by Dr. Iain Corness
of the preferred health speakers at local meetings of expatriates is Dr.
Alongkorn Chutinan, a neurosurgeon at the Bangkok Pattaya Hospital. He is
a man who does practice what he preaches - a non-smoker who does not drink
alcohol, and who exercises every day, eats healthy foods, but above all
these, has found how to incorporate Buddhism into his daily stressful
working life as a busy neurosurgeon. His calmness shines through, and is
an example to us all.
He was born in Saraburi, north of Bangkok, to
professional parents - his father an engineer, and his mother a school
teacher. There were four children in the family, with three choosing
engineering, and only the eldest boy, Alongkorn, heading towards the
After his initial schooling at the local government
school, the young Alongkorn moved to Bangkok to another government school
there, but one where 80 percent of the alumni were doctors. By Grade IX,
he was interested in becoming a doctor himself, finding great personal
satisfaction in giving advice and being a confidante for people who needed
help. By the time he had finished, he knew that medicine was his future
and he enrolled at Chulalongkorn University.
He was 18 years old when he entered university for the
six year slog that it takes to become a doctor. During that time, his 20
year old friends were being called up for the compulsory military service,
but medical student Alongkorn Chutinan deferred until he had graduated.
“I wanted to be in a medical platoon,” said Dr. Alongkorn, and his
wish was granted, being given Lieutenant status, an army uniform and boots
and a tent in the army camp in Korat. After six months he was transferred
into the regional army’s military hospital, also in Korat, and work
began for the young doctor in earnest.
By now he also knew that his future medical direction
was surgery. “I didn’t like sitting down for hours, reading books. I
was fascinated by operating rooms and surgery itself. You take more of a
part in the treatment of the patient. It’s more hands on, and I found I
could spend hours and hours in the OR without getting tired.”
He then continued on for a two year stint as a surgical
intern, doing all the general surgical operations that all do as young
doctors, with the removal of the appendix top of the list. Dr. Alongkorn
has removed his fair share on the ladder of experience.
However, he found that general surgery was not
satisfying enough. He had done a term in a neurosurgical ward as a final
year student, and had found it interesting. Then he was called in to
assist with an army sergeant who had been attacked by a man wielding an
axe. It was a horrific injury, with brain tissue extruding from the
fractured skull. Dr. Alongkorn intubated the victim and was present for
the neurosurgeon’s operation. “A few days later the man was still
alive and could talk. I thought it amazing!” This was the deciding point
and he made the resolution that he would become a neurosurgeon, despite
the fact that neurosurgery was not a popular choice for young medicos.
“There’s so much study, long hours and night calls,” said Dr.
Alongkorn, by way of explanation. “I also thought I would be of use to
society as a neurosurgeon.”
To do this, he entered Siriraj Medical School, the
oldest in Thailand, and studied under eminent professors there for the
next four years. Neurosurgery is an exacting and meticulous form of
surgery, which produces great pressure on the surgeon. He remembers one of
his tutors saying, “If you screw up you can kill the patient. There’s
no excuses here.” Dr. Alongkorn now adding, “There’s no room for
error in neurosurgery. Everything has to be 100 percent. You are dealing
with life and death.”
After receiving his neurosurgical qualifications he
worked in the south of Thailand for two years and then went to Canada to
further his studies, taking his Fellowship (advanced degree) in Toronto.
“It was good experience. I learned the way the Western system worked,
and its patient-doctor relationship.” He also learned that being Thai
and looking much younger than his chronological age was not an advantage.
“I looked too young and people would ask me just how many cases had I
seen.” For interest, he is now in his 40’s, and to my eye looks 24
(although there are a couple of grey hairs creeping in, perhaps a sign of
the stress he has to work under).
Returning to Thailand, he worked in the hospital in
Nakhon Pathom for the next two and a half years, learning to abhor the
Songkran festival, as much as any farang tired of getting wet, but for Dr.
Alongkorn, Songkran meant having to operate all night as the injured were
His next appointment was here, in the Bangkok Pattaya
Hospital, where he has been for two years. He wanted to be beside the
beach, but also knew that he could not keep up the hectic pace in the
understaffed government hospital system. Now he can have some time for his
daily swim and occasional game of golf, while making sure he does not
suffer from stress than could diminish his ability in the operating
So to Buddhism, something that has become an important
part of his life. He visits the temple six to eight times a month, saying
“You can get good advice from the monks, which you can then apply to
your own life, and in your relationship with people. It helps calm you
down and this makes me do my job better.”
He finished telling me about his experience with meditation.
“Happiness is not from the exterior - it comes from your own inner
peace.” I left Dr. Alongkorn’s consulting room feeling that here was
one man truly striving to be at peace with himself. He is, and it shows. A
remarkable young man.