Hong Kong – Bhutan Humanitarian Medicine Training and Exchange Programme: Master of Public Health (MPH) Programme

Thanks to the support of Chow Tai Fook Charity Foundation, two Bhutanese have attended the one-year Master of Public Health (MPH) Programme at The Chinese University of Hong Kong during the academic year 2017/18. The Master of Public Health Student Scholarship Programme aims to provide Bhutanese graduates or practitioners study opportunities to upgrade human resources in coping with public health challenges in Bhutan, and to promote knowledge exchange between medical practitioners and health professionals in Hong Kong and Bhutan. After on-site interviews in Bhutan in April 2017, Dr Namgay Rinchen and Ms Sangay Zam were recommended to study in Hong Kong. Prior to studying in the master’s programme. Dr Rinchen is a medical officer in-charge in a district hospital in Bhutan, specialising in Medicine and Surgery, and Ms Zam is an Assistant Lecturer teaching at the only medical school in Bhutan, Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan (KGUMSB), majoring in public health.

Dr Rinchen, at the age of 31, is back to his student life almost 6 years after his graduation. “Reverting back to the student life at such an age, from the quiet big bungalow hemmed in by pristine natural environment to the one-roomed hostel, surrounded by hustle and bustle skyscrapers of a metropolitan city, was not quite easy, especially when you have left a barely 2-month-old newborn baby back home. But then the passion to upgrade your qualification to better perform at work and contribute to the community makes it a little easier.”

Throughout the one-year programme, the two Bhutanese attended various courses related to the foundation of public health, epidemiology, biostatistics, health systems, policy and management, environmental health sciences and health and social behaviour. Among all topics covered in the programme, Ms Zam found food and nutrition one of the best courses, “I learnt a lot about food and nutritional issues at both local and global levels. It helped me apply the knowledge to identify nutritional health promotion strategies for the expanding urbanised population in Bhutan.” In general, the two Bhutanese enjoyed the study mode in Hong Kong where students were given freedom to express themselves as well as share knowledge through group discussion, class and group presentation.

Apart from routine classes, the icing on the cake was a field training trip in Nepal. “The trip ascertained that I know how to apply whatever theoretical knowledge and skills I have imbibed so far in the real world practice,” said Dr Rinchen. Ms Zam agreed that the trip was an unforgettable moment and learning in life which enabled them to gain research skills and health education experience in field-based setting similar to Bhutan and at the same time acquire skills in accessing, compiling and presenting health issues of Nepal, which is also applicable in assessing the health situations or problems in Bhutan. “I also realised that good teamwork is the key to success in any kind of activities, and it was a great opportunity for me to physically present on site, meet the local people and communicate with them in their language.” By interacting with and providing health education to the community, the two Bhutanese saw the importance of bottom-up approach in strengthening the local capacity coping with disaster and public health challenges, which they would like to apply in Bhutan in the future.

Outside the classroom, they also had opportunities to participate in various public health- and disaster risk management-related activities to strengthen their ability and broaden their horizons. These include seminars and conferences like “Public Health Emergency in Bangladesh”, “Educating for Gross National Happiness (GNH)” and “Research Summit on Health-Related Emergency Disaster Risk Management”. “These seminars were informative and the presentations were fascinating. I was motivated to learn more,” said Ms Zam. Furthermore, Dr Rinchen demonstrated his growing interest in research, participated in the research summit as a researcher and presented his capstone project to the international scholars.

During the programme, Dr Rinchen and Ms Zam have gained various inspiring and meaningful learning experience in Hong Kong. Awareness of human health and security issues was raised, skills in assessing, compiling and presenting a health situation of any countries were obtained, and most importantly, cross cultural knowledge and experience were enhanced during group discussions and group works. “Being in a new place is exciting, and it is a phase of reconnaissance,” said Dr Rinchen. “To adapt to a new way of life and meeting new people, the cross-cultural exchange and social networking experience are very important for my personal development. As a medical officer and medicine student, I have always been living and working in a medical or health environment back in my country. This is my first time working with diverse background and younger classmates in Hong Kong. It provides me chances to learn from the new generation’s mind-set and keep myself innovative.”

After being exposed to the wide array of courses in different concentration related to the public health sector and inspired by experts across the fields, Ms Zam realised that public health and disaster-related responsibilities, such as disaster risk management, is a field of cross-disciplinary, “Strong cooperation between different sectors is required. I would suggest more Bhutanese from different fields to attend training programmes in order to strengthen the overall public health capacity in Bhutan.”

Upon completion of the MPH programme in July 2018, both of them returned to Bhutan and resumed their original duties in clinical and academic fields respectively, planning to apply their learning experience and contribute to their country. Dr Rinchen and Ms Zam both recognised the benefits of the programme and felt positive that they will be able to put the gains in their study and living in Hong Kong into practice. Dr Rinchen will share his learning on disaster preparedness and disaster risk management with around 50 staff members in his hospital to strengthen the disaster risk reduction capacities, and apply the knowledge gained from the health system management and response module for the establishment of a safer hospital. Ms Zam will continue teaching to contribute to her community by spreading the importance of public health and raising the awareness of disaster risk management through educating the future healthcare practitioners. She believes that by instilling the gained knowledge to the future generation, they will further educate the community for a better Bhutan.