Shortage of specialists and nurses continue to be a major challenge for the health sector  

Jigmi Wangdi

At a time when high attrition of health professionals, including specialists across the spectrum, undermine the quality of health service delivery, the addition of 14 specialists to the health workforce has come as a huge relief.

These 14 specialists – two gynaecologists, two emergency physicians, three ophthalmologists, two paediatricians, two medical specialists, one Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon, one orthopaedic surgeon and a general practitioner – graduated from the Faculty of Postgraduate Medicine, Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan (KGUMSB) on June 28.

This is the seventh batch of specialists graduating from the medical university.

Started in 2014, the Faculty of Postgraduate Medicine has so far produced 77 medical specialists in different disciplines. Currently, 44 doctors are undergoing various specialisation programmes at the Faculty.

One of the specialist graduates, Ophthalmologist Dr Sandip Tamang was working as a General Duty Medical Officer (GDMO) in Chukha for four years before joining the specialist programme.

He said that the specialisation programme at KGUMSB is building the pool of Bhutanese specialists in the country, adding that the number of specialists was fewer when he worked as a GDMO.

“The burden on the specialists was more as all GDMOs would have to consult the same specialist. They would also have to review patients,” he said.

Dr Sandip Tamang said that the placement of specialists around the country and at the national referral hospital will improve patient care and overall coordination and management. “This could also ease the burden on the existing staff,” he said.

Dr Sandip Tamang shared that the increased remuneration for doctors has also relatively helped in addressing the attrition. “When I first joined, my salary was around Nu 20,000. But now, over the years, the salary has increased by three folds.”

He outlined provision of career pathways and professional development as key strategies to retain health workers.

“Medical professionals need opportunities and platforms to learn and excel. In the districts, most of them are interested but there is not much opportunity while some are not aware of opportunities that may be available,” Dr Sandip Tamang said.

The health sector is facing a major challenge of retaining health workers.

The health minister, during the recent Parliament session, shared that the country faces a shortage of 69 specialists, 103 doctors and 824 nurses.

Currently, the Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care Unit at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Hospital are struggling with shortage of specialists. The only two anaesthesia specialists working at the hospital are from Bangladesh and Myanmar.