Interview: 3rd-Generation-NJUer-Turned Physician Gives Equal Weight to Science and Humanities

Professor Qiu Yudong is the deputy director of General Surgery from Nanjing Drum Tower Hospital (Gulou Yiyuan), the affiliated hospital of Nanjing University’s Medical School, and the deputy director of Hepatobiliary Institute of Nanjing University. He was the first doctor in China to conduct radiofrequency ablation of liver cancer with peritoneoscope, with important achievements in this area.

He is also of the third generation in a row in his family who studied and grew up at Nanjing University.

Recently, the new media studio of the university has the privilege to interview Professor Qiu Yudong, who embodies both the humanistic and scientific spirit and has a passion both for medicine and Nanjing University.    

Professor Qiu Yudong is interviewed by the new media studio.

Three generations’ ties with Nanjing University

"Although I was too young at that time, they left deep impressions on me,” said Professor Qiu, his eyes mild but serious, when talking about his grandfather, who graduated from Mathematics Department of Central University, and his grandmother, who graduated from Department of Foreign Languages, University of Nanking.

In his view, his grandfather, who was upright, serious and even a little bookish, represents Nanjing University’s pursuit of practicality and truth.

"No matter how the surrounding environment changed,” Qiu recalled his grandfather, “at his home in Suzhou were all books. He kept studying even after his retirement. In my mind, he serves as a typical example of living to learn."  

Professor Qiu opened the drawer and took out an old but well-preserved notebook with detailed drawings and explanations. It records almost every surgery he did during his research and studies in Hong Kong over a decade ago.

One page is dated January 23, 2003. The notes on it are neatly laid out the page, with  clear and precise illustrations, from specific cases and anatomical methods, to multidisciplinary discussions and reflections.

The minute details show the note taker’s commitment and rigorous scholarship.

This cannot be compared with my grandfather’s notes,” he explained. “As a graduate of Central University and a teacher at Soochow University, he taught me the good habit of taking notes since my early childhood. That’s one of the greatest treasures he gave me.

Professor Qiu has been taking notes on surgery for nearly 20 years, accumulating as many as a dozen notebooks.

  Professor Qiu 's Notes on Surgery  

The building of Drum Tower Hospital, where Professor Qiu’s office is located, was serious and quiet, perhaps resulting from the heavy, solemn workload of medicine. In sharp contrast, Professor Qiu's smiling face and enthusiasm relaxed those talking to him.

“We should adhere both to the spirit of humanities and to professional knowledge, " said Qiu, who attributed his optimism and broad-mindedness to the impact of his grandmother's words and deeds.

"She confronted many difficulties, but no matter what difficulties, she endured them with an open mind and optimism." Professor Qiu believed that the priceless quality of her grandmother actually reflects an indispensable part of humanities spirit, which is closely related to Honesty, Truthfulness, Diligence, and Benevolence, which his grandmother had acquired at University of Nanking.


Professor Qiu firmly believes in paying attention to every detail in scientific research.

“When my father (Professor Qiu Qingjiu) was in his final days…” said Qiu as he paused and others held their breath. But he changed his words: “It was such a pity that he died relatively young when he worked as a PhD advisor in the university’s Mathematics Department.… When he was too sick to get up from bed, he still told his students that they could visit him only if they had finished their papers!”

Qiu paused again and then continued:“He was such a disciplined and diligent man who would never give up pursuing truth. That moment will always encourage me.”  

Professor Qiu believes that Nanjing University has a brilliant tradition and precious spirit of being tough and brave on the way to pursue truth and dreams.

At any time in history, those from Nanjing University who are upright and fearless can benefit from such tradition and spirit.

“All in all,” said Qiu, “every little bit of my progress is due to what the university has given me.”


Three turns on his way to become a doctor

As a leading scholar of Jiangsu’s clinical medicine and one of Nanjing’s young and middle-aged professional talents, Qiu has been devoted to the clinical and experimental research in hepatobiliary and pancreatic surgery for many years, and he has gained formidable academic credentials, exquisite surgery skills and rich clinical experience. It is little known, however, that he experienced three turns on his way to become a doctor.

He spent his childhood near Tao Garden of Nanjing University. The death of a neighbor evoked his idea to be a doctor.

“That was really a turn,” he said, “since medicine had not been the first major I applied to prior to the college entrance examination.”

For this coincidence, he became a student of Nanjing Medical University. That was his first turn.  

Department of General Surgery at Nanjing Gulou Hospital (the affiliated hospital of Nanjing University), the national key department Professor Qiu Yudong works for  

Medical science is divided into clinical medicine, basic medicine, pathology and so on, and Qiu did not plan to study clinical medicine at the beginning.

“I had passed TOEFL and got an offer from Cornell University,” he recalled. But for various reasons, he did not further his study there. Rather, in a few years’ time, he became a clinical surgeon at Drum Tower Hospital and made a change in his area of study. This was his second turn.


At that time, some people believed that only those who were tall and strong with long fingers would make good surgeons, and Qiu was not like that.

However, the well-known expert, academician Wu Mengchao in the department of hepatobiliary surgery gave much help and encouragement to Qiu, then a doctoral candidate at the Second PLA Medical University. Under the guidance of Wu, Qiu built confidence in his career pursuance.

After receiving his doctoral degree, Qiu continued his study in Hong Kong’s St Mary’s Hospital under Professor Fan Shangda. In Hong Kong, Qiu worked as a resident doctor in many posts and accumulated knowledge and experience in the area of liver transplantation and hepatobiliary surgery. This was the third turn in Professor Qiu’s medical career.

Professor Qiu Yudong (first left), his teacher Academician Wu Mengchao (center) and his colleagues。  

The rich and precious experiences gave Professor Qiu a profound understanding of medical science, of being a doctor and a medical student. He believes that medical science is one of the most noble careers for one to spend the whole life pursuing.

“Working as a doctor is to some extent a very painful experience since not all diseases can be cured,” said Qiu. “Just as Edward Trudeau once said: ‘To cure sometimes, to relieve often, to comfort always.'”

Just as a famous Chinese proverb goes, ”it is during the time of difficulty that the true noble man stands out.” Professor Qiu believes that medical students from Nanjing University should always take up responsibilities during special periods of time. They have not only gained professional knowledge, but also and more importantly, learned logical thinking, rational analysis, accurate judgment and resolution to take actions. They are taught to become outstanding doctors with comprehensive abilities.

  Visit to Germany  

Three Valuable Principles 

“My mother is an optimistic and hard-working person,” said Qiu. “She has her own views on how to be a good person. She has influenced me a lot in the past years.”

Many students at Nanjing University can still recall their undergraduate days when they studied Higher Mathematics, compiled by Qiu’s father, the old Professor Qiu, or attended the lectures given by his mother, Professor Su Weiyi.

In Qiu’s view, there are three valuable principles for being a good person, finishing a task and pursuing career and knowledge.

The first is basic and guides one in becoming a good person and a good citizen. That is, one should be honest, be responsible and be hard-working.

The second guides one in doing the work and it is the key to becoming a talented person. That is, one should set up an aim, make a plan and have the determination to put them to action.

The third principle is to pursue a career. One should have a broad mind, a view to the future and perseverance.

“These three principles are what my mother has taught me by what she does every day, and I would like to share them with all of you,” concluded Professor Qiu.

“Nanjing University should be the best University in China,” said Professor Qiu at the end. “We have the best undergraduate programs, during which students learn the most precious scientific methodology and humanistic ideas. This is why our university is known as the cradle of world famous scientists and talents and why graduates can always put forward their own rational opinions instead of following others blindly.”


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