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Barefoot Doctors

Tsung O. Cheng, MD
JAMA. 1988;259(24):3561. doi:10.1001/jama.1988.03720240023025.
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To the Editor.  —The cover of the Feb 19 issue of JAMA featured a colorful painting of the health care system in rural China in the 1960s and an accompanying essay by Yolanda Saul.1 Perhaps a note of explanation may be in order for some JAMA readers who may wonder why the barefoot doctors depicted in the painting are not barefoot.The barefoot doctor in China was actually neither a doctor of medicine nor barefoot. He, or usually she, was an agricultural worker trained as a paramedic. When these barefoot doctors first appeared in Chuan Sha, the rice-growing region of east China near Shanghai, where with their medical kits they often went barefoot in the fields (Figure), as was the custom, their peasant patients affectionately called them "barefoot doctors."2,3Beginning in January 1985 the Ministry of Health of the People's Republic of China abolished the term "barefoot doctors"

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