WHO Collaborating Centre for Traditional Medicine
Chinese Medicine, School of Health Sciences, RMIT University
In 1993, in recognition of the increasing popularity of traditional medicine in Australia, and more broadly, in the Western Pacific Region, RMIT University, in collaboration with the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Chinese Government and the World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Traditional Medicine at Nanjing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine commenced the development of an undergraduate degree program in Chinese medicine. The new program was to incorporate the developments occurring in Western medical education and a major objective was to promote harmonization of modern and traditional medicine practice. Learning in the new program was to be student-centered and the curriculum extensively problem-based. Program quality assurance and continuous improvement principles were to be rigorously applied. In addition, an important feature was to be provision for students to undertake advanced training in the clinical school of Nanjing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, during the final year of the program. Australian domestic community needs and national health practice requirements were also identified and addressed. In short, the curriculum design and the educational philosophy ensured that students acquired the knowledge and skills necessary for safe and effective evidence-based Chinese medicine clinical practice in a multi-disciplinary health-care environment.
The RMIT Chinese medicine program philosophy and curriculum were supported by experts in Chinese medicine in China and, in 1996, RMIT University became the first public university outside mainland China to offer a comprehensive undergraduate (double bachelor) degree program for training Chinese medicine practitioners. Over 200 students have now graduated from the program.
Following the introduction of the RMIT undergraduate Chinese medicine program, Hong Kong Baptist University, a pioneer in Chinese Medicine education in Hong Kong, requested RMIT’s collaboration in the development of its Chinese medicine training programs. The first outcome of the collaboration was an RMIT Chinese medicine program, leading to the qualification, Bachelor of Health Science (Chinese Medicine). The program, which had its first intake in 1997, was the first Chinese medicine bachelor degree program in Hong Kong. To date, there have been over 300 graduates.
In addition to the two undergraduate programs, RMIT Chinese Medicine now also offers two postgraduate (Masters level) coursework programs, one in acupuncture and one in herbal medicine, at its Melbourne (Bundoora) campus. As for its undergraduate programs, in the postgraduate programs, Chinese medicine theory and clinical skills are embedded into a solid scientific framework to promote evidence-based clinical practice.
In 2003, the Chinese Medicine Registration Board of the State of Victoria approved all RMIT programs for the purpose of practitioner registration in the State of Victoria.
RMIT Chinese Medicine also delivers customized short courses and training programs in specific areas of traditional medicine and negotiations are currently taking place to provide continuing education courses for Chinese medicine practitioners in a number of overseas counties and areas. In addition, Professor Xue has delivered training courses, sponsored by the World Health Organization’s Western Pacific Regional Office, in WHO member states (Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam.).
RMIT Chinese Medicine has made research and development high priorities. In 1994, RMIT Chinese Medicine enrolled its first research candidate. In 2001 the RMIT Chinese Medicine Research Group was established to undertake a broad range of basic and clinical research projects in Chinese medicine and to train future researchers for the profession. The Group now has 7 full time researchers and there are currently 29 students undertaking research in masters and doctoral programs. Research is directed to the clinical evaluation of traditional medicine treatments, investigations of the mechanisms of action of herbal remedies, and studies on the safety and quality of traditional medicine treatments. Researchers of the Group work in collaboration with RMIT medical biotechnology researchers and also with RMIT Drug Discovery Technologies (a facility established to provide testing and research services to the Australian and international pharmaceutical industry). Much of the clinical research of the RMIT Chinese Medicine Research Group is undertaken in collaboration with established medical researchers. RMIT Chinese medicine researchers, together with other academic research groups at RMIT and with external collaborators, are also involved in studies on the cultivation, harvesting and quality assurance of traditional medicine herbs. The Chinese Medicine Research Group has published a number of original articles and reviews in peer-reviewed international journals and has also made presentations at many national and international symposia and conferences.
