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Chinese physicians observe American medicine at Upstate

Visiting from China are Drs. Wenping Gong, Zhiyong Zhang and Dianxiang Hu.

Visiting Upstate from China are Drs. Wenping Gong, Zhiyong Zhang and Dianxiang Hu, in front of Upstate's Golisano Children's Hospital. Photo by Dan Cameron.

Three physicians who observed American health care as guests at Upstate are heading back home to China. They are impressed with Upstate‘s spacious, comforting Golisano Children‘s Hospital; the way physicians speak with patients at eye level, even if it means kneeling; and with the bargain prices of lobster.

Phyllis Tang Yifei is the project coordinator for ZAST, the Zhejiang Association of Science and Technology. She is in Syracuse with the physicians, whom she says are also intrigued with the emphasis on preventive care in the United States. She said Chinese citizens don‘t typically have family doctors. Rather, they seek medical treatment when they are ill in clinics run by the hospitals.

The physicians visiting Upstate come from six hospitals that partner with ZAST for this project. Each hospital has about 2,000. Upstate has 715, split between Upstate University Hospital in downtown Syracuse and at the Community campus. Physicians who are interesting in participating must meet professional eligibility; once accepted, they receive language support in advance of their travel.

Dr. Wenping Gong is a neurologist. Dr. Zhiyong Zhang is an ophthalmologist. Dianxiang Hu is a neurosurgeon. During their time at Upstate, they are observers, only. They are housed in dorms and have the opportunity to visit other cities on weekends.

Yifei says the physicians in China “usually are very, very busy and don‘t have time to think about how to improve health care.” The major benefit of this program is to allow time for thinking about improvements.

Since 2005, groups of Upstate emergency medicine doctors and residents have made annual training trips from Syracuse to Hangzhou to train medical students, physicians, nurses and EMS personnel. This is part of an almost 18-year collaboration between Upstate experts and their medical counterparts 7,277 miles away in China.

Upstate‘s Alumni Journal wrote about the program in the winter of 2010, explaining that the relationship began when Upstate hosted a delegation of Chinese public health officials in 1996. The delegation was sponsored by a quasi-governmental Chinese group called the Zhejiang Association of Science and Technology, ZAST. The next year, ZAST sponsored a group of hospital administrators who visited Upstate.

Starting in 2001, Upstate began hosting Chinese physicians for mid-career training. Nurse managers have also participated.

“It‘s an opportunity to help raise the level of care in China, in emergency medicine as well as a variety of specialties,” says Dr. John McCabe, MD, chief executive officer of Upstate University Hospital. “The Chinese doctors are handpicked to study at Upstate for three or four months. Then they go home and advance their specialties. One cardiologist who trained here went back to China and established a thriving program in interventional cardiology.”

Yifei, the ZAST project coordinator, says an eye doctor on a previous trip learned a new technique during an extended 6-month stay. She brought the skill back to China and convinced her hospital to purchase equipment so she could offer the procedure.

Ambulance service in China does not operate with a written set of protocols, the way emergency medical service does in the United States, Yifei says. The ZAST project may help Chinese authorities establish protocols, which may be quite different from those used in Syracuse, “but hopefully we can do this together with Upstate.”