Singapore Chinese Physicians' Association

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The History of the Singapore Chinese Physicians' Association

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) was first introduced to the masses in Singapore by early Chinese migrants from mainland China. For more than a hundred years, due to external factors and differing social background, TCM had never achieved any legal recognition and the main impetus for promoting TCM came from civilian organizations.

In recent years, local TCM standards have improved in great strides in terms of academic and clinical studies. TCM has gradually won the hearts and confidence of the general public with its preventive treatment measures and effective cures for diseases. This has prompted the government to place great emphasis on the value of TCM and to re-examine the TCM policies in Singapore. In November 2000, the Singapore parliament passed the "Chinese Physicians Act". This was followed by the setting up of the Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners' Board (TCMPB). TCM reached a new milestone with TCM achieving legal status in Singapore. From 1st January 2002, only acupuncturists registered with the board could legally practice acupuncture. The same applied to Chinese physicians starting from 1st January 2004.

Singapore Chinese Physicians' Association has played a major role in the progress of TCM in Singapore. From the history of our association's development, one can certainly catch a glimpse of the journey taken by TCM in our country.


The Establishment of Singapore Chinese Physicians' Association

At the end of World War 2, a group of local TCM physicians realised that, in a country with a population of a million people, it was important to establish an organization to make contact with the people of the Traditional Chinese medical circles and to engage in promoting, studying and reforming TCM. On 18th August 1946, several local Chinese physicians including You Xing Nan (Yew Hen Nam) and Zeng Zhi Yuan (Chan Chi Yen), under the leadership of famous Xiamen (Amoy) physician Wu Rui Fu (Wu Xi Huang) (then residing in Singapore), and with the response and assistance from Zeng He Sheng, Chen Zhan Wei (Chin Chan Wei), Chen Rui Tang, Fang Zhan Lun and Huang Shao Yu, held the first preparatory forum at Singapore Shang Hang Clan Association. There were a total of 23 attendants on that day. Besides the above-mentioned eight persons present, other attendees included Huang Wen Xian, Yang Yi Feng, Wu Long Fei, Liao Pei Ru, Rao Shi Quan (Ngeow Sze Chan), Xu Yun Zhi, Zhong Hui Wo, Chen Jian Ji, Deng Song Ru, Luo Xiao Chuan, Huang Shao Wen, Chen Xue Qiao, Chen Qing Yuan (Tan Kheng Guan), Hong Wei Tang and You Hong Nan (Yew Hong Nam).
 The attendees passed a motion and set up the "Singapore Chinese Medical Society", with Wu Rui Fu elected as the chairman. After two months of preparation, the Singapore Chinese Medical Society held the inaugural general meeting on the 27th of October. This was the foundation of the local TCM cause.

The Singapore Chinese Medical Society set up the following objectives:

  1. To expound and propagate Traditional Chinese Medical principles, study worldwide medical expertise, and combine and integrate the best practices.
   2. To form a community of support and academic network to encourage joint research and improve TCM treatment techniques.

At the second general meeting in 1947, the Singapore Chinese Medical Society, under the legal regulations concerning the names of the Chinese physicians' organizations issued by the Chinese government at that time, was officially renamed as "Singapore Chinese Physicians' Association". The establishment of the Singapore Chinese Physicians' Association (SCPA) united all local TCM physicians and boosted the strength of TCM progress in Singapore. Not long after establishment, the association set up a unified goal for all physicians, and actively engaged in research activities. 

The Establishment of Singapore Chung Hwa Medical Institution (now known as  Chung Hwa Free Clinic)

When World War 2 ended, the economy was in a downturn and poverty was widespread. Government hospitals were over-crowded and unable to meet the local demands. In 1952, the Singapore Chinese Physicians' Association answered the call and jumped to the need of the sick and poor. SCPA established the "Zhong Hua Shi Zhen Suo", borrowing the facilities of the Chung Shan Wui Koon. It was agreed that a permanent location for the charity clinic was essential and two years later, in 1956,  after much preparation and fund-raising, the association finally moved into its own premises at 3rd storey, No. 202 Telok Ayer Street (presently the Telok Ayer Chung Hwa Free Clinic). At the same time, "Zhong Hua Shi Zhen Suo" was officially renamed as "Chung Hwa Free Clinic".