Staff of RMIT Chinese Medicine have also made important contributions to Australian professional and government regulatory agencies in the areas of professional accreditation and practice, and therapeutic substance regulation. In 1995, Professor Charlie Xue, Head of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Traditional Medicine at RMIT University, was appointed by the State Government of Victoria to a committee to review the practice of traditional Chinese medicine in the State. As an inaugural member of the Chinese Medicine Registration Board of Victoria, Professor Xue is making ongoing important contributions to the development of the regulatory framework for traditional Chinese medicine practice in Australia, and to development of Registration Board guidelines for Chinese medicine education and training standards. Five other staff members of RMIT Chinese Medicine have been appointed to reference groups of the Chinese Medicine Registration Board.
Professor David Story, who is a key member of the Centre, is a long-serving member of the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s (TGA) Medicines Evaluation Committee, a statutory committee of the Australian Government. He has served on several TGA drug regulatory expert sub-committees and was involved in the development of the TGA processes for the regulation of complementary medicine therapeutic products. In 2003, Professor Story was appointed Inaugural Chair of the Trans Tasman Expert Committee on the requirements for Medicines Labelling, an expert committee established for the new joint Australia – New Zealand Therapeutic Goods Regulatory Authority.
The commitment of RMIT University to the international development of traditional medicine was recently further demonstrated by the highly successful First World Congress of Chinese Medicine, which was held in Melbourne, in November 2003. The Congress was hosted by RMIT University and Nanjing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine and organized by RMIT Chinese Medicine. It was supported by the State Government of Victoria, the City of Melbourne, RMIT University and 15 international organizations, including universities, research institutes, professional associations and government agencies. The Congress attracted over 800 attendees from 23 countries/areas. The program highlighted the most recent developments in traditional medicine education, research, clinical practice and regulation. A primary objective was to promote evidence-based practice of traditional Chinese medicine and thereby facilitate its harmonization with modern medicine.
In December 2005, under the auspices of the WHO Collaborating Centre, RMIT Chinese Medicine, in conjunction with the RMIT Biotechnology Institute, organized and hosted a three-day international symposium in Melbourne, to review progress and set future directions for the harmonization of traditional and modern medicine. The event was sponsored by the State Government of Victoria, the City of Melbourne and RMIT University. It also received support from professional and industry partners. The program covered issues critical for effective harmonization of traditional and modern healthcare systems, including medicines regulation, assuring quality, safety and therapeutic claims, and practitioner training and registration. Researchers, government regulators and other authorities contributed to the program, including the Chinese Vice-Minister for Health, the Malaysian Director General for Health, the National Manager of the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration, a senior representative of Health Canada, and senior academics/researchers from Australian universities, universities in the United States (Yale and the University of California Los Angeles), and universities in China and Hong Kong SAR (the University of Hong Kong, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, China Academy of Sciences and Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine). The Symposium was attended by over 150 participants from 11 countries with the majority from the Region. The feedback from the delegates indicated that this was a high quality Symposium that promoted harmonization and evidence-based research and practice in traditional medicine.
As a WHO Collaborating Centre for Traditional Medicine, RMIT Chinese Medicine will continue and expand its activities in traditional medicine education and research, and promote and facilitate harmonization of traditional and western health-care systems. Particular emphasis will be placed on training curricula, the application of new teaching technologies to student-centred learning, evidence- and case-based clinical training, and assurance of quality outcomes of programs. Specialty programs will be developed in areas such as herbal medicine dispensing and specialty (postgraduate) areas of traditional medicine. RMIT Chinese Medicine will work with educational and research institutions in other countries and areas in the Western Pacific Region to assist in the development of high quality training programs customized for regional variants of traditional medicine, evidenced-based practice and harmonization with modern medicine again being major objectives. The development and dissemination of core curricula, clinical competencies and quality standards for traditional medicine training programs will also be priorities.
The designation of Chinese Medicine, School of Health Sciences, RMIT University as a WHO Collaborating Centre for Traditional Medicine was announced by the Regional Director for the Region for the Western Pacific, Dr Omi in September 2005.