Balancing act

1 November 2017

Zepeng Wei

Photo: Zepeng Wei

UTS nursing graduate Zepeng Wei returned to UTS to study traditional Chinese medicine, but not for a straightforward career change. Wei discusses his plans to find a happy medium between Eastern and Western medical practices – and how he’s balancing his work and study.

After he completed his undergraduate degree in nursing at UTS in 2007, Zepeng Wei never imagined he’d return to study. He had the same feeling when he completed his Graduate Certificate in Cancer Nursing a few years later.

So it was a happy surprise that he found himself back in the UTS Tower building two years ago, ready to expand his professional horizons after enrolling in a Bachelor of Health Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

“I still remember the first day I came back to UTS. Being amongst all of the other students made me feel young and energetic again – it brought back all these memories of what the student life is like,” says Wei.

Thinking back more than a decade to his first undergraduate degree, Wei recalls finding it a challenging but overwhelmingly positive experience.

“As an only child, my family had done everything for me and I’d never had much responsibility,” says Wei, who migrated to Australia from China with his parents as teenager. “Then all of a sudden that flipped over, and I had to be the person that cares for others when they were sick.

“Basically it changed my personality – I became a more caring, patient and responsible person.”

Since graduating with a Bachelor of Nursing, Wei has worked as a cancer nurse at the Royal North Shore Hospital. For Wei, it was the fulfilment of his goal to have a hands-on job and to “do something that helped people and had a lot of personal interaction”. But as he began to take on roles with more responsibility after finishing his postgrad study, he started to feel the strain of shift work.

Wei decided to find a way that he could take a break while also diversifying his career – an answer he found by looking to his family’s background.

“I grew up in China, where Chinese medicine is part of the culture. I decided to return to UTS to study traditional Chinese medicine – I liked the idea of how it can help you prevent diseases, and it seemed like a way that I could help people, while also helping myself,” he says.

Wei explains that traditional Chinese medicine differs in its approach from Western philosophy of medicine. “Western medicine is about treating the disease: if the disease is present, we’ll do everything to try and cure that disease and make the person healthy again,” he says.

The aim of Chinese medicine, on the other hand, is to treat the underlying disharmony that lies at the root of disease, and improve wellbeing, rather than simply alleviating the symptoms.

Wei decided to find a way that he could take a break while also diversifying his career – an answer he found by looking to his family’s background.

So how to find a balance between the two philosophies? As a cancer nurse, Wei sees a big opportunity to help those people going through treatment manage their side effects.

“I can definitely see a huge area in improving side effects such as nausea, vomiting and pain. People who are being treated for cancer are obviously going through a really hard time, so it would be nice if I can do something about it by applying the principles of Chinese medicine.”

While his goal is to open up a small traditional Chinese medicine practice in the future, Wei is reluctant to give up his nursing career and plans to split his time between the clinic and the hospital. But as long as he’s helping patients, and “constantly talking to people and exchanging ideas”, he’ll be happy.