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National program to keep TCM healthy

China's top traditional Chinese medicine authority has announced a nationwide training program. Under the initiative, the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine has appointed 734 leading TCM specialists to instruct 1,465 students in clinical practice and academic research.

"The model of master-disciple TCM education is an indispensable part of the overall efforts to train high-quality TCM talent in China," said Wang Lian, a spokesman for the administration.

Since 1990, the administration has carried out a series of programs to pass down the time-honored Oriental medical science and help churn out more qualified practitioners, said Hong Jing, deputy director of human resources and education at the administration.

To date, she said, more than 2,000 disciples have studied with TCM masters.

TCM practitioners can apply for programs through the local TCM authority or be recommended by their hospitals. The final decision is made by the administration, Hong said.

Candidates should be at least 45 years old, hold a bachelor's degree and have eight years of experience in practicing TCM.

Disciples come from different backgrounds such as TCM clinics, academic research and drug development, Wang said.

So far, there have been no foreigners, but he said the possibility cannot be ruled out in the future.

Programs usually last three years, and disciples are required to shadow and learn from their masters during their routine work of clinical practice or research at least one and a half days a week, Wang said.

Meanwhile, disciples have to hand in regular reports on their clinical experiences and studies of classic TCM texts for the masters to comment on.

Huang Jianyin, deputy secretary-general of the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies, said the model helps students transform paper knowledge into clinical practice.

"That fits best in the education of TCM, which is a medical science based on clinical practice and experience," he said.

In 2008, China introduced this model into the professional training of TCM practitioners.

Disciples who successfully finish the course can apply for a master's or doctoral degree in TCM clinical medicine.