University Malaya Medical Centre

by Eric Lim

After the war, Kuala Lumpur was developing rapidly as an economic hub, and by the early 1950’s, the British were worried about overpopulation and the building of squatters in and around Kuala Lumpur. To eliminate this problem, the solution was to build a satellite town. It was also a plan for the highest ranking British officer in Malaya at that time, Sir Gerald Walter Robert Templer, to resettle ethnic Chinese who were living at the fringes of the jungle and was supporting the Communist Terrorists to new settlements. 

In 1952, saw the creation of the satellite town and the following year, the satellite town was named Petaling Jaya (“Petaling” being the name of the district and “Jaya” Malay word with Sanskrit origin meaning victory or success). By the end of 1957, PJ (as called by the locals) grew into a township with over 3,200 houses, 100 shops and 28 factories. Also in the same year, saw the opening of the first phase of the Federal Highway linking the capital Kuala Lumpur, PJ and Port Klang and it was opened to traffic in 1959; and it essentially divided PJ into two halves, Southern PJ, that include the first settlement and by now known as PJ Old Town and Northern PJ.

Moving forward to the 1960’s, it was reported that the population of PJ had reached 35,100 in 1964 and the size had extended to an area of 19.9 square kilometres. PJ was growing steadily, in particular Northern PJ, where tall structures were built and one such building is the Main Tower of University Hospital, completed in 1966. This building became one of the landmarks of PJ. In the 1990’s, University Hospital was renamed University Malaya Medical Centre, in line with the expansion from a hospital into a full medical centre. We shall now look at the history of U.M.M.C.

To know about U.M.M.C, we have to first get to know about  King Edward VII College of Medicine and Raffles College. In the Anglo Dutch Treaty signed in 1824 between the British and Dutch, Malacca was offered to the British and in return, the Dutch got hold of Bengkulu (Bencoolen) located in Sumatra. Following this, saw the establishment of the Straits Settlements, combining the states of Penang, Malacca and Singapore, in 1826 with Penang as the administrative centre. Prior to the formation, the importance of Singapore as an international trading port grew tremendously since its founding in 1819, and in a short span of 4 years, Singapore already overtook Penang and Malacca in total trade figure. Recognizing the speed of growth, Singapore became the new administrative centre for the Straits Settlements in 1832. It was further boosted with the introduction of steamships and the opening of the Suez Canal to navigation on 17 November 1869, which cut travelling time from London to Singapore, from 117 days to just 45 days. 

King Edward VII College of Medicine – Photo from UM Memory

The population of Singapore also grew in tandem with the progress and this prompted a call to establish a medical school in 1889. But the plan did not take off until 1904 when a local businessman and philanthropist Tan Jiak Kim, petitioned to the colonial government for the setting up of a medical school. Immediately, the Chinese and non-European communities raised enough funds for the project and the Straits and Federated Malay States Government Medical School was officially opened on 28 September 1905. The name was changed to King Edward VII Medical School when the school received a donation of $ 125,000.00 from the King Edward VII Memorial Fund in November 1912. The school was renamed again in 1921 as King Edward VII College of Medicine. When Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, the college building was taken over by the Japanese Army Medical Corp and used as it’s department of bacteriology and serology. After the surrender of the Japanese in 1945, the building was returned to the college authorities and classes resumed in June 1946.

Aerial view of Raffles College – Photo from UM Memory

The establishment of Raffles College was in 1918 to commemorate the centenary of the founding of  Singapore. The college was designed by two London architects, Cyril Farey and Graham Dawbarn, after they had earlier won the competition for the design. It was set up as a college for higher education in the field of arts and sciences. However, due to a series of delays and unforeseen circumstances (Sir Stamford Raffles was away from Singapore most of the time was one of the reasons for the delay) it only commenced operation ten years later, in June 1928 with an inaugural batch of 43 students. It had its official opening on 22 July 1929 by Sir Hugh Clifford who was then the Governor of the Straits Settlements and British High Commissioner in Malaya. Earlier on, Sir Hugh Clifford was the British Resident in Pahang 1896 – 1900 and 1901 – 1903. It ceased operation during World War II and reopened on 10 October 1946.

The evolution of the University of Malaya

After the war, a commission was set up to make recommendations concerning university education in Malaya. On 8 October 1949, King Edward VII College of Medicine and Raffles College merged to form the University of Malaya. A grand ceremony was held at Raffles College to mark the event. Ten years later, on 15 January 1959, the university split to form the University of Malaya in Singapore and University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. The University of Malaya in Singapore became known as University of Singapore in 1962 and then in 1980, it is known as National University of Singapore, when it merged with Nanyang University.

University of Malaya was established on 1 January 1962 and is located on about 750 acres of land in Pantai Valley,Kuala Lumpur. Our first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman was installed as the first Chancellor later that year. On 2 August 1965, saw the official opening of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Malaya by the Honourable Deputy Prime Minister Tun Haji Abdul Razak Bin Hussein. At the same time, Tun Haji Abdul Razak also laid the foundation stone of the University Hospital. The earliest erected structure of UM Medical Training Centre comprises of the faculty and the hospital. And by December 1966, the main building which is also known as the Main Tower of the hospital was completed. University Hospital began operation in March 1967 and before the end of that year, all the wards, clinics and the 24-Hour Accident and Emergency Unit have started operating. University Hospital was officially opened by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong IV, Al-Marhum Tuanku Ismail Nasiruddin Shah Ibni  Al-Marhum Sultan Zainal Abidin (Sultan of Trengganu) on 5 August 1968 to serve the three main areas of teaching, research and service. Tunku Abdul Rahman was also in attendance on that day. 

University Hospital has since expanded extensively from its sole Main Tower and ancillary blocks and now is a medical complex with additional modern and purpose-built buildings like primary care medicine building (1992), East Wing containing the expanded Clinical Diagnostic Lab and Clinic Services Complex (1997), trauma and emergency building (2003), Obstetrics and Pediatrics building (2008), South Tower (2012) that houses the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine,Department of Bio-Medical Imaging and Cardiology Unit. Today, the hospital is officially known as University Malaya Medical Centre (U.M.M.C).

I make regular visits to U.M.M.C to donate blood at the Department of Transfusion Medicine. For those of you who are making resolution / plan for the coming new year, do consider to become a Blood Donor. You can register at the Department of Transfusion Medicine, U.M.M.C, National Blood Centre in Kuala Lumpur or at any blood bank of selected Government hospitals, and these centres are open every working day during office hours.

Author: Museum Volunteers, JMM

Museum Volunteers, JMM Taking the Mystery out of History

2 thoughts on “University Malaya Medical Centre”

  1. I can see how much effort that the writer had spend in his comprehensive research. Now, not only I understand why universities in Singapore & Malaya had so similar names, but also this article reflected how the twin cities were so closely knitted in the history. Eric, you also care about the understanding of Malay language by the international readers, including me ~ a big thank you to you!

  2. Thank you Alexis for your comment. I will continue to write more articles with the same theme. Taking this golden opportunity, I would like to wish you A Happy And Prosperous Chinese New Year.

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