There are many talented women in Thailand hailing from a wide range of backgrounds and with diverse interests who have inspired change or otherwise made valuable contributions to the history and culture of our society.
To celebrate Women’s History Month, Bangkok Post’s Women of the Year 2023 has made things a little more manageable by creating 12 categories. One of them is public health, and in this regard Lalana “Jeab” Kongtoranin is absolutely inspirational.
She’s a beauty queen, an actress and a TV personality. She’s also a doctor, known by many as Doctor Jeab. Apart from being one of the dedicated medical professionals who cared for infected patients during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Lalana has made other indelible marks on healthcare nationwide.
From the outside it may seem success has come easily to the multi-talented Lalana. After earning the Miss Thailand title back in 2006, she completed her studies in medicine at Ramathibodi Hospital where she’s now an emergency medical doctor. At the same time she juggles life in the worlds of showbiz, modelling and TV hosting, occasionally landing acting roles in well-known movies and TV dramas.
However, Lalana is the kind of successful person many people can relate to. Born in 1987 into a family with three children, Lalana says she didn’t show that much promise during childhood.
“I wasn’t the brightest one and not at all a school nerd. I was more like a mischievous one who enjoyed many activities, loved playing games and sports, and didn’t like studying at all,” she said in an interview with the Thai Health Promotion Foundation in 2019. “At first, my dream job was to be a dentist, but I only thought of it as a well-paid job. So I then set a goal in life to pass the entrance exam of the faculty of dentistry.”
In the end, Lalana didn’t choose dentistry. A turning point in her life was when she had the opportunity to work as an intern at a small hospital in her rural neighbourhood. “Seeing pictures of sick people who were poor, all gathered together, made me think. Why are they waiting in such a long queue? How come the hospital has only one doctor? More questions came to her, she said. “How can we gain the skills to better treat these people?”
After winning the crown of Miss Thailand in 2006, Lalana often spoke of her dream to open a free clinic for underprivileged people, and how she hoped her fame and status would help her in fundraising for a clinic. Just a little more than 10 years later, Dr Jeab’s dream came true and in ways even bigger than she had thought possible.
Lalana established the foundation Let’s Be Heroes with her university teachers and some friends. The foundation encompasses three main activities: teaching basic life support and the use of AEDs; providing a free mobile specialist clinic; and running Let’s be Heroes for Animals, an animal rescue programme overseen by veterinary teams.
Let’s Be Heroes may be a small foundation but it has big goals. Under the concept of “anyone can be a hero”, it passes along knowledge and skills on basic first aid methods to the general public while also being a life-saving tool for others.
As for her own life, Lalana had many options. She could have chosen a more comfortable life, perhaps stayed closer to home and not been able to lead a less stressful life.
But in the end, she became someone who has dedicated her life to helping those in need.
“People always ask me, since I seem to have had a lot of options, why did I choose this way? The first thing is to look at yourself and see if you love what you’re doing. What kind of life do you want to have, regardless of career? Because every occupation has its own meaning and value. It depends on how much we value them.”