The selection of medical students in Singapore has been a contentious issue for more than 140 years. Initially, students were selected for Madras Medical College, the traditional source for medical officers in early Singapore, by a combination of an examination as well as an observed preceptorship at the General Hospital. With the establishment of the medical school in Singapore in 1905, the selection criteria have been progressively refined over the years. These have included a baseline academic threshold, linguistic competence and performance at an interview. In the past, other criteria such as gender and political suitability were important but at the present, only hepatitis B virologic status is a limiting factor for otherwise qualified applicants. Singapore’s Ministry of Health reports an attrition rate of 10% from our medical school. This poses a challenge as there are far more qualified applicants for medical school in Singapore than there are places. This is a worldwide problem and locally, attempts are being made to further refine the admission process to ensure that the community as a whole is best served by the future doctors we select.
The selection of medical students is always a controversial issue. History is an even more controversial subject. When Professor Cheah asked me to write about the history of the selection of medical students in Singapore, I knew that I was stepping into a minefield. I would thus like to state at the onset that all these views are entirely my own interpretation of the available data. As will soon be obvious, none of the opinions or conclusions in this text represents any official point of view and I hope that I do not cause too much offence.
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