NTU launches book to mark the heritage of Singapore’s newest medical school
Former medical hostel at 11 Mandalay Road restored to its previous glory
Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has launched a book that chronicles the history of its medical school’s 90-year-old headquarters building at 11 Mandalay Road.
The coffee table book details the former medical hostel’s dramatic growth and transformation through the past 90 years as told by the personal stories of its former occupants, and the significant historical moments in Singapore’s medical and healthcare system tied to the building.
NTU President Professor Bertil Andersson said, “It is very exciting that the building at 11 Mandalay Road is once again at the heart of medical education, reclaiming its rightful place as a vibrant hub of medical student life. This heritage building stands as an enduring reminder of the pioneering spirit of Singapore's founding fathers.
“With this commemorative book, 11 Mandalay Road, we hope to pay a fitting tribute to them and their legacy as well as the heritage and historical significance of this important piece of Singapore’s architectural history.”
Among the most dramatic episodes in the book was the aerial bombing by the Japanese during the World War II. Despite these air raids, classes went on at the King Edward VII College of Medicine and the students continued to stay at the hostel then also known as the Tan Tock Seng Hostel.
During the period of the Japanese advance, nurses continued to stay at the hostel but male medical students were moved out to build their own makeshift air-raid and sleeping quarters in the zinc-roofed ward in the hospital compound. A student died from his injuries after the ward was shelled in the early morning of 14 February 1942. Tragically, another 10 medical and dental students were killed the same evening in intense shelling during the burial of the first student casualty.
The book also features about 100 photographs, including rare photos of students at the hostel from the late 1940s, and the first group of licentiates of the Straits Medical School dated May 1910.
Constructed in the 1920s as a hostel for medical students and subsequently as residential quarters for nurses, the Palladian-style building at 11 Mandalay Road was transformed into the headquarters of the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine (LKCMedicine) – a joint medical school by NTU and Imperial College London – last year, restoring the vibrancy of its heyday after more than a decade of disuse.
LKCMedicine Dean Professor James Best said, “Like this building, which forms a cornerstone of Singapore’s colonial architectural history, we hope to create a legacy as an innovative medical school that trains doctors who advance the practice and science of medicine. Building on the traditions set by the building’s former occupants, we hope to continue to attract the brightest young minds and are very encouraged by the continued strong interest in the School.”
Today, the three-storey building is a stone’s throw from major healthcare facilities including Tan Tock Seng Hospital, the school’s primary teaching hospital, the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, National Skin Centre and the Communicable Disease Centre.
“Being near these healthcare institutions strongly benefit NTU’s medical undergraduates, as it ensures that they are closely integrated with the local healthcare system. The students, who already get the best of a dual learning environment at NTU’s main campus and the Novena campus will have access to the latest training facilities when the new Clinical Sciences Building at Mandalay Road and Experimental Medicine Building at NTU’s main campus are ready by 2016,” said Prof Andersson.
NTU’s Novena campus consisting of the medical school’s HQ building and the upcoming Clinical Sciences Building will be part of Singapore’s single largest healthcare complex, the Health City Novena which will be completed by 2030.
Building tied to the history of Singapore’s healthcare system
The book vividly details the former medical and nursing hostel’s history through the colonial government’s archival records and memories of medical and nursing students who had called 11 Mandalay Road their home in the early years of modern Singapore. It also documents the painstaking attention to detail that NTU took to preserve the building’s historical features while making it fit to be the home of Singapore’s newest medical school.
11 Mandalay Road joins the ranks of other prominent buildings in Singapore, including the Istana, Raffles Hotel and the Arts House at Old Parliament House, which have preserved their Palladian features.
The building started life 90 years ago in 1924 as the Straits Settlements Mandalay Road Hostel for senior medical students. Apart from a brief hiatus during World War II, the hostel was used by medical students for three decades, becoming part of the University of Malaya during the latter years.
Among the young medical students was Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia. Writing in his book The Singapore Years and Subsequently, he says, “I remember being allocated a room in Tan Tock Seng Hostel near Balestier Village. Ragging was still in fashion then and I was told by one of the seniors that if I made any noise while sleeping, he was going to ‘tub’ me. I remember waking up stiff and aching in the morning in exactly the same position I laid down when going to bed.”
In 1955 when the medical students moved to Sepoy Lines, the hostel became home to nurses at Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s tuberculosis centre, known at that time as Mandalay Road Hospital.
