Lives of the fellows

Priscilla Sheath Kincaid-Smith

b.30 October 1926 d.18 July 2015
CBE(1975) AC(1988) BSc Wits(1946) MB BCh(1950) DCP(1954) MRCP(1956) MRACP(1961) FRACP(1967) MD Melbourne(1968) FRCP(1969)

Priscilla Sheath Kincaid-Smith was a leading nephrologist, the first female professor at the University of Melbourne and the first female president of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the World Medical Association. She was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her father, Desmond Hector Seymour Kincaid-Smith, was a dental surgeon; her mother, Ottilie Jean Kincaid-Smith née Röhrssen, was the daughter of a pharmacist. Kincaid-Smith was educated at Parktown School in Johannesburg and then went on to study medicine at the University of Witwatersrand. She qualified in 1950. As a young woman, she represented South Africa at swimming and hockey.

After junior posts at Johannesburg General Hospital and Baragwanath Hospital, she went to the UK, in 1953. In London, she trained in pathology under J Henry Dible [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.149] at the Postgraduate Medical School, before switching to cardiology and nephrology as a registrar and a senior registrar in the department of medicine, where she was mentored by John McMichael [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.341].

In May 1958 she met Kenneth Fairburn Fairley, who was training at the National Heart Hospital. After a whirlwind romance, they married and relocated to Australia. Despite being highly qualified, she found it difficult to find work; at the time, married women doctors could not be employed at a university or a hospital. In 1961, after three years in Melbourne, she was offered a position at the University of Melbourne, as a senior associate in medicine. She stayed there for the rest of her career, becoming physician in charge of the renal unit at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, director of nephrology and, from 1975, professor of medicine. She retired in 1991.

One of her most important discoveries was establishing the link between the use of compound analgesics and kidney damage, now commonly called analgesic nephropathy. She successfully lobbied for restrictions on the availability of headache powders in Australia. She also described the features and treatment of many causes of glomerulonephritis, studied pre-eclampsia and renal disease in pregnancy, malignant hypertension, and reflux nephropathy and urinary infection. She was also involved in setting up the renal transplant programme at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

From 1986 to 1988 she was president of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, and from 1994 to 1995 president of the World Medical Association. She was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1975, and in 1988 became a Companion of the Order of Australia. The prestigious Professor Kincaid-Smith Oration was established in 1993 in recognition of her contributions to medicine and to the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

She and her husband also ran a 1,000-acre beef cattle farm 120 miles southwest of Melbourne, where they spent most weekends.

Priscilla Kincaid-Smith was survived by her husband, their twin sons, Stephen and Christopher, and a daughter, Jackie.

RCP editor

[ABC News 20 March 2016 – accessed 9 August 2017; The Royal Australasian College of Physicians Media Release Professor Priscilla Kincaid-Smith – remembering a medical icon – accessed 9 August 2017; BMJ 2015 351 4503 – accessed 9 August 2017; Kidney International November 2015 Vol 88 Issue 5 929-31 – accessed 9 August 2017; Encyclopedia of Australian Science Kincaid-Smith, Priscilla Sheath (1926-2015) – accessed 9 August 2017; Wikipedia Priscilla Kincaid-Smith – accessed 9 August 2017]

(Volume XII, page web)

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