I’m a day late for this one; there are so many holidays and other observances here in Thailand that it can often be difficult to keep them all straight! In fact, I just learned that next Saturday is a religious holiday as my students needed to cancel in order to attend ceremonies at the local wat. The 24th of September each year is observed as Mahidol Day (Wan Mahidon, วันมหิดล) to commemorate the passing of Prince Father Mahidol Adulyadej, the “Father of Thai Modern Medicine”. Prince Mahidol was the 69th son of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) and the seventh of Queen Savang Vadhana. He was born on January 1, 1892, and grew up in the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
When he was thirteen years of age, he was bestowed the honor of Prince of Songkhla. The young prince was sent to London in 1905, and after spending a year and a half in Harrow School, he moved to Germany to join the Royal Prussian Military Preparatory College at Potsdam according to the wish of his father, then continued his military education at the Imperial Military Academy at Gross Lichterfelde in Berlin. Following the wish of his half-brother, King Vajiravudh, he then entered the Imperial German Naval Academy at Flensburg-Mürwik. While there, he won a competition in submarine design. He was commissioned Lieutenant in both the Imperial German Navy and the Royal Thai Navy in 1912.
The Prince returned to Thailand in 1914 because of the start of World War I. He was assigned to a teaching post at the Royal Naval Academy and continued his interest in smaller vessels including submarines and torpedo boats. This later led to a conflict in a meeting where he was overruled by senior naval officers, most of whom were British graduates and preferred larger vessels. The Prince, feeling that his expertise would never be used, resigned just 9 months after joining the Navy.
Around this time, he had developed a deep interest in medicine. He was close to his half brother the Prince of Rangsit, who was then in charge of the Ministry of Health, and they would often discuss the health care situation in what was then called Siam. They were both concerned about how far the country lagged behind western countries, and they knew that the people deserved better. Prince Mahidol felt a deep calling to put this situation right, and he devoted the rest of his life to achieving this aim.
In order to be better able to help improve the situation in Siam the prince decided that he would need further academic qualifications. He decided to attend Harvard University in 1920 and while there he earned a certificate in public health. Prince Mahidol also provided funding for two medical students to accompany him to Harvard, and his mother the Queen paid for two nursing students. This meant that when the team returned home they had a good understanding of how things worked in the West. They were then able to apply their understanding to improve things in Thailand.
In 1925 Prince Mahidol went to Heidelberg, Germany to have his kidneys treated before going back to his alma mater Harvard University, this time to study medicine. It was in Heidelberg where his first son Prince Ananda Mahidol was born in the same year. His youngest son Prince Bhumibol was born in Massachusetts in 1927; six months later he received his M.D. cum laude. He returned to Thailand in December 1928.
One of the first things he did when he returned was to set up scholarships for students in the fields of medicine, nursing, and public health. He was planning to return to Siriraj Hospital for internship. However, his princely status then became a problem as it was felt that he was too prestigious to be allowed internship. Undeterred, Mahidol chose another hospital in a more egalitarian environment — the missionary-run McCormick Hospital in Chiang Mai. He quickly gained a reputation for being an exceptional physician who put in far more hours than could be expected of an intern. His patients fondly called him “Mho Chao Fa” (‘Doctor Prince’).
Prince Mahidol died of kidney disease on September 24, 1929. His death came as a real shock to the people of Thailand who had begun to affectionately refer to him as Mho Chao Faa — which can be translated as the doctor prince. The date of his death is now a national remembrance day for the Father of Thai Modern Medicine. It is not an official public holiday in Thailand but events take place across the country to celebrate his life. The Ministry of Health organizes special activities, and this is also a day for medical professionals and medical students to remind people of the prince’s contribution to medical improvement in the country. There will also usually be some fund raising activities across Thailand and the money raised is used for noble medical causes.
The life of the father of modern Thai medicine is also commemorated by way of the Prince Mahidol Award. This is given annually to those individuals who have produced a notable medical or public health improvement. It involves a cash prize of $100,000, a medal, and a certificate. The winners come from every corner of the globe. Mahidol University was renamed on February 21, 1969 by King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He declared the name of the university to be changed to Mahidol University (มหาวิทยาลัยมหิดล) in honor of his father, Prince Mahidol.
The medical school at Mahidol University is formally called the Faculty of Medicine Ramathibodi Hospital (คณะแพทยศาสตร์โรงพยาบาลรามาธิบดี), commonly called Rama. One of the three buildings of this medical school, located around the Phyathai area of Bangkok, opposite the Ministry of Industry, is the Queen Sirikit Medical Center. It serves as a center for advanced projects such as bone marrow transplants and also houses modern operating rooms and intensive care units. Scott #1499 was released on August 12, 1992, to commemorate the inauguration of the Sirikit Medical Center in the centennial year of Prince Mahidol’s birth. The 2 baht stamp is perforated 14½x14 and was printed by the Australian firm of Leigh-Mardon PTY., Ltd.