Remembering the “Dresser”

Bernama recently had an interesting article ‘Mr Dresser’ Plays An Integral Role In Healthcare Services

KUALA LUMPUR, June 11 (Bernama) — Malaysians born before the 1960s should be familiar with the phrase ‘Tuan Dressar’ (Mr Dresser), which they must have heard while seeking medical treatment at government clinics.
When Malaysia (then Malaya) was still in its early years, there was an acute shortage of doctors, particularly among the locals.
At that time, the society was experiencing a paradigm shift in terms of seeking medical care. Many were of the belief that sickness was caused by charms or evil spirits.
The people – particularly the residents of remote villages – then sought the services of the ‘shaman’ to cure them of these evils.
However, this was the situation in the past, and after the country gained independence, the winds of change led people to approach clinics and hospitals for medical care.
“Once I was bitten by a snake while passing through a rubber estate. My father rushed me to a health clinic in the village.
“I was fortunate, for the ‘dresser’ on duty administered the anti-venom and saved my life,” recalled Mat Hassan Seman, 62, who hails from Gua Musang in Kelantan.

What is the origin of the term “Dresser”?

According to the archives of the healthcare development sector in Malaysia, the profession of a ‘dresser’ has existed in the country for the last two centuries.
The British introduced this profession in Penang in 1823, and its practitioners were initially known as ‘apothecaries.’
In Britain, apothecaries were those who prepared, sold and dispensed medicines. The name of this profession was later changed to ‘Sub-assistant Surgeon’ during the colonial days, before it became ‘dressar’ – as coined by the Malay community.
This epithet comes from the English word ‘dresser,’ which refers to the person who assists the surgeon in dressing up surgical wounds.

The position doesn’t exist anymore but we have Hospital Assistants, now known as Medical Assistants. These are key personnel who provide essential health services, especially rural areas where there are few doctors. In the urban areas MAs are also posted in the emergency departments and now in 1Malaysia clinics.
Dressers, HAs or MAs, they are indeed integral to the Malaysian Healthcare system. We salute them.


Malaysian physician, haematologist, blogger, web and tech enthusiast