Presentation on Traditional Chinese Medicine by Caryn Cobb (NA ’11, Brown ’15 ’19)

On January 16, the Global Health Fellows, International Relations Fellows, and Norfolk Academy students, who will be participating on our first exchange experience to China this upcoming summer, were invited to attend a presentation by Caryn Cobb (Norfolk Academy Class of 2011, Brown University Class of 2015, Brown Medical School Class of 2019) on Traditional Chinese Medicine. Caryn, a student in the Program for Liberal Medical Education at Brown, spent part of her 2012 summer at Zheighang University School of Medicine in Hangzhou, China. She educated us on the practices of acupuncture, cupping, and herbal medicine, while also offering insight into the beliefs supporting these practices, such as the ying/yang balance and the chi channels of the body. She shared anecdotes that offered glimpses into Chinese culture – food, language, public transportation adventures. For a more in-depth synopsis of her experience, visit her “Summer 2012 Recap” entry on the PMLE blog.

Some Reflections on Caryn’s Presentation:

Thomas Ferguson, International Relations Fellow ’16: I think that Caryn’s presentation throws China’s domestic position into sharp relief. It shows a society that is attempting to modernize, but still has its roots deep into the past. From an international perspective, this tells us the China is willing to embrace new practices, but not at the expense of losing its heritage.

Wyatt Miller, GHF ’16: I really enjoyed the presentation and I think its interesting learning about another culture’s views. I learned that Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on the flow of your Qi and the balance of Yin and Yang throughout the body. Health is a result of your body’s balance of Yin and Yang and the flow of your Qi. Though many of their ideas are intriguing, it seems like many of them are not based quite as much on science as western medicine. Therefore, I believe that if Traditional Chinese Medicine wants to have staying power alongside Western medicine, it would have to prove scientifically that it works. It seems to me that its most successful results come from reducing certain pains; that positive result perhaps could be more psychological than physiological.

Jessica Williams, International Relations Fellow ’16: Listening to Ms. Cobb speak about East Asian tradition and medicine gave me a better understanding of how different the culture in China is compared to Western ideals and medicine. I was most interested in how older traditions are still being kept alive in a modernizing world. I feel as if every culture can relate to losing ancient or even just newly historical methods of living. Ms. Cobb mentioned that most of the Eastern medical patients were from an older population, suggesting a recent generational shift away from older methods. Overall, I believe that traditional Eastern medicine has some natural cures and will stay. International cultures are constantly being influenced and changing but traditions seem to stay ingrained in society.

Elizabeth Lilly, GHF ’16: I thought that Caryn’s presentation was fascinating! As she said, it’s always interesting to learn about how different cultures view the human body and how it functions. It’s easy for us as Westerners to be “grossed out” by some of the more unconventional aspects of Chinese medicine (eating insects and anteater skin, for example), but Caryn reminded us that it’s extremely important, especially in this field of study, to keep an open mind in order to understand the patients’ beliefs and ultimately be more compassionate toward them. Without a cultural education, even the most innovative and intelligent Western-educated man in the world would not be able to solve some of the globe’s greatest problems.

Caryn Cobb, at far right, after her presentation to the Fellows.

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