Medicine i_need_contribute
Rural doctor strives to boost health in villages
author:WANG XIAOYUsource:China Daily Global 2024-06-28 [Medicine]
'Like a tortoise', Zhang Zhijuan who can speak four dialects has slowly crafted a career serving patients in Yunnan

Zhang Zhijuan checks a child's teeth at a clinic in Gaofa village in Dali Bai autonomous prefecture, Yunnan province. [Photo provided to China Daily]


Zhang Zhijuan, a rural doctor in Yunnan province, speaks four ethnic dialects and is entrusted to not only manage illnesses but also mediate disputes between villagers.

As versatile and competent as she is, Zhang only sees herself as a tortoise inching toward the goal of advancing the health of local residents in her hometown of Gaofa village in Dali Bai autonomous prefecture.

"I love medical science, but I am not smart and could not afford a formal education growing up. So over the years, I have been learning like a tortoise and improving myself at a slow but steady pace," the 50-year-old said.

Zhang's passion for medicine stems from her father's abrupt death when she was 13 years old. "I was driven by a very simple goal — to help patients, especially those living in remote and mountainous areas like my father," she said.

The kindness of fellow villagers was imprinted in her memory.

"I remember them helping my mom do farmwork and gifting clothing and food to us in the most difficult times, which cemented my determination to be a doctor and cure illnesses for them when I grew up."

In 1994, Zhang graduated from a nursing program at a prefecture-level vocational high school and immediately returned to the village to work at the rural clinic.

As one of the three workers at the clinic meant to serve about 2,000 residents nearby, Zhang has an all-encompassing job. She visits pregnant women at home to check their conditions and deliver babies, shares health knowledge with villagers — especially with children and the elderly — and sometimes accompanies sick patients to seek treatment at larger hospitals and help them apply for subsidies.

Gaofa is home to five indigenous ethnic groups. Local officials said that only 3 percent of local villagers can speak four dialects like Zhang.

"Many villagers live deep in the mountains and very far away from urban hospitals. It is very inconvenient for them to travel outside the area, so I have decided to come back and help them as much as possible," she said. "My goal is to help them spend the least amount of money on medical treatment and prevent minor ailments from developing into severe diseases."

Although Zhang was trained in Western medicine, she has always been fascinated by ethnic practices.

"When I was young, I often saw seniors in the village steeping plantains in water and adding sugar or honey to them, and they would use the concoction to treat urinary tract infections," she said.

Zhang learned a little about traditional Chinese medicine at the vocational school and gradually applied her skills and knowledge to aid ailing local farmers.

"Many villagers make a living through farming and suffer from arthritis and pain in their lower backs and legs," she said. "So acupuncture and TCM massage are very useful and have quickly gained popularity among them."


Zhang treats a senior resident of the village. [Photo provided to China Daily]


In July 2019, Zhang earned an opportunity to enroll in a TCM training program in the Dali prefecture because of her experience offering TCM treatment in rural areas.

"I was the only rural doctor in the class, and my classmates were either college students or senior doctors at larger hospitals," she said. "I could not even speak Mandarin fluently."

Zhang said that she overcame her shyness and intimidation by partnering with a young student around her son's age.

"He helped me summarize one day's worth of teaching into bullet points so that I could memorize things more easily and communicate with fellow classmates the next day," she said. "Gradually, I became accustomed to talking with others in a relaxed way and refined my skills."

The program not only introduced more advanced TCM treatment tools to Zhang, but also led her to reaffirm her conviction to increase their use in her hometown.

In late April, Zhang was awarded the May 1 Labor Medal by the All-China Federation of Trade Union. A total of 1,088 such medals were granted to worker models and organizations nationwide.

At 50 years old, Zhang said that she has set a new goal for her work — to prioritize disease prevention and health promotion.

"I hope that villagers will not only visit me when they feel sick, but also learn how to boost their immunity and build a healthy lifestyle," she said.