After four decades as a nursing hostel, 11 Mandalay Road’s heydays were over. For a short period it served as an office block before it was left empty for some 11 years.
Home for a 21st century medical school
In 2010, the by-then dilapidated and abandoned building was given a new lease of life when it was selected as the site for NTU’s new medical school.
In March 2012, work started on restoring the heritage building to its former glory, conserving and enhancing its historical beauty while making it fit for purpose as Singapore’s newest medical school.
After a year of painstaking restoration and rebuilding, which completed in June 2013, the building together with its brand new Toh Kian Chui Annex, were ready for LKCMedicine’s inaugural cohort of 54 students.
As the school prepares to admit its third intake in 2015, interest in LKCMedicine’s innovative curriculum continues to attract top local students, Fifteen per cent more students from local secondary schools sat for the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) this year, a healthy indication of interest in applying for a place at LKCMedicine. Overall, almost 900 students took BMAT in anticipation of applying to the School.
Although the book is not for sale, copies of the hardcover book will be available at the National Library and NTU’s libraries.
Feisal Abdul Rahman
Senior Assistant Director (Media Relations)
Corporate Communications Office
Nanyang Technological University
Tel: (65) 6790 6687
About Nanyang Technological University (NTU)
A research-intensive public university, NTU has 33,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students in the colleges of Engineering, Business, Science, Humanities, Arts, & Social Sciences, and its Interdisciplinary Graduate School. It has a new medical school, the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, set up jointly with Imperial College London.
NTU is also home to world-class autonomous institutes – the National Institute of Education, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Earth Observatory of Singapore, and Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering – and various leading research centres such as the Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute (NEWRI), Energy Research Institute @ NTU (ERI@N) and the Institute on Asian Consumer Insight (ACI).
A fast-growing university with an international outlook, NTU is putting its global stamp on Five Peaks of Excellence: Sustainable Earth, Future Healthcare, New Media, New Silk Road, and Innovation Asia.
Besides the main Yunnan Garden campus, NTU also has a satellite campus in Singapore’s science and tech hub, one-north, and a third campus in Novena, Singapore’s medical district.
For more information, visit www.ntu.edu.sg.
About Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine
The Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, a partnership between Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Imperial College London, will train a generation of doctors who will put patients at the centre of their exemplary medical care. Graduates of the five-year undergraduate medical degree programme, which matriculated its inaugural cohort in 2013, will have a strong understanding of the scientific basis of medicine, along with interdisciplinary subjects including business management, humanities and technology.
The School’s primary clinical partner is the National Healthcare Group, a leader in public healthcare recognised for the quality of its medical expertise, facilities and teaching. The School, named after local philanthropist Tan Sri Dato Lee Kong Chian, aims to be a future model for innovative medical education. Its first doctors will graduate in 2018 with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS), awarded jointly by NTU and Imperial College London, and become doctors who will enhance Singapore’s healthcare in the decades to come.
For more information, visit www.lkcmedicine.ntu.edu.sg.
Quotes from former student residents of 11 Mandalay Road
Many of the former residents at 11 Mandalay Road remember the camaraderie, optimism and mischief of their years in residence.
Dr JJ Murugasu, who lived at the hostel from 1947-1948, recalls in the book, “We had a classmate who was married, so he used to go home every day and come back late at night to the hostel room. So one day we took his bed and hung it up on the tennis court fence. The spring bed and the fence looked the same, so if you look at it, you couldn’t see it. So the poor fellow came back and he couldn’t find his bed.
“We also had a motorcycle club, probably about eight to 10 of us, so every evening after lectures, we used to go together … We used to ride to Johor Bahru in a gang too, and come back to the hostel. We were all young then, and speed meant nothing to us – we used to ride at top speed, ninety, hundred miles per hour. And when it was raining, we’d all be drenched.”
Festive occasions such as Christmas and Chinese New Year brought not just cheer to other residents, but the whole healthcare community in Novena.
Professor Chew Chin Hin, former Medical Superintendent of Tan Tock Seng Hospital recalls in the book, “There were mainly nurses but all the other staff took part, it was like a hospital party. For the Christmas parties, they wore paper hats, and one or two years we even had a Santa Claus. There was the usual food laid on the table, buffet style, there’d be carols being sung… We had a number of very talented musicians! It was very friendly. Tan Tock Seng Hospital had always functioned like a second home, and the staff knew each other by name.”