Mission of Medicine
Safeguarding Life and Health with Love
Tzu Chi’s humanistic culture places a strong emphasis on the creation of a virtuous cycle of love and kindness. For instance, Tzu Chi’s hospitals are not profit-driven, and their medical services are guided by a principle of love. Only when the doctors, volunteers and patients interact with one another in love and gratitude, can the hospitals achieve the ideal of safeguarding life and health with love.”
Building a Network of Humanistic Healthcare Services
The greatest suffering in life comes from illness. In the early years of Tzu Chi, through visits to the homes of the impoverished, Master Cheng Yen discovered that illness often caused families to fall into poverty, and the poor would develop serious illnesses because they could not afford medical care. To help the sick and needy, the Master set up a free clinic in Hualien, Taiwan, in 1972.
Although the free clinic served many patients, the local medical facilities were still inadequate to meet the growing medical needs of the population. Thus in 1979, Master Cheng Yen decided to fundraise for the construction of a general hospital in Hualien. After overcoming numerous challenges and obstacles, the Hualien Tzu Chi General Hospital was finally inaugurated in 1986. Unlike most other hospitals in Taiwan in those days, which charged a deposit for admission, the Tzu Chi hospital did not require a deposit from patients and even provided assistance to needy patients who could not afford medical services. Since its inception till today, it is being served by friendly and helpful Tzu Chi volunteers from all around Taiwan, who provide invaluable support to the medical staff as well as emotional support to patients and their families.
After building its first hospital, Tzu Chi subsequently established five more hospitals in different parts of Taiwan, creating a comprehensive medical network around the island. Equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, the hospitals provide cutting-edge medical services, with an emphasis on patient-centred, humanistic care. Apart from establishing hospitals, the Foundation strives to make medical services widely accessible in Taiwan, by mobilising teams of medical volunteers to hold regular medical outreaches in rural villages and towns.
The Samyuktagama Sutra recounts the four great virtues to be possessed by doctors: “good knowledge of illnesses” (dedicated to understanding the illnesses of living beings), “accurately identifying the cause of the illness” (carefully investigate the cause of an illness), “effectively treating the illness” (prescribe the right medicine for an illness), and “knowledge that the illness has been completely cured” (the medicine has eradicated the disease, bringing comfort and relief to the sufferer). These four virtues of good doctors can be seen in the lives of staff and volunteer doctors in Tzu Chi’s Mission of Medicine.”
Establishing Humanistic Healthcare in Singapore
With the hope of making medical care more accessible to the sick and needy, a group of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, etc. from various hospitals and clinics in Taiwan stepped forward to establish a Tzu Chi medical association in 1996. It was later renamed “Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA)”, whose goal is to provide humanistic healthcare to needy patients. TIMA has established its presence in many countries around the world, providing opportunities for medical professionals to serve the sick in medically deprived areas or those who cannot afford medical care.
In 1999, the Singapore chapter of TIMA was set up. Members from TIMA Singapore actively participated in medical mission trips to the outlying regions of neighbouring countries, such as Indonesia and the Philippines, where medical resources are scarce. By sharing their skills and expertise with local medical professionals as well as donating medical equipment to local medical institutions, they had helped to raise the standard of medical care in these regions. The power of the medical initiative gradually gained momentum and took root in Singapore, with the establishment of Tzu Chi Free Clinic in the Chinatown area in 2004.
With the goal of providing patient-centred healthcare, Tzu Chi Singapore currently manages three healthcare establishments: Tzu Chi Free Clinic, Day Rehabilitation Centre, and Lakeside Family Medicine Clinic. Services offered by these institutions include internal medicine, TCM, dental care, eye and health screening, physiotherapy, etc. In addition, the Foundation has launched home medical, nursing and palliative care services as well as home rehabilitation and TCM services.
With an aging population, coupled with the escalating medical costs in Singapore, Tzu Chi began promoting the concept of “Prevention is better than cure”, and established the Tzu Chi Free Health Screening Centre in 2010, to provide free health screening and information to the public. In 2016, the Foundation took over the operations of Lakeside Family Medicine Clinic, which focuses on the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases.
From its many years of experience serving in the community, Tzu Chi saw the increasing need of home medical services among residents, and launched the “Home Care Services” and “Home Palliative Care” in 2014 and 2016, respectively, in collaboration with the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC). These two programmes provide person-to-person healthcare for the comfort of patients and the peace of mind of their families.
