Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation (Los Angeles, California USA)

By Sriya Kakarla

Cross References: Tzu-Chi Headquarters (Hualien, Taiwan); Taichung Tzu Chi Hospital (Taichung, Taiwan)

Founded by Master Cheng Yen in order to put Humanistic Buddhism (renjian fojiao 人間佛教) into action, the Tzu Chi Foundation is a transnational faith-based non-profit organization headquartered in Taiwan that serves communities in 50 countries, including in the United States. The Los Angeles Chapter of Tzu Chi seeks to provide aid to their community through disaster relief and free healthcare. They provide a broad range of healthcare services, including dental, acupuncture, pharmacy, ophthalmological, and health education. 

Tzu Chi Medical Foundation (LA) is composed of a group of clinics and mobile units spread through the Los Angeles area. Through this network of clinics, plus mobile units and health fairs, the organization hopes to provide primary health care with the ability both to address acute needs and follow up for chronic conditions. This is often done through arranging mobile pharmacies at strategic times or referring patients to other services that would allow them to continue to access medications and medical attention. These measures ensure that patients are not left without continuity of care. Additionally, their community-based approach helps patients avoid “white coat syndrome,” or anxiety surrounding seeking healthcare, which makes them more comfortable in utilizing their services. 

Tzu Chi LA seeks to offer broad care by having outreach volunteers that are charged with assessing the needs of a potential patient and passing them along to a physician volunteer or a healthcare educator. This unique synergy between professional and non-professional volunteers allows patients to efficiently take advantage of the complete range of services offered by the foundation. Volunteers handle administrative tasks such as arranging for patient treatment facilities, and this is one of the only charities to arrange for physician malpractice insurance so physicians have a stress-free environment to serve their community. This allows physicians to practice the ideas of patient-centered healthcare and spend more time with each patient. 

All volunteers are taught to show gratitude and compassion to those they serve in line with Humanist Buddhist ideology. While not all of the physician volunteers are Buddhist, many have reported resonating with the Buddhist ideologies such as treating patients like family and practicing medicine with compassion. Notably, Tzu Chi’s volunteering program allows individuals to give back to their community and develop a better sense of community and empathy. In keeping with the founding tradition of Tzu Chi, patients and volunteers alike are given “bamboo banks,” which they are encouraged to use to save change and small denominations of money every day, which then is given back to the foundation or other community organizations. While Tzu Chi thus encourages supporters to incorporate compassion into their daily lives and provide consistent and reliable care for their community. 


Google Street View

Scholarly Sources

  • Huang, C. Julia. 2009. Charisma and Compassion: Cheng Yen and the Buddhist Tzu Chi Movement. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Huang, C. Julia. 2017. “Scientific and Sacramental: Engaged Buddhism and the Sacralization of Medical Science in Tzu Chi (Ciji).” Journal of Global Buddhism 18, 72–90. 
  • Yao, Yu-Shuang. 2012. Taiwan’s Tzu Chi as Engaged Buddhism: Origins, Organization, Appeal and Social impact. Leiden: Global Oriental

External Links

“Tzu Chi Medical Foundation” Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, 2021. https://tzuchimedical.us/
“Tzu Chi USA” Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, 2021. http://www.tzuchi.us 
“Tzu Chi” Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, 2021. https://www.tzuchi.org.tw/en/


This article is by Sriya Kakarla with material from an interview with Steven Voon (Chief Medical Officer of the Tzu Chi Medical Foundation in Los Angeles) conducted by Pierce Salguero in July 2015.