The 2021 Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) Convention

TIMA  |  November 12, 2022
The Tzu Chi USA team in El Monte, California, poses for a photo during the 2021 Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) Convention. Photo/Shuli Luo

Written by Rujing Zheng, Shuli Luo
Translated by Mark Wan
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

The 25th Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) Convention, co-hosted by Tzu Chi USA and Tzu Chi Global Headquarters in Taiwan and conducted online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was held on September 18-19, 2021. Over 2,500 healthcare professionals and volunteers scattered across 19 countries joined together, mostly virtually, with more than 350 from the United States alone. They heard presentations and compared notes on medical care during the pandemic while sharing the positive results in various countries of combining humanistic health care with charity.

A Record-Breaking Number of Participants From the USA

Dr. Shirley Chen, Director of Medical Development for Tzu Chi USA, indicated that the theme for the 2021 TIMA Convention was “Facing the Pandemic with Love and Care.” The focus was on experiences and achievements during the past pandemic year, touching on topics such as:

  • COVID-19 vaccination
  • Diagnosis by Zoom
  • Prescription delivery
  • Securing resources
  • Small-scale outpatient care
  • Feedback from the frontline
  • Attention to vulnerable groups
  • Vegetarianism promotion
  • Combining medical assistance with charity

With so many courses jammed into such a short timeframe as two days, the participants felt inspired and enriched, benefiting from each other’s experience internationally.   

Dr. Shirley Chen, the director of Tzu Chi USA’s Medical Development Department, presents a report. Photo/Shuli Luo

According to Dr. William Keh, Board Director of the Tzu Chi Medical Foundation, the U.S. participation rate for the 2021 convention was exceptionally high. “From the last annual TIMA conventions to the current one, the participation rate is the highest and most active in the United States. The number of people signing on for the conference, upwards of 350, broke the record,” he said. 

The convention program included many presentations bringing local flavors from around the world. With reports compacted into a 20-minute presentation summarizing activities in different regions, participants gained the “cream of the crop” concerning lessons learned.

The content shared by all the speakers was undoubtedly excellent, and each report was very touching.

Dr. William Keh (right), Tzu Chi Medical Foundation’s Board Director, and Dr. Jeng Shiang Chen, Acupuncture Director, prepare a report for presentation. Photo/Songgu Cai

Breaking the Vicious Cycle of Sickness and Poverty

The Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) originated about 30 years after Dharma Master Cheng Yen, observing conditions in impoverished regions of Taiwan for six years, ascertained a link between sickness and deepening poverty. Exorbitant medical expenses were usually a significant cause of families’ economic situation deteriorating gravely. Thus, she envisioned establishing a free clinic to provide medical care to patients early on, preventing untreated illnesses or diseases from driving families into impoverishment.  

Participants hear how Tzu Chi’s global medical mission emerged when Dharma Master Cheng Yen noticed the connection between sickness and poverty. Photo/Shuli Luo

As a medical professional association under the umbrella of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, in addition to free clinic teams in Taiwan, TIMA is spread across 11 countries. Aside from ordinary duties of providing free services for local communities, TIMA members will mobilize swiftly to activate free healthcare services as part of international disaster relief. 

Logistical and local community volunteers also assist TIMA’s medical professional teams on outreach missions in regions hardest hit by disasters. Through TIMA’s work, vulnerable groups and individuals can receive high-quality and professional medical services free of charge, vital care alleviating pain, and treating injuries and illnesses.

While traditionally, TIMA members look forward to the Mid-Autumn Festival at the Jing Si Abode in Hualien, Taiwan, where Dharma Master Cheng Yen resides and participates in hosting the annual TIMA Convention, due to COVID-19 restrictions, she did not preside in person this year. Still, everyone felt her presence through virtual means.

Dharma Master Cheng Yen joins the convention virtually, her address reaching across different time zones. Photo/Shuli Luo

Members of the TIMA USA Chapter Are Glad to Share and Learn

Because of the difference in time zones, participants in the U.S. had to rely on replays instead of live presentation sessions, but everyone stayed focused on learning. And they also got a chance to share highlights of their TIMA journey.

Tzu Chi USA participants share and discuss in between sessions. Photo/Shuli Luo

On the last day of the convention, several sessions focused on the TIMA USA chapter. One introduced the timeline of Tzu Chi Medical Foundation’s clinics attaining Federally Qualified Health Center Look-Alike designation. Another presented the Lotus Sutra Book Club, established in the U.S. to create a space for medical professionals to deepen their practice through reading and discussing Buddhist teachings.

