Lives of the fellows

John Stephens Prichard

b.29 January 1942 d.22 January 1996
MA DPhil Oxon(1967) BM BCh(1969) MRCP(1973) FRCP(1986) FRCPI(1984)

John Stephens Prichard was a consultant physician at St James’ Hospital, Dublin, and a fellow of Trinity College. He was born in Aberystwyth, Wales, the only son of David Stephens Prichard who held medical and dental qualifications, and his wife Constance Gina (née Blevin). John’s grandfather, John Llewelyn Prichard, was also a doctor. John spent his early childhood in Aberystwyth and Rhyl before his family moved to Prestatyn, where his father developed a successful dental practice. He was educated at the King’s School, Chester, and went up to Merton College, Oxford, where he had a brilliant undergraduate career. He was senior science open scholar in 1960 and three years later he became Fowler prizeman at Merton College. In the same year he was nominated Theodore Williams scholar in physiology at Oxford University. He qualified with first class honours in physiology in 1963.

Between 1963 and 1966 John was MRC research scholar and Harmsworth senior scholar at Oxford. During this period his research concentrated on the biophysics of cell membranes. He developed the first satisfactory preparation of isolated intestine perfused through its vascular system and he used this to study the relationship between active transport and hydrolytic enzymes. In addition he evolved theoretical and mathematical approaches to the translocative function of epithelia. In 1966 he became United Kingdom clinical medical scholar at Oxford and a year later, Theodore Williams scholar in pathology. He was not only awarded a doctorate for his research in 1967, but he also won two prestigious prizes - the Gotch prize of Oxford University and the Rolleston prize which was awarded jointly by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

He then joined the team of Sir George Pickering [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.464], Regius professor of medicine at the Radcliffe Infirmary, as a research assistant, where he carried out research on platelet function. He also became engaged in an analysis of the process of diagnosis in a medical out-patient department with J R Mitchell [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.368].

After this staggering list of intellectual and practical achievements, John began his clinical career as house physician to the renowned Nuffield professor of medicine, P B Beeson, at the Radcliffe Infirmary in 1970. Having carried out such first class scientific work whilst still a student many of his professors feared that John would not feel at ease on the wards. However, John was one of those rare individuals who combined a first class scientific mind with a caring and compassionate personality. These qualities made him an outstanding house physician and they shaped his professional life.

Following registration John spent a year as an assistant in general practice in Wantage, Berkshire, before crossing the Atlantic to become medical resident and clinical fellow at the Beth Israel Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He returned to Oxford in 1972 and spent a year as senior house officer with P B Beeson before being appointed as registrar in cardiology and chest diseases at the United Oxford Hospitals. During this period he collaborated with D J Lane on the use of pharmacological tests in the diagnosis and characterization of reversible airway obstruction and intestinal function during cardiac and respiratory failure. This was followed by a seminal period as MRC research officer with Grant Lee at the Radcliffe. John evolved new non-invasive methods for the study of extra vascular water and capillary permeability in the lung. He used these new techniques to study pulmonary oedema and ‘shock lung’. He also worked for a period as visiting scientist in the physiology laboratories of Carlo Giuntini at the University of Pisa. He was appointed senior registrar in general medicine and infectious diseases at the Radcliffe Infirmary and Churchill Hospitals in 1975. He combined this post with that of fellow in physiological sciences at Pembroke College, Oxford, where as tutor he was responsible for organizing the work of students reading medicine. The importance of his research was recognized in 1977 when he was awarded the Frewin prize for distinguished research at the United Oxford Hospitals.

John was appointed to the post of senior lecturer in the department of clinical medicine at Trinity College and at St James’ Hospital in 1977. He continued his clinical research in Dublin, establishing a laboratory for the study of biochemical problems in pulmonary disease with a substantial grant from the Wellcome foundation. Over the years his research has been published in leading international journals including Nature, The Journal of Physiology, The Lancet, The British Medical Journal, Thorax and The European Journal of Cardiology. His book Edema of the lung (Springfield, Thomas, 1982), was published in the United States and was regarded as the standard textbook on the subject for many years. John contributed chapters to several books and he was the author of four chapters in the Oxford textbook of medicine.

As one of the first consultants appointed to the new St James’ Hospital in the 1970s, John played a key role in developing it as a major teaching hospital for Trinity College, Dublin. He was active in developing the respiratory and bronchoscopy services and he had responsibility for a busy general medical service. He contributed to the planning and administration of the hospital and for a time he was chairman of the medical board.

John served on the council of Trinity College, Dublin, and on the council of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland. He was a member of the Irish committee for higher medical training, and he represented Ireland on similar bodies in London and Brussels. He was also on the audit committee of the Joint United Kingdom and Irish College of Physicians. At the time of his death he was on the Irish Medical Council. At all of these committee meetings he was always a lively and stimulating contributor to the debates. He examined for the membership examinations in Dublin and in London and he was regarded as an excellent and fair examiner.

He had a major interest in medical education and he was deeply involved in curriculum reform. He was acting head of the department of clinical medicine in Trinity College Dublin between 1980 and 1982, and he was subsequently chairman of the university clinical curriculum committee.

He was elected president of the Biological Society at Trinity College in 1995 and delivered his inaugural address on medical education. It was widely regarded as one of the best presidential addresses in living memory, yet when he delivered this lecture he knew he was very seriously ill with an aggressive colonic neoplasm. Around the same time he also delivered the Robert Mayne lecture at the William Stokes Postgraduate Centre at St James’ Hospital.

Whilst still an undergraduate at Oxford John had met a young theatre sister from Dublin, Bernadette O’Rourke, and they married in 1969. They had two daughters and a son. John, like the great physicians of the past, was a very cultured man, with interests embracing art, literature and music. He enjoyed sailing, hill walking and bird watching - interests which he shared with his family. One of his last journeys from home before his death was to see the Brent geese on Bull Island in Dublin.

Davis Coakley

(Volume X, page 394)

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