By Joshua Holland
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Health is an important component of life. It’s one of the few things you can’t buy or get more of. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. As a lifelong medical inventor and philanthropist, Huiwu Lai understands this all too well. He spent a majority of his professional life working to improve the lives of all humans through Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) before moving to the United States.
Born in Xianyang in Shaanxi province, Lai was fortunate to be able to learn the art of TCM, which has over 5,000 years of history and practice.
While both TCM and Western medicine are focused on improving the health of people, the approaches vary. For instance, Western medicine often focuses on curing symptoms, while TCM focuses on discovering the reason to a health problem. Lai’s theory is that the way he practiced medicine was to heal symptoms and underlying issues.
Lai’s work with TCM eventually led him to start the 505 Group, a high-tech pharmaceutical enterprise in China focused on scientific research, production, management, medical treatment, and teaching. The foundation of the company is self-sustaining and doesn’t rely on involvement from the Chinese government for its operation. It’s most well-known product is a magical strength herb belt that helps fight health issues, from the flu to pain found in the body.
After building his company and gaining some wealth, Lai turned toward improving his community through philanthropic endeavors as a businessman. This sense of giving back led him to support numerous organizations in China. He began contributing money directly to nonprofits and funded projects in China. To date, Lai has supported issues ranging from agriculture to education and everything in between.
Since immigrating to the United States in the 1990s, Lai has continued his philanthropic endeavors through community organizations, local political candidates, and most recently the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine. For two years, he has supported Dr. Eugene Yang, his own personal physician and friend who leads the UW’s Asian Health Initiative.
After learning more about the UW School of Medicine, Lai was inspired to support the program further via a scholarship gift because of its No. 1 ranking in rural medicine and primary care.
“Regardless of where you are in the world, good doctors and nurses are very few,” said Lai. “To help change this, I wanted to establish a scholarship that covers medical education that encourages the training of the best young physicians who have the highest ethical values.”
With the American Association of Medical Colleges estimating a physician shortfall of 104,900 by 2030, it’s an important investment in the next generation of physicians. It’s also an investment in the health of communities around the region. Through the UW’s Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho (WWAMI) Regional Medical Education Program, many of the physicians often go back and serve in rural and underserved communities in the WWAMI region. This in some ways mirrors the population of China, which is 85 percent rural and in need of access to quality medical care, especially in the remote regions.
Lai’s gift is “Supporting Tomorrow’s Medical Leaders” as part of the UW Medicine Accelerate Campaign. His gift was generously matched by the Huckabay family. The Huckabays have contributed $8 million in matching funds to new MD scholarships at the UW School of Medicine.
“Using Mr. Lai’s criteria, the UW School of Medicine will select the first ever recipient of the ‘Huiwu Lai Endowed M.D. Scholarship for Ethics in Medicine’ during the start of the 2018 school year,” said Jody Y. Li, UW Medicine Advancement Director of International Initiatives.
“With the generous endowment provided by Mr. Lai, one student will receive $8,000 a year for the length of their studies at the UW School of Medicine.”
Returning to the philosophy that has guided his own career, Lai believes that ethics are an important part of medical training and the primary purpose of doctors should be to heal and improve the health of people. With the gift to the UW School of Medicine, it’s his hope that the seeds of the future that he’s planted will bloom into a better tomorrow for all, and help create a more peaceful and healthy world.
Joshua can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.