Tzu Chi volunteers in the United States actively participate in the TIMA Convention. Photo/Shuli Luo

Live Broadcasts From the United States Reach Participants in the Americas

After rounds of consultation, TIMA decided to establish an on-site live conference in the U.S., at Tzu Chi USA’s San Gabriel Valley Service Center in El Monte, California. This allowed some doctors and volunteers to physically gather to study while assisting in broadcasting sessions to Central and South America, providing translation in Spanish, English, and Chinese. With volunteers pitching in and coordinating, the broadcast became a mission accomplished.

Tzu Chi USA volunteers assist in instantaneous session relays to Central and South America, providing Spanish, English, and Chinese interpretation. Photo/Shuli Luo

The organizers divided the U.S. participants into groups by specialties, such as Chinese medicine, Western medicine, and dentistry. Dr. Jeng Shiang Chen, Dr. William Keh, and Dr. Shirley Chen presided over the different sessions in their respective fields. The in-person participants could hear presentations, share, and discuss prearranged topics relevant to their specialties, while remote participants could observe via Zoom. Many expressed their views and appreciation, only wishing there would be more time to share expertise and opinions.

A Tzu Chi USA sign language team performs at the 2021 TIMA Convention. Photo/Shuli Luo

For the participants to concentrate on the courses without having time to do proper exercise, a Tzu Chi USA sign language team came to the rescue, offering breaks. They performed Tzu Chi songs whose lyrics echoed everyone’s wishes that the pandemic would end soon and expressed the Tzu Chi spirit, with songs like “One World, One Dream,” “The Spirit of Great Love,” and “Where the Sun Shines On.”

Volunteers assist in meal service during the convention. Photo/Shuli Luo

Expressing Gratitude for Tzu Chi International Medical Association

All the participants were so thankful for being part of the convention and grateful for the Tzu Chi International Medical Association. Shuzhen Wang, a senior volunteer, said, a little sentimentally, “Tzu Chi’s medical association has its presence and impact felt across many countries, with many people benefiting from it. There are so many members having classes today. I feel so warm and fuzzy because I see many Tzu Chi volunteers that I’ve known for a long time, such as Dr. Youcheng Zhao of Taipei Tzu Chi Hospital and Weisong Li, a volunteer from the Philippines. Everybody stays on the medical posts while pushing on other work.”

I want to thank Dharma Master Cheng Yen because partaking in all Tzu Chi activities and joining Tzu Chi International Medical Association makes our life more valuable.

Zhengxiang Chen, a Chinese medicine practitioner, still remembers the first time years ago when she went to Taiwan to join an annual TIMA convention. What impressed her most was the enthusiasm and caring demeanor demonstrated by all the volunteers. She was especially touched by how Dharma Master Cheng Yen personally welcomed all the members at the gate of the Jing Si Abode. She also greatly appreciated all the discussions among the participants.

“What deeply moves people are the healthcare and humanness that Tzu Chi is concerned about, and you may never feel as touched if you are not here. So, I encourage everyone to take advantage of all opportunities to go to the Jing Si Abode in Taiwan to experience first-hand the otherworldly humanness within Tzu Chi that is full of love. You will feel so moved yet not quite know why,” Zhengxiang said.

During the convention, TIMA members fill Tzu Chi USA’s service center in El Monte. Photo/Shuli Luo

Shuyan Chen, a senior registered nurse, had taken part in several international free clinics. And she was still moved, learning about how Ningsheng Lai, superintendent of Buddhist Dalin Tzu Chi Hospital, leads the medical and nursing staff in caring for patients and their family members. “The entire hospital staff follows his example and is supported by the trifecta of medical equipment companies, a community security force, and the entire community in the spirit of harmoniously mutual assistance.”

Participants in the U.S. at the 25th TIMA Convention take group photos to remember the occasion. Photo/Songgu Cai

Through the joint effort of organizers and staff in the U.S. and Taiwan, the jam-packed 2-day convention went smoothly and created an unforgettable memory now preserved in everybody’s mind. The event’s end marked a new starting point for all participants to contribute in their fields and areas of expertise in the future. 

TIMA members are an essential component in Tzu Chi’s ability to fulfill its medical mission in the United States and internationally. Such annual conventions are a cherished opportunity to connect, allowing members to share their experiences in different countries and settings and inform and inspire each other on the path of guarding health.

If access to healthcare is a cause close to your heart, and you would like to support Tzu Chi’s medical mission, TIMA members will carry your love and care directly to the patients they treat, relieving their pain, easing their worries, and setting them on the road to improved health.

By working together, we can make the ripples of our love and care circle ever wider, reaching those in need in our communities and beyond.