proof that “Great virtue is never alone; it is bound to find support.”

On November 1, 1993, the first Tzu Chi Free Clinic in the United States was officially established. During the preparatory and early stages of operation, there was a lack of human resources and no computer system, so my wife and I did a lot of manual work together, including tasks like labeling medication lists, transcribing paperwork and data, and so on, and each day was very fulfilling.

In the early days of the Free Clinic, there were three departments – Western medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Dentistry – with myself, Dr. Mingchang Hsu, Dr. Richard Chang, and the pharmacist taking turns to serve; this is how we sustained the operation. People say everything is difficult initially, but once things get started, the rest goes smoothly. Thus, I returned to Taiwan in 1995 in response to Master Cheng Yen’s request, and I’m grateful to Dr. Yun Yan for taking over the running of the Free Clinic.

One of the significant features of Tzu Chi’s free clinic activities in the U.S. is “mobile medical care,” which brings health care to disadvantaged populations in remote areas. The functions of the Tzu Chi Mobile Clinic fleet have evolved from providing checkups and dentistry services to optometry. This vision care service can fit prescription eyeglasses immediately, allowing people to get their new glasses in less than an hour.

Over the past 30 years, the medical mission in the United States has grown from operating one location in Alhambra to additional ones in South El Monte and Wilmington, with free clinic activities and disaster medical relief footprints in Fresno, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Hawaii, and even medical care in impoverished towns in Mexico. New immigrants to the U.S. mostly fight for resources, and Tzu Chi is the first foreign charitable organization aiming to give back to the people here and to help. 

With 30 years of selfless dedication, Tzu Chi was not only invited to participate in Care Harbor’s large-scale free clinic activities but was also recognized by the U.S. government, as proven by our receiving several awards. In 2020, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation underwent a complicated application and review process, and our three health centers in California became Federally Qualified Health Center Look-Alikes. Becoming a federally qualified healthcare organization is an excellent recognition of Tzu Chi’s medical mission in the U.S. and our long history of caring for new immigrants with low incomes and no health insurance.

Master Cheng Yen created the world of Tzu Chi from the remote village of Hualien. Starting from a small branch and under the leadership and cooperation of our brothers and sisters over the past 30 years, Tzu Chi volunteers in the U.S. have inherited the spirit of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Merit Society to help the world with compassion and have developed the four major missions, charity, medical care, education, and humanities simultaneously. For the robust growth of the medical mission, we’re grateful to the many like-minded people who have worked together to help those in need.

Our next goal is to establish a Tzu Chi hospital in the U.S. so that Asian Americans and other ethnic minority groups can have peace of mind and access to medical care in an environment where language is no longer a barrier. The core is that we can provide warm and friendly medical services that convey care and love, carry forward Master Cheng Yen’s patient-centered philosophy of Tzu Chi health care, and become a medical fortress that “guards life, guards health, and guards love.” Thank you!

Chinlon Lin

Chief Executive Officer
Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation


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