A chance journey to Shanxi and Guizhou provinces in China in 2004 with Harvard University professor William Hsiao (蕭慶倫) led National Yang-Ming University School of Medicine deputy president Chen Wei-shone (陳維雄) to see for himself the lack of medical resources which exist in the region.
The visit had a great impact on Chen and the following year he took several of his students back to Shanxi Province’s Tiechang Village to offer the residents their medical expertise.
For the past eight years, Chen has continued to travel abroad and offer his medical services to people in need. India, Nepal, China, Philippines and countries in Africa have been visited by Chen and his students.
Chen said he and the students only perform minor tasks such as checking the teeth, eyes and skin of patients for any signs of sickness, as well as teaching people how to brush their teeth properly, wash their hands and maintain a clean environment, adding that they also help establish locally sustainable and locally run health clinics.
Chen and the students also train teachers and older children how to treat common scrapes and burns, Chen said, adding that although Taiwanese see this as something not even worth mentioning, for the people in a medical backwater it is important.
“It is why we are willing to go back day after day, because they need help,” Chen said.
Chen recalled that, when he was a student, he had joined a team to provide medical services for an Aboriginal village, adding that the experience taught him more than anything he might have learned from a textbook.
“It is one of the experiences that has influenced my thoughts and I attempt to include it in standard courses because it was an event that is so important that it could have a far-reaching influence on a person’s life,” he said.
Due to Chen’s hard work, the university’s overseas internship program began in 2007, allowing sixth-year medical students to go on a month-long internship, either to rural areas in Taiwan or overseas. Ninety-nine students signed up for the program last year.
Long years of overseas service have taught Chen many things and he often tells his students that they should not be joining the internship with the attitude that they are saving the world.
“If you join this internship thinking that you are the benefactor and others are the beneficiaries, its the wrong type of mindset,” Chen said, adding that students should maintain a humble attitude so as to better learn and grow from their experiences.
Chen said this was why he often required students to prepare not only the various materials and paperwork they would need for their internship, but also to think why they are in medical school and why they want to be doctors.
Chen said his greatest support comes from his wife, Rachel Lu (盧瑞芬), who is the dean of Chang Gung University’s College of Management. When the 921 Earthquake occurred, he called home immediately and told her that he was going to help out.
“She only asked me: ‘How long will you be gone?’ and when she heard that I didn’t know, she said: ‘Go. I’ll take care of the house and family,’” Chen said. “The hardest thing about my voluntary service work is that I have to balance teaching, seeing patients and voluntary work at the same time. There is never enough time and I have to sacrifice the time that I spend with my three sons and my wife.”