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Understanding both TCM and Western medicine, German Doris Rathgeber knows her yin and yang and hangs out her shingle in integrated medicine.

It took a move to China and seven years of arduous study for German Doris Rathgeber to achieve her childhood dream of becoming a doctor.

However, she isn't hanging out her shingle in Western medicine but in the ancient arts of traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture and herbal medicine.

"I always wanted to be a doctor, and from a very young age I could remember the various diseases friends and family had," she says.

Rathgeber, who came to Shanghai 13 years ago as a so-called "trailing spouse," is now owner of the medical clinics Body & Soul with practices in Minhang and Huangpu districts.

Founded in 2004, Body & Soul offers integrated Western and Chinese medical treatments in a range of fields, such as internal medicine, gynecology, pediatrics and dermatology.

She was overwhelmed by her first year in China, but she later learned to speak, read and write Chinese and delved deeply into China's medical traditions. Rathgeber completed a five-year degree at Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

"In the first year here, I was completely depressed, I was completely out of myself, I wasn't normal," she says. "I had culture shock, I couldn't imagine living here in China and I asked my husband for a divorce."

In her practice, she sees expats who turn to TCM and counseling to help them deal with the difficulties of adjusting to a new life in China.

It takes times, she says, for China to reveal its hidden beauty.

"I just got used to it - China, I think, is not a place you fall in love with at first sight," says Rathgeber.

"You can't fall in love with it by just seeing it because what you read about China is completely different from what you see here," she says. "When you get used to it, then you dig deeper. But most people come and go and don't get involved with what is actually going on here."

When Rathgeber first arrived, she started helping her husband Ekkehard, who was working for giant media group Bertelsmann, because she wanted to "leave an empty house." But it was his blunt advice that changed the path of her life.

"He said, 'I don't want you around. I need to set up this company, so find your own thing, go study Chinese'," she recalls.

Rathgeber spent two years learning how to speak, read and write Chinese before undertaking her TCM studies. After graduation she spent two more years on practice. She read her pulse three times a day, closely monitoring both her physical health and her moods and emotions.

She practiced on family and friends to hone her diagnostic skills.

Now she heads two clinics that employ 40 people, including 15 doctors, and see 250 patients a month.

As a child growing up in Dusseldorf, she had wanted to be a doctor.

But, describing herself as a poor student, Rathgeber instead went on to a career in IT sales before beginning her medical studies in China.

She says it took a long time to grasp TCM's fundamental foundations and philosophies, a process that was helped by delivering talks to Shanghai's expat community.

Through explaining TCM to a foreign audience and helping her expat patients, many of whom may be seeking TCM treatments for the first time, Rathgeber says she has deepened her own understanding of the medical system.

She has made frequent appearances on Chinese television and has appeared on German television and radio.

Rathgeber says the optimal treatment for a patient provides the best of both Western and Chinese medical systems.

In her medical studies, the German spent 60 percent of her course working on the basics of Western medicine, including microbiology, physics, pathology and anatomy.

"If you know both systems you can decide what is necessary, but it comes out of your own way of thinking," she says.

"So you can switch between two completely different systems because we can never jeopardize the patient's health because of our ideas. If you see serious signs of disease, you must take other measures, so we know our borderlines very clearly as a TCM practitioner," she says.

(Shanghai Daily April,1 2009)

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