Chapter 2 – The Road to Federal Qualification

Written by Audrey Cheng, Jennifer Chien, Lina Lin, and Pheel Wang

The Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation campus in South El Monte, California. Photo/Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation


May we merge our limited selves into the greater self so that our love can be without boundaries, without distinctions between self and others.

Milestones of Tzu Chi’s Medical Mission in the United States:

1993 November 1

Tzu Chi’s first medical center outside Taiwan, a Tzu Chi Free Clinic in Alhambra, California, officially opened, offering Traditional Chinese Medicine, Western internal medicine, dentistry, ear nose & throat, and ophthalmology.

1993 December 28

The Free Clinic in Alhambra registered with the government as “Buddhist Tzu Chi Free Clinic.”

2005 August 3

Tzu Chi’s medical mission was officially registered in the U.S. as the “Taiwan Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation” and was solely responsible for medical volunteer programs.

2005 September 1

The Medical Foundation opened a campus in South El Monte, California, and a Tzu Chi Community Clinic opened in South El Monte, offering Chinese and Western medicine services, social welfare applications, and preventive medicine seminars.

2008 March 31

The Medical Foundation added a Dental Community Clinic at its campus.

2009 December 17

The formal name of the Foundation was changed to “Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation.”

2010 November 7

A Tzu Chi Community Clinic in Wilmington, California, was established to provide Traditional Chinese Medicine and dentistry, and to promote preventive medicine.

2013 April 28

The Buddhist Tzu Chi Free Clinic in Alhambra was converted into a community clinic.

2020 October 26

The Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation obtained federal qualification, with all of its three affiliated community clinics upgraded to Federally Qualified Health Center Look-Alike status.

1993 to 2023

The Tzu Chi Free Clinic, Community Clinics and Health Centers have served more than 590,000 patients.

Tzu Chi’s medical mission in the United States formed on the principle that Tzu Chi provides medical services to anyone with medical needs, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender, or social and economic status. Thirty years later, the number of Americans who have received Tzu Chi’s medical services is ever-increasing, and the number is estimated to grow as Tzu Chi’s work continues across communities. Indeed, Tzu Chi’s love and care have always been present and felt by all who come to the clinics for treatment. 

At the end of 1993, Tzu Chi’s U.S. medical mission opened the Buddhist Tzu Chi Free Clinic, also known as the Free Clinic, in Alhambra, California, to treat low-income and uninsured patients. Since then, the medical mission has evolved to provide people-centered medical services to more low-income patients. In compliance with U.S. regulations and standards for healthcare-related services, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation registered its medical mission in the United States as the independent Taiwan Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation on August 3, 2005, later renamed the Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation, or Tzu Chi Medical Foundation.

The Tzu Chi medical team in 2018. Photo/Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation

“Tzu Chi Free Clinic is based on Master Cheng Yen’s concept of putting people first,” said William Keh, one of the key drivers of the Tzu Chi medical mission’s expansion in the United States. Despite being a physician, he has the mind of an entrepreneur. But how do you turn a single point into a network of charitable healthcare services? The first thing to do is to make the first free clinic a success, while the key to that success is to treat those sick as if they were one’s own family.

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