Frequently asked questions about Traditional Chinese Medicine

What is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?

“Traditional” means the conceptual approach used before the advent of modern “Western medicine” that developed in Europe and North America in the 1800s and 1900s.

“Chinese” refers to the origins of this thought in Chinese culture, which has had tremendous influence on medical practice in neighboring countries such as Japan and Korea, and is now gaining widespread exposure in Western culture.

“Medicine” refers to the way Chinese doctors organized their observations about human physiology and pathology, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease according to the daily phenomena they experienced before the discovery of germs, molecules, nerves and hormones, etc.

TCM is a specific, integrated system of theory with centuries of clinical experience. It stresses the importance of both emotional or mental stress factors and external pathogenic factors in disease development. In diagnosis, TCM uses detailed principles of differentiation with emphasis on identifying the main cause of a disease, treatment according to the person, season, local conditions, etc. and attaches great importance to prevention (Ref 1).

How does TCM risk management compare to conventional medicine?

In an Australian study, 0.016% of all TCM consultations resulted in an adverse event (Ref 2). In comparison, 5.7% of Australian hospital admissions were drug-related and 16.6% resulted in an adverse event caused by health care management (Ref 3,4).

Are you called “Doctor”?

In most cultures, health professionals who diagnose and prescribe treatment are called “Doctor” or an equivalent translation. In some Canadian provinces, the title “Doctor” is governed by law but not in Saskatchewan (Ref 5). There is spirited debate, especially among MDs (Doctors of Medicine) and PhDs (Doctors of Philosophy), about who should be allowed to use the title “Doctor.” Although TCM graduates in China receive the degree of Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, no schools in Canada have been able to award such a degree until recently. Some groups in Canada give the title “Doctor of Chinese Medicine (CMD)” or “Doctor of Oriental Medicine (OMD)” to members who meet their requirements.

The title “Practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine” is generally accepted as accurate. It is not illegal for people to call me “Doctor,” but I prefer to introduce myself by name rather than title.


1Xu, X.C. (ed.). 1990. Essentials of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Vol.1, The English-Chinese encyclopedia of practical Traditional Chinese Medicine. Higher Education Press, Beijing.

2Bensoussan A, SP Myers and AL Carlton. 2000. Risks associated with the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Arch. Fam. Med. 9:1071-1078.

3Dartnell J, R Anderson, V Chohan et al. 1996. Hospitalisation for adverse events related to drug therapy: incidence, avoidability and costs. Med. J. Aust. 164:659-662.

4Wilson RM, WB Runciman, WR Gibberd, BT Harrison, L Newby and JD Hamilton. 1995. The quality in Australian health care study. Med. J. Aust. 163:458-471.

5 The Medical Profession Act, 1981 (Sask). THE SASKATCHEWAN GAZETTE, PART I, No. 31 Volume 92 REGINA, FRIDAY, AUGUST 2, 1996