Demystifying Medicine One Month at a Time

Barefoot Doctors

DSC_4075The venerable New England Journal of Medicine published an opinion piece about why it’s important for us to learn about the history and current practices of health care in China.

Since the Communist Party declared victory in the Chinese civil war in 1949, health care in the People’s Republic has undergone rapid cyclical change, mirroring the various emphases the single-party government has proffered to its people — from collectivism to free market capitalism and then somewhat back again when >90% of Chinese were left uninsured — in what the authors of the piece describe as a movement to create professional norms for a medical profession that have not heretofore existed in China.

A good summary of the piece describing some of the implications can be found here. Other sources report that China is planning to double the number of primary care doctors in the country by the year 2020.

One concept worth learning about if you’ve never heard of it: “Barefoot Doctors.” Founding Premier Mao Zedong unleashed these “paramedical” folks into the countryside in the 1960s to offer help with prevention and primary care. One result: a stunning drop in infant mortality. The analogue in our own age is the concept of the community health worker, something that has garnered press and continues to be an alluring possible solution to our own problems of translating medical knowledge gains out into our communities.


  1. Mindy

    this was a fascinating piece! thanks so much for sharing it
    you ALWAYS make me think
    I really enjoy this blog!

    love to Sarah-Anne and the guys

  2. Amy

    Above is a link to a show that I caught the last 45 minutes of. Great coverage of the health workers they have in rural Alaska and the transformation of the tribal health service there.

  3. Shannon Ijams

    It will be interesting to see how the further utilization of physician assistants and nurse practitioners can contribute to the workforce of community health workers here within the United States. Barefoot doctors provided evidence of significant health gains noted from use of non-physician providers.

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