Going by the number of people going abroad for study or work, the public apprehension that Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) in Thimphu might soon not have enough health professionals is a legitimate concern.

Both the government and private sectors in the country are today faced with human resource shortage. In some quarters, staff shortage is acute. While not all offices and service providers will be affected equally, sectors such as health and education can ill afford to not plan for possible repercussions in the future.

According to the hospital’s management, about 70 nurses resigned between 2021 and 2022; close to 50 nurses are reportedly on extraordinary leave (EOL). The hospital currently has 136 doctors (general and specialists) and more than 500 nurses.

Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan (KGUMSB) maintains that going by the internationally-accepted standard of nurse-bed ratio of around 1:3 in teaching hospitals and 1:5 in general hospitals, JDWNRH has a nurse-bed ratio of 1:6. This is perhaps why health service delivery has not been impacted seriously yet. However, the situation could change, leaving us at a serious disadvantage.

Although doctors and nurses are better paid compared with other jobs and professions in the country, we know that some countries in the region and beyond are running severely short of health professionals. When these countries offer to pay more than three times what we pay our health professionals currently, the bargain can be irresistible.

Similarly, looking at the teachers, more than 345 teachers have left the school system in the past six months. Some schools are making do without specific subject teachers, especially in STEM subjects. Between 2020 and August 2022, 710 teachers resigned from the system. Thimphu Thromde alone has received at least 51 applications for voluntary resignations, excluding EOL, so far.

What we must bear in mind is that the problem is not just schools and health centres in Thimphu.

While we may rely on the possibility and availability of new recruits, the loss of highly trained professionals will continue, leaving us ultimately with a dwindling pool of experts and talents.  The current shake-up in the civil service is a new beginning; there is much more we need to do, and very quickly.