The Tibetan Delek Hospital, Dharamsala, India
The Tibetan Delek hospital is in the town of Dharamsala, in the far north of India. The hospital was established to treat the illnesses of Tibetan refugees now in India. The hospital has about 40 inpatient beds. The Dalai Lama is the patron of the hospital. Doctors are accepted for periods of no less than six months, although specialists willing to teach are accepted for shorter periods of time.
Dharamsala is the seat of the Tibetan Government in exile, and the current residence of the Dalai Lama. It is located in the far north of India, in the state of Himachal Pradesh. Dharamsala (popn 25,000) has two parts, lower Dharamsala and McLeod Gang which is the hill station, tourist centre, and centre for Tibetan refugees. The hospital is located about half way up on road joining the two.
India (population 1 billion) is the largest democracy in the world. Consistent economic growth of approximately 8% per year puts India on course to be a superpower. However, this economic progress relates mainly to the major cities and has little relevance to rural communities where extreme poverty still exists.
The Tibetan Delek hospital was built to deal with the specific medical problems of Tibetan refugees. It has a well organised tuberculosis program, and handles most medical, obstetric and paediatric conditions. There is, however, no major surgery conducted at the hospital. There is a governmental hospital in lower dharamsala to which surgical patients are referred. The hospital is also the health care facility for the monks and nuns of Dharamsala. Approximately 75% of the patients are Tibetan, 15% are local Indian, and 10% are Western tourists who come in the hope of finding a doctor from a country like their own. Each doctor is treated as a generalist, and is expected to handle basic obstetrics and paediatrics, but there is always someone to ask for help.
- Plain Xray, and an ultrasound machine. There is no CT, MRI, or Echo.
- Basic biochemistry, haematology and microbiology.
- Excellent access to Indian made pharmaceuticals
- Outpatients clinic - daily
- Peripheral clinics - including old peoples home, monastery and obstetric
- Participation in ward rounds each morning
- On call 1-2 nights per week
- Supervising elective medical students
8.30am-5pm with 1 hour off for lunch. The workload is not heavy.
1 in 4 roster on-call overnight and weekends.
Accommodation is provided free of charge to volunteer doctors. The doctors' rooms open out onto a balcony with a stunning view of lower Dharamsala. There is a clean shared bathroom with a commode toilet. There are no showers, hot water is available to bathe with a bucket.
The food prepared for patients is provided free for doctors, three meals a day. There are dozens of restaurants nearby in Mcleod Gang.
Apart from the medical director of the hospital, there are usually four other doctors. From 2000 to 2004 there were usually two local doctors and two volunteer doctors.
Most of the patients and staff converse in Tibetan. All the doctors and nurses speak English, and the nurses are happy to assist with translation into both Tibetan and Hindi.
Being a tourist destination, Dharamsala (McLeod Gang) has many restaurants, travel agencies, and internet cafes. There is no bank as such, but there are a many currency exchange bureaus where traveller's cheques can be cashed.
Dharamsala is about 14 hours from Delhi by bus. There is a regular overnight service from Paharganj (the main tourist hub near the old Delhi railway station).
Dharamsala itself is a tourist destination. It has great restaurants, yoga classes, opportunities for hiking, and overall is the kind of place other westerners try to find an excuse to stay in far longer than they can otherwise justify.
A very useful website with a section specifically for volunteer doctors.
Dr. Tsetan Dorji Sadutshang
Tibetan Delek Hospital
Dharamsala - 176215
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The Tibetan Delek is not frantically busy nor inundated with severely ill patients. However, volunteers there do gain an appreciation of the medical problems that face the developing world, and Dharamsala is one of the most wonderful towns on the planet.