First Medical School in Thailand

His Royal Highness Prince Mahidol of Songkhla

In 1881, there occurred a widespread cholera epidemic that killed many people in Bangkok. His Majesty King Chulalongkorn therefore set up temporary hospitals in 48 locations around the capital. Once the epidemic subsided, they were closed down. Realizing the importance of health care for the sick, King Chulalongkorn decided to establish a Royal Hospital to provide health care to the general population. In 1886, a committee was appointed to establish the hospital, with His Majesty donating his own money and land in the abandoned Wang Lang Palace for this purpose.

In 1887, H.R.H. Prince Siriraj Kakudhabhandha, the fifth son of King Chulalongkorn died of dysentery at the age of one year and six months. Later, two more of their young children also passed away in the same year which caused great sorrow to Their Majesties. For this reason, King Chulalongkorn wanted to see a hospital established as soon as possible. After the cremation of the three royal children and also of the Royal Consort, the King ordered the wood used in making the cremation pyre to be used in the construction of the hospital. He also named the new hospital Siriraj Hospital after his son.

In 1889, Prince Damrong Rajanubhab was given the royal permission to establish a Medical School inside Siriraj Hospital with Doctor T. Hayward Hayes as the first medical teacher, conducting a three-year diploma course in medicine beginning on 5th September 1890. The teaching included both Thai and modern medicine. The first group of nine students graduated in March, 1892. The second teacher of medicine was Doctor George B. McFarland who was born in Thailand and was highly proficient in the Thai language. He was devoted to his job and dedicated his life to Siriraj Hospital for 35 years. He is buried in the Protestant Graveyard in Silom. I went there to visit his grave last year.

During King Rama VI’s Reign, medical education was improved through the assistance of the Rockefeller Foundation. The person who played an important role in the negotiations for the fund was H.R.H. Prince Mahidol. The Prince had gone to America in 1917 to study medicine at Harvard. On his return to Thailand, he devoted himself to the development of Thai modern medicine for the wellbeing and happiness of all Thais. Recognizing the importance of modern medicine and public health to the country, he decided to give assistance to the Nursing School and the Medical School at Siriraj Hospital. For this reason, the Thai people regard him as the “Father of Thai Modern Medicine”. He was also the father to two future Kings including our present day King. Prince Mahidol died tragically young on 24th September 1929.

In recognition of his work to the development of medicine in Thailand, the Thai government designated 24th September as Mahidol Day. Special ceremonies are performed at Siriraj hospital and the medical college which had its named changed to Mahidol University in his honour. The hospital has an interesting display near the statue of Prince Mahidol. The information is bilingual and most of the information fo this blog came from these panels. On the grounds of the hospital are a number of museums which are also worth visiting. One of them is the infamous forensics museum that has preserved bodies of executed criminals. You can easily reach the hospital by boat from the pier near the Grand Palace.

2 responses to “First Medical School in Thailand