It was teacher first. Now it is doctors. These two important sectors are losing manpower at a rate that can have us in a critical situation in the future.
Investing in building competency and capacity of our health workers is important, of course. Bhutan is a country that aims to deliver top-class medical services.
The reality, however, is that the doctor-population ratio in Bhutan is much lower than the WHO requirement. If the accepted requirement is one doctor per 1,000 people, Bhutan has almost one doctor per five thousand people.
The health minister herself said that Bhutan is 50 percent behind workforce requirement in the sector.
The real problem, though, is that our small pool of health professionals is leaving the system. Building competency and capacity of our health workers, therefore, is a plan that falls flat on the ground.
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.
At a time when big changes are being launched in the country, this is not an encouraging sign. If workforce security in the health sector is of utmost priority for Bhutan, there is a need to look into systemic flaws.
Health minister said that a major shift towards transforming the overall health system is underway. That brings us to why our doctors and health professional choose to leave the system and work abroad. Is it the pay package for health professionals that need to change? Or is it the working conditions?
Delivering quality health services to our people will be an uphill task if these issues are not addressed first. Training and recruiting more health professionals is, of course, the top priority. More important, however, is to keep them in the system. Otherwise, we would just be spending millions on government scholarships to train young Bhutanese to become doctors and nurses only to lose them in great numbers year after year.
Bhutan’s public health concern seems to have been neglected for a very long time. And, as the health minister put it, there is a need to bring it to the forefront of the development agenda.