Traditional Chinese & Western Medicine Combined

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

Physicians, staff, and volunteers take a group photo in front of the Tzu Chi Community Clinic in South El Monte, which offers Traditional Chinese Medicine. Photo/Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation


Tzu Chi Community Clinics offer a unique treatment option among many U.S. clinics: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). From the beginning of the Tzu Chi Free Clinic’s work in Alhambra, TCM practitioners joined the team. Later, a TCM Community Clinic was set up in South El Monte, and the Community Clinic in Wilmington focuses on providing TCM services as well. In Alhambra and South El Monte, Tzu Chi’s medical centers combine TCM and Western medicine to give patients a two-pronged, comprehensive approach to medical care. TCM entails acupuncture, acupressure, nutrition and diet styles, lifestyle changes, and pain management. Doctors at the clinic combine Western medicine and medication with TCM to formulate a treatment plan, adjusting for differing needs. They also observe and understand the patient’s life or work style, nutrition, and health, and do physical examination reports to provide a full range of diagnostic and treatment methods to help patients and their families, including those with cancer, and alleviate their psychological and physical pain as well as financial concerns.

With Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western medicine treatment combined, patients can receive more comprehensive care.

Dr. Jeng Chen obtained a TCM license in 2005 and began coming to the Tzu Chi Clinic as a volunteer to serve patients in 2006. She became a full-time staff member in 2012 when the TCM Department was fully converted to an employee system. Transitioning from a volunteer to an employee system has clarified the doctors’ duties and greatly enhanced the scope of treatment and quality of service offered to patients.

“Master Cheng Yen’s teaching that we doctors should treat patients as our family and teachers is deeply imprinted in my mind,” said Chen, who led TCM practitioners to implement what Master Cheng Yen has taught them into their work. “Because of our good treatment results, coupled with our friendly and attentive service, we have built up a very good trust and reputation among our patients. When a patient is referred by an outside doctor, the control is not in our hands and it is difficult to follow up with the patient, and it is difficult to take care of the patient in a comprehensive manner. Therefore, as long as the patient is willing to do so, the Tzu Chi Clinic will provide the service of switching doctors,” she explained, then further elaborated, saying, “For patients who cannot switch to a family doctor, our TCM department welcomes them with open arms. The Tzu Chi medical team is happy to cooperate with anything that helps the patients.” 

In recent years, Tzu Chi Medical Foundation has partnered with the UCLA Health Center for East-West Medicine, with the vision of combining the strengths of Eastern and Western medicine in a complementary manner. The promotion of TCM was initially greeted with indifference due to unfamiliarity with the practices, but it has gradually gained interest. 

“Integrative TCM and Western Medicine treatment saved my health!” said Frank Deng, one of the patients helped by this integrative treatment approach. After a stroke, he once looked out the window from his hospital bed and wondered if he would ever be able to leave and enjoy the blue sky and crisp breeze again. He was hospitalized and discharged six times over two years, traveling from hospital to hospital for various treatments. When Tzu Chi volunteers heard about his condition, they took the initiative to reach out, and visited him frequently during his stay in the hospital.

As his medical situation persisted, volunteers referred him to Dr. Stephen Denq, a Tzu Chi physician in Alhambra. Under Dr. Denq’s care, Frank Deng’s condition improved. “My daily medication has changed from one cup of medication to two pills, and my blood pressure and cholesterol are under control,” he said. “In addition to continuing my rehabilitation, Dr. Denq has also been kind enough to refer me to Dr. Yihsien Lai, a TCM practitioner, for acupuncture.” 

Originally, Frank Deng didn’t have much hope of getting back on his feet. But after the encouragement and care of several Tzu Chi doctors and his own efforts in rehabilitation, he is now not only able to stand up but has started walking again. Sometimes, he still can’t believe that he has come this far, and is grateful for all the support he’s received along the way.

Dr. Jeng Chen makes patients feel both welcome and optimistic. Photo/Shuli Lo

Recalling the past few years, during which there were countless days and nights of dizziness, palpitations, headaches, weakness, nausea and vomiting, and even coma, he had been accompanied by not only doctors and nurses but also Tzu Chi volunteers who took turns caring for him, cheered him up, and gave him the strength to continue to fight until he won. Deng repeatedly thanked the staff at the medical center for their kind attitude and the genuine care they provide to their patients.

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