A doctor is as good as his clinical experience, otherwise everybody can become a doctor using a manual or after reading a few medical books. It is the same with traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). TCM has been flourishing in Hong Kong in the last decades, with local Universities setting up a total of three Chinese medicine schools with close to a thousand graduates each year. The mission of their Chinese medicine school, according the the University of Hong Kong is:
"Nurturing high-quality Chinese medicine professionals and promoting the modernization of Chinese medicine" and " providing systematic
Chinese medicine education which focuses on Chinese medicine training
while complemented by biomedical science and clinical practice".
The structure of TCM is a holistic view of the human body narrated through traditional concepts including the concept of five elements, their mutual enhancing and conflicting effects. In the nutshell, the five elements structure is: Metal (金) = Lung (肺), Water (水) = Kidney (肾), Wood (木) = Liver (肝), Fire (火) = Heart (心), Earth (土) = Spleen (脾). Interested readers can search the web for more information. But the interesting part is that TCM is fundamentally a clinical practice, concepts like the five elements should therefore be viewed as organizing concepts derived from clinical experience rather than derived from a priori teleological truth. Should any conflict arise, clinical observation and conclusion should be paramount. The concept of priority-of-clinical-observations also applies to other practical disciplines such as (western) medical practice. For example, when a personal can't wake up for more than a month he will most likely be classified as in a persistent vegetative state despite a scan showed only minor damage to his brain (therefore, according to the scan, he should supposedly have waken up already!)
TCM is flourishing in Hong Kong, but in a direction not intended by practitioners in ancient China. In ancient China, a Chinese medicine doctor was supposed to treat all kinds of illness. Surgery would be required when it was required (acupuncture as anesthesia had reached a high ground in ancient China). In the modern day Hong Kong, in any emergency situation, a person will be sent to the ER department of a local hospital. Western medical practice is always a first line of defense for emergency situation as well as major disease.
Then when do an average Hong Kong Chinese goes to see a Chinese medicine doctor, if needed at all? The most common reasons are palliative treatment (from as severe as cancer to as minor as a flu), and for general body maintenance (like when a person feels persistent heatiness (热氣),or need to strengthen one's internal organs [as classified through the five elements pointing to different treatment options] in particular before chilling Winters.
In Hong Kong there is still a minor segment of people who believe in the concept of hidden secrets or formulations in TCM, and "practitioners" of such practice (assuming he is no crook) usually didn't learn their stuff from clinical experience but they are wide-reading scholarly persons. I can share with my readers a personal experience below:
A few years ago, one of my elder relations was introduced to an elderly TCM practitioner without a valid license. Some people said that he was a learned person having assess to a lot of good medicine formulations. He had a group of followers, many were elderly folks and some with different kinds of terminal cancer. He didn't charge for his prescription but his patients were encouraged to donate some as they wished. He usually prescribed lots of Chinese herbs and many of patients said his prescription was effective. After a few times, my elderly relation took the prescription to a famous licensed Chinese medicine doctor for a second opinion. After reading the prescription, the doctor frowned, "I won't prescribe such lengthy list of herbs. I know what he was doing, he picked up a few traditional formulations relevant to your situation and he lumped them all up together, without regarding their interaction effect. I believe he lacks clinical experience". So much for secret potent formulations!