Ann Lu BDS5 writes about her elective visit to China in August 2018
For all its economic and technological advancement of recent years, China still remains a mystery to many in the west. In June 2018, I visited Peking University Hospital of Stomatology learn about state dental care and the experience of dental students in the everchanging metropolis of Beijing.
On my first morning, I was amazed by the immensity of the hospital. It was barely 8am, but the halls and corridors were already swarming with patients waiting to register to be seen. As the largest stomatological hospital in the world and the best in China, even the president and A-list celebrities come here for dental care.
Dental care is shaped by patient volume, values and expectations. Out of necessity, the hospital operates with ruthless efficiency. The dentist will be taking a history from the next patient while the previous patient gets ready to leave, whilst a nurse handles paperwork and turns over the chair, all in the same bay. I saw some very familiar brands of dental materials on clinic, but there were big differences – amalgam has been phased out, and dental students are accustomed to much less chairside assistance. Almost all suction is done by saliva ejectors, and even on endodontic clinics, five students share a single nurse.
I witnessed fourth year students extracting teeth for the first time, in preparation for their first clinical year beginning in autumn. The patients were the students’ friends and family, evidently chosen for their nerves of steel, as there was often six students crowding around the chair whilst the extraction took place. Clinical exposure in the course seems late by British standards, but the sheer volume of patients allow Chinese students to very quickly accumulate clinical experience.
My most valuable lessons, however, were about Chinese people and culture. I was staggered and humbled by their skill, resilience and work ethic. Every member of the hospital endures relentless pressure and fierce competition to survive and thrive in China’s capital, a city saturated with the country’s brightest minds. I met Professor Li, vice dean of Peking University School of Stomatology and alumnus of University of Birmingham School of Dentistry, who spoke fondly of his time in Birmingham where he received his PhD.
In the weekend, I somehow talked my way into Peking University’s main campus, which was not open to the public at the time. PKU is the equivalent of Oxford and Cambridge in the UK, but the traditional-style buildings, bridges and gardens a world away from the British campuses I am accustomed to. Young people in graduation robes took photos with each other around Weiming Lake to commemorate their contribution to a university with 120 years of history.
I would like to thank Professor Walmsley for his facilitation and support of the visit, Professor KK Cheung for assisting me with the contact; and to Professor Li and colleagues, Zhang Ran and Deng Yuanyuan for receiving me. Their hospitality was a credit to their university – I was extremely well looked after, and every day I was touched by their warmth and thoughtfulness.