chinese medicine
Salma Alhawiti is the first Saudi woman to graduate as a Chinese medicine practitioner from IMU Malaysia. Source: Salma Musallam Alhawiti

Salma Musallam Alhawiti does not look like your typical Chinese Medicine doctor. But, in many ways, she’s set to make more impact than them.

Alhawiti is the first Saudi woman to graduate with a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Chinese Medicine from the International Medical University Malaysia (IMU)

From struggling with the Chinese language to being mocked by family and friends for studying Chinese Medicine, Alhawiti’s journey had been tough. 

She initially couldn’t keep up with Chinese pronouns and memorising all of the herbs and formulas in Chinese. Support was little — many believed she wouldn’t be able to bridge the differences in culture, language, and philosophy. 

A determined character, Alhawiti proved them wrong. “It was, in fact, the best decision I ever made since the programme is well organised for both domestic and international students with professional and helpful lecturers,” she says.

Alhawiti hopes to return to her home country, Saudi Arabia, and apply the knowledge and experience she has learned.

“Chinese Medicine has improved herbal medication treatment in specific ways, allowing it to be prescribed with precise doses and timing based on Chinese diagnosis,” she says.

“I hope that in my future clinic, I can apply it and open up a new way of using herbal medication professionally.”

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Salma Alhawiti (second from right) with her classmates during graduation. Source: Salma Musallam Alhawiti

Where the dream began

Watching her mother practise traditional Arabic medicine for over 30 years, Alhawiti was inspired to do the same.

“I was fascinated with her hard work, dedication and successful clinic operations every day of my whole life,” she says. “It was a huge turning point in my life that helped me realise I had to pursue the same but on an academic path.

She did — and gained a whole lot more. Her Chinese Medicine degree entailed the study of human health in general from a Western perspective as well.

“This helped us build a strong foundation to diagnose diseases, understand medical records, and give various treatments, including Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture, moxibustion, nutrition, massage therapy, and physical exercise,” she says. 

In the hopes of carrying on her mother’s legacy, she hopes to one day open her own clinic. “I always wanted to support and take over her career and improve it scientifically,” she says. 

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Salma Alhawiti recently graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Chinese Medicine from IMU Malaysia. Source: Salma Musallam Alhawiti

Journey to becoming a Chinese Medicine practitioner 

Alhawiti first came to Malaysia in 2011 after receiving a scholarship from the Saudi government. She completed a pre-university course before choosing to undertake a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Science (MBBS).

“My dream was to always study alternative medicine, but at that time, my path wasn’t clear, and I studied a few different courses,” she tells Study International.

But that changed during her second year of the degree, “I remember I was in my second year of completing my Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Community Health at University Putra Malaysia when I saw an advertisement for IMU on social media,” she explains.

Alhawiti then made the bold decision to drop out of her degree and pursue her dreams of alternative medicine at IMU. 

During her Chinese Medicine degree, she had the chance to intern at many places — the university’s clinic, Tung Shin Hospital Kuala Lumpur, Ren Yi Acupuncture and Xing Lin fertility clinic. 

“It was more than beneficial to me because we gained a wealth of knowledge and experiences from observing and working hands-on with patients with various diseases,’ she says.

“I had a particular experience with difficult cases such as ataxia and autism spectrum disorders in pediatric patients.”