• Vol. 34 No. 6, 72C–78C
  • 15 July 2005

The Teaching of Anatomy: The First Hundred Years (1905-2005)



The Straits and Federated Malay States Government Medical School started on 3 July 1905 with the admission of 16 young persons for the full 5-year course. In 1910, 7 successful candidates qualified as medical practitioners and they were no more than 19 years of age. The medical course was based largely on the British system and consisted of 2 years of training in the basic sciences followed by 3 years of clinical clerkships in Medicine, Surgery and Midwifery. Anatomy was taught in the first year and extended into the second year, using cadavers (which were possibly fixed in formalin and glycerin) as study materials. The first Chair of Anatomy was established in 1922 and with the provision of full-time staff, the curriculum was brought in line with those conducted in the British colonies. From the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s, the Anatomy course for medical students spanned 1½ years, with special emphasis on clinical applications, thereby projecting the professional relevance of the course. Big class lectures introduced and previewed important structures that were encountered in dissections and small group tutorials reviewed the tutorial objectives that had been made available earlier. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the medical curriculum was further revised to meet the challenges of the 21st century. A track system was developed and Human Anatomy came under the “Human Structure and Development Track”. The original 1½ -year programme was tailored into a 1-year programme with a drastic reduction in teaching/contact hours, but the big class lectures and small group tutorials plus dissections/prosections were retained. Beginning in the academic year 2003/2004, prosected cadavers (dissected by professional staff) were employed for teaching purposes due to a progressive fall in the availability of cadavers and time constraints imposed by the introduction of several new modules. Teachers demonstrate and students learn on prosected materials and the success of this new mode of teaching-learning can only be seen in the near future.

When the Straits and Federated Malay States Government Medical School opened its doors on 3 July 1905 in what was to be the historical beginning of medical education in the region, 16 young persons presented themselves for the full 5-year course that would lead, on successful completion, to their qualification as medical practitioners1 and in the words of one of the recommendations of the Kynnersley Commission of 1902 on the system of English Education in Singapore, “supply the demand for Assistant Surgeons and General Practitioners among the native population and the poorer inhabitants”.2

This article is available only as a PDF. Please click on “Download PDF” to view the full article.