The Taiwanese Connection

October 8, 2001

Heather Heilman

What does Tulane have to do with the health of 23 million people in Taiwan? More than you might think. For starters, there's the growing number of alumni who have assumed leadership roles in the nation's health-care system. Every year, approximately 10 Taiwanese students graduate from the School of Public health and return home.

In addition, 30 students have recently completed their MMM (master of medical management) in a unique executive distance-learning program created for doctors in Taiwan's military hospitals. About four years ago, Taiwan implemented a national health insurance plan, explained Ted Chen, professor of community health sciences. The military hospitals are now in competition with civilian hospitals. Military physicians need a way to upgrade their skills, but can't leave their jobs or families to get an education. Tulane already had an MMM program in place and was able to adapt it to fit the special needs of these students.

In Taiwan's health community, word is spreading about Tulane. "When they have a need, they come to us," said Chen. He can take much of the credit for developing Tulane's ties to Taiwan. He is a native of Taiwan, and although he has been in the United States since 1964, he's served as an adviser to Taiwan's Minister of Health, and to its National Health Research Institutes.

Since he arrived at Tulane in 1990, Chen has helped to increase the number of Taiwanese students at the School of Public Health from a very few to approximately 40 per year. Paul Whelton, senior vice president of health sciences, has also helped to strengthen Tulane's ties to Taiwan. Years ago, when Whelton was at Johns Hopkins, he developed a friendship with Min Ho Huang, who was then a student. Today Huang is a Taiwanese senator, the president of the Show Chwan hospital group, and the father of a Tulane Medical School student.

Now there is a flowering collaboration between Tulane and Show Chwan. Alan Miller, vice president of clinical affairs at the health sciences center, has been named North American editor of Show Chwan's medical journal. Each issue will feature an article by a Tulane professor on a clinical topic. Tulane faculty may soon be involved in online continuing medical education for Taiwanese doctors, as well.

Another possible collaboration is in the area of gene therapy and stem cell research. Darwin Prockop, director of the Tulane Center for Gene Therapy, has submitted a proposal to Huang for collaborative work on research and development. And this summer, Miller and Chen traveled to Taiwan and mainland China in order to explore the possibility of affiliating with Show Chwan in a hospital on the mainland.

"We would provide consultations via teleconferencing and send professors over as visiting faculty," Miller said. "Physicians from their facility might also come here to learn new techniques from us." Miller's interests include what Tulane can learn from traditional Chinese medicine.

"In China, the hospitals blend Western medicine with traditional medicine," he said. Cancer patients get chemotherapy as well as Chinese herbal therapy and acupuncture. Chen said that political conflict is not stopping Taiwan from investing heavily in the mainland.

"Politics is politics, but the reality is business," he said. "And even if the hospital does not become a reality, the relationship with Show Chwan will continue to be a fruitful one for Tulane," Miller said. "We're looking at the opportunity to learn, to teach, to publish and to promote Tulane's name internationally," Miller said. "All of that is positive to us."

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