Chung Hwa Free Clinic was widely supported and recognised for the medical assistance it provided. In the following years, two other clinic branches, Toa Payoh Chung Hwa Free Clinic (Main), Telok Ayer Chung Hwa Free Clinic (Branch), Yishun Chung Hwa Free Clinic and Woodlands Chung Hwa Free Clinic were set up. Except for the first two clinic branches that were closed down as a result of government urban restructuring, the remaining 4 clinics continue to be full operations and constantly being upgraded and expanded with time. From the implementation of ISO9001:2000 in the computerised medical consultation system, Chung Hwa Free Clinic continually strives to improve its administration system, making it more systematic and professional. Bedside clinical consultation and scientific innovation are closely linked, and in the future of Chung Hwa Free Clinic, there will be more emphasis on clinical scientific research alongside research departments from local universities, to create more progress and advancements in TCM clinical research.

Founding of Chinese Physicians' Training School (later changed to Singapore College of Traditional Chinese Medicine)

When Singapore was still a British colony, TCM physicians who had migrated to Singapore from China were offering medical treatment to the local Chinese population. However, as a result of the new immigration ordinance issued by the British colonial government, the TCM physicians coming from southern China started to decrease day by day. The Singapore TCM community faced the lack of successors. The executive committee of SCPA determined that the "Chung Hwa Medical Institution" was an ideal place to train TCM successors in Singapore. Another point in consideration was the growing numbers of quack doctors masquerading as TCM physicians.  Hence, in order to uphold TCM standards in SIngapore and Malaysia, SCPA began preparations to set up a TCM school.

In 1953, the SCPA founded the "Chinese Physicians' Training School" (officially changed to "Singapore College of Traditional Chinese Medicine" in 1976) and applied for registration with the Ministry of Education. The school's objectives were to: teach traditional chinese medicine, train specialized medical personnel, maintain of good health of the community and promote TCM in Singapore.

"TCM specialty" education policy was "TCM as the foundation, Western medicine as an aid". The program was a four year part-time course. 

in 1983, the Singapore College of Traditional Chinese Medicine's program was changed to a five year course, where students spend 70% of their final year in clinical practice and 30% studying TCM specialties and patient medical cases.

in 1994, the Singapore Ministry of Health's Committee of Traditional Chinese Medicine published a report on "Traditional Chinese Medicines" and recommended changing the course to either a three year full time course or a six year part time course in order to raise the standards of the college. In order to fulfill this recommendation, the Singapore College of Traditional Chinese Medicine changed the course to a six year part time course in 1996.

After the changes to the school program by the college committee and faculty members, more emphasis was placed on teaching methods and systems, as well as employing specialised lecturers. In 2000, a Department of Continual Education (changed to "Centre of Continual Education" in 2001) was set up, and English lecturers were hired to establish dual language TCM lectures in order to give the mostly-English educated Singapore population a chance to get to know TCM. In the process of improving the college's standards, the college committee became aware of the need to have a full time course. With the co-operation of the SCPA's executive committee, faculty members and college committee, the Singapore College of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine entered into discussions. After much discussion over course curriculum, teaching staff, clinical practice, the Three Year Full Time Joint-Program and Five Year Full-time Joint-Program were launched in 2001. The course was approved and recognised by the TCM mediating committee as well as the TCM Practitioners Board (TCMPB) committee. Students graduating from the Five Year Full-time course would also receive a Bachelor Degree in TCM from Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine. Singapore College of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine jointly launched a Masters' Degree in TCM program in 2003.

In 2001, the TCM Practitioners Board set up an examination board. Dr Teo Eng Kiat from Singapore College of Traditional Chinese Medicine was invited to be the chairman of the board, and several members of the faculty were invited to be board members and examiners. The college was used as the main examination venue for the TCM Practitioners Board, and a successful assessment and examination was held. The Singapore College of Traditional Chinese Medicine also has close ties to several Chinese hospitals and TCM colleges, with frequent student exchanges and internships to China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine, Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Cheng Du University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Guang Zhou University of Chinese Medicine, Hei Long Jiang University of Chinese Medicine, Tian Jin University of Chinese Medicine, Fu Jian University of Chinese Medicine, Liao Ning University of Chinese Medicine and Guang Xi University of Chinese Medicine.

Singapore College of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine signed a letter of intent to set up a TCM specialist course and became sister schools. Under the education plan, Singapore College of Traditional Chinese Medicine also hired many renowned lecturers from China as guest lecturers, including lecturers from Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine, Cheng Du University of Traditional Chinese Medicine and  Guang Zhou University of Chinese Medicine, thereby improving the teaching standards of the college.

