The annual educational student elective to China, led by Dr. Henry Strobel, celebrated its 30th anniversary this year with special ceremonies, teaching materials, and even a set of official commemorative stamps created by the Chinese government.

More than 400 UTHealth Medical School students have taken the one-month trip to China, at their own expense, to be exposed to and learn from the Chinese medical community through its schools and hospitals. On this year’s anniversary trip, one of the inaugural China trip alumni, Dr. Antonio Choicca, chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, was the invited keynote speaker

“This was originally intended to be an exchange program for students whereby we would send ours, and then we would get a group for the same type of interaction here,” explained Strobel, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology professor emeritus.

Strobel was first invited to lecture on biochemistry in China in 1981, with the first students accompanying him in 1986.

The exchange program continued for a few years and then transitioned to a one-month visit by UTHealth Medical School students and faculty to the Xuanwu Hospital Capital Medical University and other hospitals, including the China-Japan Friendship Hospital, the Beijing Pediatric Hospital, and Tian Tan Neurosurgical Hospital.

“I’ve seen the development of those hospitals – people working very hard to keep pace with the standards of western medicine in China, which is a difficult task,” Strobel said. “They have become more and more like the typical western hospital for high quality care.”

In addition to the medical care and operations, students have been on the China trip during the SARS outbreak and the Tiananmen Square protests. Strobel has been there every year, documenting the events and changes.

“The life of the average person is completely different now than what it was – housing was crowded, availability of food was not great, there were few high quality restaurants that I saw,” Strobel said. “Now the quality of life for average person has shown marked improvement. China has grown in status, welfare, professional benefits, and lifestyle of its people in a way many other places haven’t.”

The 30th anniversary is significant in China as it is by that age that each man and woman is perceived to have established a base for contributions for the rest of their lives, Strobel explained.

Even though he is now retired from McGovern Medical School, Strobel said he will go with students on a trip to China next year.

“I want the program to continue – it’s really good for students to go, good for our school to have a connection with China, and I hope our school will continue to influence the direction of medicine in China,” he said.