As a highly trained practitioner of Tibetan medicine, Dr. Ngawang Thinley’s advice is sought by patients from all walks of life. Their illnesses range from the common cold to incurable cancer, and Ngawang treats each holistically—taking into account their spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being and paths to healing. “My mother had the biggest influence on my life,” he says. “She always told me that we have to work especially hard to help when people face real challenges in their lives. Along with my Buddhist faith, she inspired me to become a doctor so I could help people in need.”
Born in Thimphu, Bhutan in 1975, Ngawang attended Chagpori Tibetan Medical Institute in Darjeeling, India for seven years. After completing his studies, Ngawang helped to set up a number of different programs to serve the poor in India, among them a Tibetan medicine clinic at his alma mater. In 1998 he helped to create Shechen Rabjam Public Trust Project, a mobile clinic providing free health services to 46 destitute villages in Bihar, one of the poorest states in India. “That clinic is still running well, and serves many villagers who have never seen a doctor before in their whole lives,” he says. Ngawang then spent a year in his native Bhutan caring for poor villagers who had very little access to medical care.
Since 2000, Ngawang has practiced at Shechen Clinic and Hospice in Boudhanath, Nepal, where he directs the Tibetan Medicine department. “When I was studying Tibetan medicine, my teacher used to tell me about humanitarian work,” he says, “but I didn’t really know what it meant. After I joined Shechen Clinic and Hospice, I understood better the difficulties of our human life and suffering. I am always searching for better ways to alleviate the suffering of our patients.”
Shechen cares primarily for Tibetan refugees and poor Nepalis who live in Kathmandu. No one is turned away for lack of funds, and the clinic has been a blessing for people who have no other means of accessing life-saving care.
Dr. Ngawang describes one of these patients: “In 2006, a 47-year-old-man came to us from a remote area of Nepal. He looked like a corpse, he was so thin. He had a serious disease, and had been to numerous hospitals in Nepal and India. Doctors refused to treat him because they believed he had no chance of survival. He came to our hospice as a last resort. We began to treat him, and week after week he improved. His wife and two-year-old son got happier and happier to see him regain his strength. After six months, he was able to leave the hospice and continue treatment. Now he is alive and well, working in real estate. We are one of the happiest doctor-patient teams in Nepal!”
When Ngawang can’t cure his patients, he looks for ways to ease their suffering. “In our hospice, we give our best to help each individual have comfort and peace at the end of life,” he says. “But it’s an unbearable sorrow for them to worry about what will happen to the children they leave behind.” To help alleviate those great worries, Ngawang began paying for the children of some of his dying patients to go to school from his own salary. In 2008, he helped his Shechen colleagues open New Life Care Home to give these children shelter, clothing, food, and education. Today, New Life houses nine children and supports 17 others who live in homes nearby.
In addition, Ngawang makes regular trips abroad to provide care to patients in Europe and the United States. In total, he estimates he has treated between 30,000 and 40,000 people. In all he does, Ngawang tries to embody compassion and loving kindness. “For me, compassion is like a medicine and suffering is like a disease,” he says. “Compassion is a tool to help others fulfill their wish to be happy.”