Establishment of Chung Hwa Medical Research Institute

Singapore Chinese Physicians' Association, in an effort to improve TCM treatment techniques through joint academic research, set up the "Chinese Medicine Research Institute" (subsequently changed to "Chung Hwa Medical Research Institute"). In the past forty years, Chung Hwa Medical Research Institute committees have sponsored several TCM lectures and forums, and published many articles, such as "Newsletter", "Chinese Medical Studies Paper" etc, and promoted the research work of SCPA. At the same time, the committees also set up several groups such as the Typhoid group, Golden Chamber group, Chinese Herbs research group, improving academic exchanges between members.

In 2001, Chung Hwa Medical Research Institute published the "Colour Atlas of Medicinal Plants" using the 140 plants found in Chung Hwa Medical Institution, with the aim of raising Singaporeans' awareness and knowledge of Chinese herbs.

in 2003, Chung Hwa Medical Research Institute set up the herbal plants group, which redecorated the Chung Hwa Herbal Garden and opened it to the public.

Establishment of Chung Hwa Acupuncture Research Institute

In the 70s and 80s, acupuncture treatment and research were widespread and gaining popularity around the world, and even quacks seized the opportunity to call themselves "Masters of Acupuncture". In order to set up stringent standards in research, Singapore Chinese Physicians' Association decided to establish an acupuncture research institute in Singapore, as an official representative body when liaising with foreign acupuncture establishments, and to promote formal research and development of acupuncture locally. In 1978, the "Chung Hwa Acupuncture Research Institute" was officially established, actively recruiting new members as researchers and widely promoting acupuncture research.

On 25th July 1999, Chung Hwa Acupuncture Research Institute organised the inaugural Singapore Acupuncture Symposium, welcoming delegates from Singapore and Malaysia to participate. The event was held in the Great Hall on the third floor of the Chung Hwa Medical Institution and was well attended, with a total of 20 papers being published on that day. For years, Chung Hwa Acupuncture Research Institute has encouraged academic exchanges and organised many seminars. The Institute often invites well-known local and foreign lecturers to conduct specialised seminars and short training courses that help improve knowledge on acupuncture and related skills.

In line with the development and progress of Chung Hwa Medical Institution, the Chung Hwa Acupuncture Research Institute established four specialty groups, including the soft tissue injury group, post-stroke group, pain syndrome group and TCM male infertility group etc.

Promoting Regional Academic Research and Commitment to Public Education.

In the five decades since the establishment of the Singapore Chinese Physicians' Association, in order to raise physician quality and skill expertise, the council has established policies focussing on treatment efficacy, initiatives to promote academic research, and spread the knowledge of TCM.

1. Establishment of Academic Committee
In 1982, SCPA established the "Chung Hwa Medical Institution Academic Committee", dedicated to the planning and promotion of academic research activities, and setting up of special research groups in typhoid, febrile diseases, case reviews, herbal remedies, acupuncture and laser, at the Toa Payoh Chung Hwa Medical Institution.

2. Strengthening Outreach
SCPA has sent several representatives to international and regional TCM symposiums, published TCM articles and organised educational tours in order to increase outreach and enrich its members. SCPA also frequently invites foreign TCM specialists to Singapore on exchange, as well as to speak at seminars and lectures.

In April 2000, the SCPA chairman and several council members attended the Beijing International Conference on Traditional Chinese Medicine, and our chairman was invited to be a member of the Conference Academic Committee.

In 2000, Chung Hwa Acupuncture Research Institute, the subsidiary of SCPA, was voted as the organisers of "International Acupuncture Society--2001 International Joint Conference on Acupuncture", winning 89 out of 90 votes. This international event was supported by the World Health Organisation and Singapore Ministry of Health. The Conference was held from 7-9th December 2001 at the Suntec Convention Centre, with the theme of "A New Century In International Acupuncture Research, Education and Clinical Experience". The successful organisation of this event by SCPA once again demonstrated the close ties between SCPA and other international organisations, which serve the common cause of promoting TCM to the world.

International TCM colleagues suggested establishing a "World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies" and SCPA was invited to be a member.