Even though the present medical force in Tzu Chi’s healthcare institutions is largely made up of paid staff, TIMA Singapore is never short of manpower (i.e. volunteer healthcare professionals). The Association works with Tzu Chi volunteers to organise free clinics in healthcare institutions, health screening events, health talks, etc., affording TIMA members many opportunities to serve the community during their rest days or holidays, by contributing their professional skills and expertise. Their selfless efforts have restored the virtues of their calling and brought the humanistic medical culture into their vocation.
Tzu Chi’s healthcare teams treat the patients as family and seek to understand their needs and financial situation. By tapping on Tzu Chi’s charity resources, free/subsidised healthcare services may be offered to needy or low-income patients, and cases that need further financial aid and emotional care will be referred to the Foundation for follow-up review and support. In addition, the healthcare personnel and medical volunteers often share with their patients, Jing Si Aphorisms (wise sayings by Master Cheng Yen) and inspiring stories of good deeds, to encourage them towards a positive mindset and cherish their blessings in the midst of their illness.
In 2015, Tzu Chi Singapore held the “Singapore TIMA Conference”, which aimed to inspire healthcare professionals to embrace the art of humanistic healthcare. The three-day event attracted over 400 participants from various countries and regions.
Humanistic Medicine in Action
A Granny’s Golden Token of Appreciation
Grandma Ye, a hunched, elderly woman in her 90s living alone in Chinatown, collected discarded cardboard for a living. In 2005, she was cured of a lower back injury though six sessions of acupuncture administered by Dr. Guo Zhong Fu at the Tzu Chi Free Clinic. In gratitude, she gifted him with a gold pendant costing $470, a hefty sum for an old lady earning a meagre living. Extremely moved and feeling that her thanks should be directed to Tzu Chi, Dr. Guo made a donation in her name towards Tzu Chi’s Charity Fund, with the money obtained from selling the pendant.
First Singapore TIMA Conference
In March 2015, Tzu Chi Singapore held the three-day “Singapore TIMA Conference” with the theme “Towards Humanistic Medicine”, which attracted over 488 participants from 11 countries and regions. The conference offered a rich programme, which included the sharing of valuable knowledge and experiences in humanistic medical care by the superintendents of various Tzu Chi hospitals in Taiwan, and topics, such as Tzu Chi’s bone marrow donation and silent mentor programmes were covered in depth. The participants were put into small groups, so as to facilitate meaningful and insightful discussions and workshop participation. Inspired and touched by what they have learned, some of the medical professionals revealed that the conference had helped to rekindle their calling of saving lives.
Free Dental Care for MINDS Patients
Almost every year since 2004, the Tzu Chi Free Clinic has been providing annual free dental services to patients from the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS). Giving dental treatment to a group of intellectually impaired patients is a challenging task. Hence, TIMA’s dental team and Tzu Chi volunteers will carefully plan interesting activities beforehand, such as magic shows, games and craftwork, to help the patients relax and warm up to them. This helps to facilitate the treatment process, which provides reassurance to the accompanying parents. The mother of a MINDS patient shared that she used to worry about the side-effects of general anaesthesia given to prevent her child from struggling while he was undergoing a dental treatment in a hospital; in addition, the charges were expensive. But she felt happy and at ease letting her child receive treatment at the Free Clinic.
“The Boy with a Tumour for a Face”
Singapore Tzu Chi volunteers discovered Novemthree Siahaan, a young Indonesian boy who suffered from gigantiform cementoma, a rare autosomal dental tumour, during a Tzu Chi medical aid mission in Batam. He had developed the tumour before the age of two, and was the youngest patient known to suffer from the condition. On 7th March 2004, he was sent to the Tzu Chi Medical Centre in Hualien, Taiwan, for treatment. Over 107 days, a team of medical professionals across ten specialties in the hospital operated on him five times to remove the tumour and reshape his face. Eventually, Novemthree got a new lease of life and a new face, but unfortunately, he passed on from respiratory difficulties a year later. However, his parents were grateful that with Tzu Chi’s help, they were able to preserve some beautiful memories as a family.
Our repertoire of healthcare services and facilities include the following: