The Prime Minister of Bhutan: From Treating Patients to Serving a Nation
"I was not born a doctor, but I will die as one. I won't leave my practice for anything. All that I am today is because of that, even becoming a Prime Minister.” - Dr. Lotay Tshering, PM of Bhutan
Dr. Lotay was sworn in as prime minister of Bhutan in November 2018 after he led his party, Druk Ngyamrup Tshogpa, to a comfortable victory. He is the third democratically elected Prime Minister of this tiny Himalayan kingdom, the Gross National Happiness (GNH) country that transitioned from an absolute monarchy to a democracy in 2006. The Fourth King of Bhutan, in his pursuit for democracy and GNH, abdicated the golden throne in 2006 in favor of his son, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck. The first democratic elections were held in the year 2008 (the same year the Fifth King ascended the throne).
Dr. Lotay hails from Dalukha village in Thimphu and completed his schooling from Punakha High School and eastern Bhutan’s Sherubtse College. After he received his medical degree from Dhaka University in Bangladesh, he pursued General Urology in 2007 at the Medical College of Wisconsin (USA) under the World Health Organization (WHO) fellowship. He then returned to Bhutan and served as the only practicing urologist in the country for a few years before he obtained another fellowship in Endurology. He also holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Canberra in Australia. He put in more than 20 years as a consultant surgeon at Mongar regional referral hospital, and later as an urologist at the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital in Thimphu.
A household name for many and an individual held equal to the Medicine Buddha and credited with the wellbeing of countless Bhutanese, Dr. Lotay is renowned for his selfless dedication to his work.
Even with his current position as Prime Minister, Dr. Lotay can be found every weekend volunteering as a doctor at the hospital.
With such tight schedule, Dr. Lotay still finds time for public appearances on the national television channel, Bhutan Broadcasting Service, to spread awareness and advice people to take better care of their health; thus further spreading his love and concern for his fellow citizens. In addition, Dr. Lotay is often spotted engaging in social campaigns around the country.
Recently he was spotted walking with the Bhutanese delegation to the UN headquarter to attend the first high level meeting on Universal Health Coverage and the Climate Action Summit. His reason for walking over driving was that "The venue is close by and we are discussing health and climate," Lyonchhen said. "I will be uncomfortable to travel in a car and talk on those subjects."
Besides his regular work at the hospitals, Dr Lotay also served as a member of the Kidu Medical Unit, a unit that accompanied His Majesty on his royal tours to provide free medical check ups, minor surgeries, dental and eye check ups, endoscopy and gynecology operations to some of the most remote villages in Bhutan. From 2014 to 2018, he served as the head of the practice. Not surprisingly, Dr. Lotay is one of the few recipients of the Druk Thuksey Award (Heart Son of Bhutan) from His Majesty the King in recognition for his selfless service to the King, country and people. He has also received the ‘Unsung Hero of Compassion Award’ from His Holiness The Dalai Lama in 2005. When the devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal in 2015, Dr Lotay was the technical coordinator and chief surgeon from the 37-member medical team who went to Nepal to provide medical assistance.
In 2013, Dr. Lotay voluntarily repaid almost 6.2 million Ngultrum in training obligation, submitting his formal resignation to pursue his dream of serving the nation at the policy level as a politician. “If it was not for my passion and urge to serve the country at a different level, I would not have resigned by paying such a big amount,” he told the national newspaper. He also added that, as a doctor, he could only address the problems of individual patients and that systematic problems can be fixed only at the policy level.
Dr. Lotay is a god-fearing man who has never differentiated himself from his patients; a quality that still shines in him as the Prime Minister. He is a man who sources his inspiration from Mother Teresa, a Roman Catholic nun who dedicated her life to serving the poor and destitute around the world. Dr. Lotay is a workaholic who has always put the nation first and is dedicated to prioritize healthcare reforms. To many Bhutanese, he is a lifesaver and to a nation, he is the true Heart Son.
STORY BY KARMA YONTEN