3. Initiating and successfully organising the ASEAN and the International Academic Conference of Chinese Medicine
ASEAN as a whole, with friendly relations between nations, exists a good foundation of political, economic  and cultural ties between the various countries. The organisation of the ASEAN Academic Conference of Chinese Medicine to increase academic exchanges between the ASEAN countries is beneficial for the future development of TCM, as well as raising national health care levels and quality of life. On the 25 and 26th of June 1983, the inaugural ASEAN Academic Conference of Chinese Medicine was held in Singapore, with TCM consultant and academic advisor Professor Jiang Runxiang from the United Nations World Health Organization, officiating at the opening ceremony. More than 700 participants took part in it, and 54 key-note speeches were made. Subsequently, the ASEAN Academic Conference of Chinese Medicine was held alternately at member states. The secretariat of the ASEAN Academic Conference of Chinese Medicine was established at the SCPA.

After "The Inaugural ASEAN Academic Conference of Chinese Medicine", SCPA was also invited to the "International Conference on Traditional Chinese Medicine" held in Shanghai, China as one of the sponsors, and was responsible for organising, promoting and reviewing the ASEAN publications.

4. Organising Refresher Courses and Seminars
In order to provide members the opportunity to revise and refresh their memory, the Chung Hwa Medical Institution and Singapore College of Traditional Chinese Medicine regularly conduct refresher courses and seminars for members to upgrade themselves.

In order to improve the general public's understanding of TCM, SCPA also regularly organises public lectures, and accepts invitations from community centres, resident committees, neighborhood organizations to appoint physicians to speak to their members about TCM. In addition, SCPA is frequently invited by the media, including newspapers, television and radio programs to answer the public's questions on TCM and health issues, and hence raising the public's knowledge and understanding of TCM and Chinese prepared medications, to ensure the safety and efficacy of medication.

Collaboration with other TCM organisations to form the Coordination Committee

In March 1994, the then Health Minister Brigadier-General George Yeo announced in Parliament that the Ministry of Health was going to set up an internal committee to help re-structure the local TCM community. Subsequently, through the use of newspaper publications, local TCM organisations were encouraged to jointly set up a "Joint Committee on Traditional Chinese Medicine", with the intention of having discussions with the Ministry of Health on how to improve the level of TCM expertise at a later stage.

As a response to the Ministry of Heath's request, the SCPA organized several discussions with all the local TCM organisations in Singapore, after which, on 4th December 1994, the "Singapore Joint Committee on Traditional Chinese Medicine" (abbreviated as "Coordination Committee") was set up, with a mission to promote,  strengthen and encourage the TCM community across the country by establishing a closer relationships through mutual coordination, cooperation and understanding, and where necessary, to contact and dialogue with relevant government departments, while promoting TCM and the standardization of professional TCM training.

Following the establishment of the Coordination Committee, the secretariat was set up at SCPA, with the then Association Chairman Dr Liang Shi Hai conducting the daily activities. Several of the SCPA members actively participated and helped out in different duties, such as drafting the "Singapore Joint Committee on Traditional Chinese Medicine Draft Constitution", participating in and drafting the "Singapore Traditional Chinese Medicine Education Guidelines Memorandum", drafting of rules and provisions of professional ethics, developing the "Singapore Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners Regulations And Professional Ethics",  publishing the "List of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners in Singapore" and so on.

In March 1998, the then Education Minister and Senior Minister of Ministry of Health, Dr Aline Wong announced: Ministry of Health will follow the recommendations of the Coordination Committee to set up a registration process for Singapore acupuncturists starting from 2000, and with effect from 2002, set up a registration process for Singapore TCM physicians. In the transition period, acupuncturists and TCM physicians witht he qualifications and experience may be partially or completely exempted from the registration exams. In addition, the Ministry of Health will also assist in formulating a set of training guidelines and arranging the registration examinations.

The Ministry of Health set up a Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners Board, with the then president Dr Liang Shi Hai, and the Dean of Medicine Dr. Teo Eng Kiat being appointed as members of the committee. The Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners Board subsidiary also set up an examinations group, qualifications group and regulations groups, chaired respectively by SCPA Council members Dr. Teo Eng Kiat, Physician Ang Liang and Physician Cheng Sim Kim.

The contributions made by the SCPA to Singapore's TCM community and progress of TCM in Singapore, as well as the talent training, maintaining and improving the image of TCM  are undeniable.


Since the inception of SCPA, TCM in Singapore has gained a stable foundation and achieved steady progress, and along with regional counterparts, promoted the academic developments of TCM and built complete systems in treatments, education and research.

Henceforth, the SCPA will continue to strive for excellence, and improve academic TCM and medical technology. SCPA members will continue to cooperate and combine efforts to seek breakthrough innovations in TCM for the benefit of all mankind.