It’s Saturday in Bhutan and Lotay Tshering has just completed urinary bladder operation on a patient at a National Referral Hospital.
But Tshering is a practicing Doctor on the Saturday and Thursday and during the week, he is the Prime Minister of the Himalayan kingdom famous for measuring citizens ‘Gross National Happiness’ instead of ‘Gross Domestic Product’.
“For me, it’s a de-stresser,” said Tshering, who was elected prime minister of the nation of 750,000 people last year in only its third democratic election since the end of absolute monarchy in 2008.
“Some people play golf, some do archery, and I like to operate. I am just spending my weekends here,” the 50-year-old Prime Minister told AFP.
Tshering, who trained in Bangladesh, Japan, Australia, and the United States, began his political career in 2013, but his party failed to make headway in that year’s election.
However, now as a prime minister, he spends Saturdays treating patients referred to him and Thursday mornings offering medical advice to trainees and doctors. Sunday is family time.
Back in the prime minister’s office, a lab coat hangs on the back of his chair. This, he said, serves as a reminder of his election pledge to focus on healthcare.
Patients don’t have to pay directly for healthcare in Bhutan, but Tshering says that much more remains to be done despite important strides in medical treatment.
While the country has seen major improvements in life expectancy, a reduction in infant mortality and the elimination of many infectious diseases, the number of lifestyle diseases including alcohol and diabetes are on the rise.
Politics, and being the prime minister, is a lot like being a doctor. “At the hospital, I scan and treat patients. In the government, I scan the health of policies and try to make them better,” he said.
“I will continue doing this until I die and I miss not being able to be here every day,” he added.
And on the days when he drives his car around the capital Thimphu — instead of using his official chauffeur — an-all-too familiar urge takes hold of him.
“Whenever I drive to work on weekdays, I wish I could turn left towards the hospital.”