Youthok Traditional and Herbal Medicine Center

I am observing at the Youthok Traditional and Herbal Medicine Center as the site of my practicum placement and working on building a website for it. The purpose of this clinic is to provide primary care using gSo-ba Rig-pa traditional medicine, one of the oldest surviving medical arts. gSo-ba Rig-pa, literally translating to ‘the science of health‘ is fundamentally based on an interlocking knowledge of the ‘Three Humors,’ air, bile and phlegm, that collaborate to allow the systems of the body to function correctly (Wangchuck et al:163). The traditional medicine practiced at this practicum site also incorporates aspects of acupuncture and ayurvedic medicine.

Youthok Trraditional and Herbal Medicine Center is a private traditional medicine clinic run by Dr. Choedag Singye, a licensed and acclaimed traditional physician. An interesting fact is that, according to both Dr. Singye and two separate pharmacists, Dr. Singye runs the only private traditional medicine practice in Thimphu. Being an entirely private practice, the clinic operates independently from any organization, including the Bhutanese government. In fact, Dr. Singye manages all aspects of the practice by himself, and has never taken on an assistant or additional doctor.

Dr. Singye was born in Trashiyangtse district in eastern Bhutan. He received an Honorary Doctorate in Buddhist philosophy from the Cultural Language School in Semtoka, Bhutan in 1991. In 1993 he began the schooling required to become a traditional doctor. Dr. Singye first attended Tibetan Medical College in Nepal. After two years he was transferred to Tibetan Medical School in Dharamshala, eastern India. Dr. Singye concluded his studies in traditional medicine at Bhagwan Buddha Homeopathic Medical College in Bangalore India. Upon graduation in 2000, he was certified as a physician of traditional medicine by the Indian Board of Alternative Medicine. After being certified to practice traditional medicine, Dr. Singye opened a private practice in Phuentsholing, Bhutan on May 1, 2000. He practiced in this clinic for eight years. In May of 2009, Dr. Singye moved to Thimphu and opened his current practice in the Karma Khangzang plaza on Thimphu’s main street, Norzin Lam.

The majority of my work at the Youthok Traditional and Herbal Medicine Center consists of conducting research. I am in the process of writing my senior thesis in Anthropology, so I busy myself with cataloging the 90 herbal medicines that are used in gSo-ba Rig-pa, observing and recording the healing techniques that Dr. Singye uses on his patients, recording the information that Dr. Singye tells me on a regular basis, and reading the literature that he provides to teach me about his practice. To get the most out of this practicum, Dr. Singye suggests that students have a previous knowledge of common diseases and medical terminology, as well as a basic understanding of Buddhism, as he often does not explain key terms, and talks about medical concepts without explaining what he considers to be general knowledge. Occasionally Dr. Singye will involve me directly in his practice as an assistant. Thus far he has asked me pass him medicine and clean counters and his desk. Because he is taking time out of his schedule to take me on as his pupil, I have made myself entirely available to help him in any way. This, however, is a relationship that is very common in the medical community, and is something that should be expected as a part of a medical practicum.

Working at the Youthok Traditional and Herbal Medicine Center is both challenging and rewarding. The most challenging aspect of this practicum is that Dr. Singye has trouble understanding and speaking english, so there is a significant language barrier that can be frustrating at times for both parties involved. Further, because this practicum site does not involve direct work in the field of traditional medicine, and is primarily observational based, there is a significant amount of down time between patients. As a researcher, I greatly appreciate this chance to talk to Dr. Singye and read the articles that he provides to better acquaint me with his practice. However, this down time might be boring for someone who is not conducting research.

If a student can overcome these challenges, observing and assisting at the Youthok Traditional and Herbal Medicine Center can be extremely rewarding! Observing at this clinic provides a unique and very interesting view into the practice of gSo-ba Rig-pa traditional medicine. Thus far I have been able to observe and learn about how acupuncture can be used to cure a wide variety of diseases, such as gout. I have also been able to observe how Dr. Singye prescribes combinations of the 90 herbal medicines to treat a variety of illnesses and diseases. Further, being in his office has allowed me opportunity to talk to a variety interesting patients who are often very receptive and interested in both traditional medicine and other traditional aspects of Bhutan, specifically Buddhism. In fact, Dr. Singye involves Buddhist teachings in much of the information that he provides for me, and in this way imparts an outstanding representation of how these two traditional aspects of Bhutan work in harmony to heal the body and the mind.

In order to glean as much from this opportunity as possible, my advice for future students that are interested in observing at the Youthok Traditional and Herbal Medicine Center is to bring an open mind, a humble respect for Dr. Singye as your teacher, and an honest fascination with traditional healing.
– Ben Kragen

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