Friday, February 13, 2009

Our Medical School in Singapore - an anniversary of sorts!

Today as I walked passed the College of Medicine Building (COMB) on College Road, I was filled with an unexpected sense of nostalgia and sadness. I have walked this road many times before, regularly, and have frequently not taken even a second look at this wonderful stately building. Kinda took it all for granted. But this morning for some reason, the strong sense of nostalgia was unexpectedly overwhelming.

Still called the College of Medicine Building, it now houses the Ministry of Health. But it began its life in 1926 as the King Edward VII College of Medicine Building. I had another look at the foundation stone, and was surprised that although the stone was laid in September 1923, the building was opened by the Governor, Sir Lawrence Guillemard on February 15, 1926. Tomorrow is actually the 83rd anniversary of that glorious building!!

Does anybody care?...sadly, no...

I was particularly sad because the College and the campus that surrounds it was once home to several generations of medical students. We lived here, worked here, loved and got married here. Students have died here. The Medical School itself began earlier in 1905 and is now coming to 104 years old.

But that Medical School is now gone, and all but forgotten. The National University of Singapore, who inherited the school, in its rush to modernize, has all but lost the glorious heritage of the school. Now sited on a glass and steel campus on Kent Ridge, it cares little for the heritage of the school. The old Sepoy Lines campus was handed over unceremoniously to the Ministry of Health in the 80's when the school moved over to Kent Ridge. The site, where it all began, the old female asylum, was callously torn down and replaced with a carpark!! How souless can you be?

In more recent times, the NUS unilaterally, without any consultation of any sort with her alumni, changed the name of the school to the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. This was a real duhhhh moment....! I mean who was YLL, other than a man with money?? None of the alumni could identify with this change, and consequently, many have just lost interest in the Medical School. Sadly, the NUS has failed to see that the alumni spirit, based largely on a culture linked with geography and landmarks, can easily be lost. And once lost will be almost impossible to regain. Our old teachers and role models have been crassly tossed aside, in favour of distinguished scientists and Nobel Prize laureates with whom no medical student can identify. Recently when the great Medical School icon, Prof Wong Hock Boon passed away, there was barely a ripple at the new YLL Medical School.

So sad.

Sometimes, we wish that Singapore, as it becomes more affluent, will be able to spend a bit more effort to develop her soul. But this may be too much to ask. As we rush towards globalization, greed begets more greed, and we crassly abandon all the things that enrich our souls, and remind us of our humanity. Instead of providing us the appropriate leadership, the NUS appears to be leading us deeper into the state of self absorbed disinterest.


Anonymous said...

nice thought-provoking stuff you have here - enjoyed reading it a lot.

just an interesting tidbit regarding the namechange to YLL-

There was a friend of mine who applied to Harvard for exchange, and got rejecting with the reason that the school was not recognized, and 'please apply through a recognized medical school'.

They eventually corrected the blunder, but it does say something..

-3rd yr student

gigamole said...

Yeah....I think it was pretty much an unthinking, impetuous response to gratify a generous donor. Methinks more damage has been done than they realize. I have heard of similar stories as what you shared.

Here's hoping that you guys as you go through med school will see a bit more beyond the exams and social life, ...

Hint: the ethos is important.


nofearSingapore said...

YYL is the parent of ex-CJ Yung Pung How who is allegedly very close to a certain 1st generation political leader.
It could just been the money ... or not.

gigamole said...

wink wink nod nod, and there goes the heritage.