U of T news
  • Follow U of T News

U of T builds Family Medicine in China

Helping Beijing medical schools with chronic shortage of family doctors

Faculty of Medicine Dean Catharine Whiteside (photo by Lloyd Rang)

Only three per cent of physicians in China are family doctors - a situation that strains the Chinese health care system and puts severe pressure on hospitals.

But the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine is well-prepared to help China reach its goal of training 100,000 family physicians by 2020, said Lynn Wilson, chair of the department of family and community medicine.

“Developing an effective primary care system in China will not only help improve the health of people and their communities, it would also allow China to sustain and enhance its economic growth,” Wilson said.

In China as part of a week-long delegation led by Dean Catharine Whiteside to Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai, Wilson said helping China build a more efficient primary care system is one of the delegation’s goals.

“We’re helping select Chinese universities build capacity in primary care practice and education by sharing our department’s innovations — such as our academic family health teams.”

The delegation also aims to strengthen existing academic partnerships with some of China’s top universities and the health ministry, Whiteside said. (Watch a video here.)

“The University of Toronto has a global brand that’s well known and we remain at the forefront of medical research and education,” said Whiteside. “At the same time, higher education is becoming more and more globally competitive.

“Therefore, U of T is building strategic partnerships with excellent international institutions in rapidly developing countries like China to advance and apply knowledge in global health.”

Home to North America’s largest family medicine training program, U of T’s Faculty of Medicine trains more than one-third of all family physicians in Ontario and has expertise in addressing the policy challenges and other barriers that get in the way of a strong primary care system.

To help tap into that expertise, Whiteside, Wilson and other members of the faculty’s delegation met with leaders from Peking Union Medical College (PUMC), one of China’s leading medical schools, and Capital Medical University (CMU), China’s national training centre for general practice, to explore partnerships in family medicine in Beijing.

The mission is Whiteside’s second to China to explore the country’s educational, cultural and medical needs and determine how U of T Medicine’s leadership can help improve health in both countries. Alison Buchan, vice-dean of research & international relations, and Howard Hu, director of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health were part of the delegation, which also met with leaders from the University of Hong Kong, government officials, Canadian partners and alumni.

Future agreements could see Chinese government and university officials harness the Faculty’s strengths — transforming China’s health agenda with specific focus on primary care, health systems and administration and chronic and infectious disease prevention, said Whiteside.

The Faculty of Medicine has deep historical connections with China, due in part to the work of alumnus Norman Bethune, whose wartime service made him a national hero.

Today, U of T has strong connections with China. More than 3,700 undergraduate students and 400 graduate students originate from China – more than any other country – and the university has more than 20 cooperation agreements with Chinese institutions. China is the leading destination for U of T student exchange opportunities, and close to 10,000 U of T alumni live in China.