Priscilla Kincaid-Smith was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1926. In 1946 she graduated from the Witwatersrand University with a BSc (Hons) before commencing a medical degree from which she graduated BM BS in 1950. During her time at university, she trained with the Olympic swimming team but gave up her sporting aspirations with the pressure of her studies.
After graduation, she spent 3 years at the Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg adjacent to the township of Soweto. Originally built as an Army hospital during WW2, in the early 1950s had over 2000 beds. Here, Dr Kincaid Smith saw ‘real medicine’ during what she described as ‘an exciting time’ in medicine. A time when newly introduced antibiotics transformed medical outcomes.
She left South Africa in 1953 to study pathology at post-graduate medical school at the Hammersmith Hospital, London. The following year, she began working with Sir John McMichael on the treatment of malignant hypertension, then a disease with an inevitable and rapidly fatal outcome, leading to one of her first papers in the Lancet in 1955.
In 1958, she met and married Dr Ken Fairley (studying cardiology in London). Dr Fairley was a Melbourne graduate from a very distinguished medical family which included his uncle Sir Neil Hamilton Fairley, a pioneer in malarial research.
The couple returned to Melbourne in 1958. Dr Fairley to a position at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, but Dr Kincaid-Smith found that "nobody wanted me. Married women were unemployable, virtually". However, she managed to find part-time research at the Baker Institute, then as a Senior Associate in Medicine at the University of Melbourne (1961 to 1965), a full-time Associate in 1967. In 1975, she became Professor of Medicine, the first woman to hold a professorial position at the University of Melbourne. During those early years, she had 3 children, twins who subsequently became physicians and a daughter, a veterinary surgeon.
In the early days in Australia, she became intrigued by the condition, which she later recognised as a nephropathy caused by excessive analgesic usage. She campaigned exhaustively to eliminate the ready availability of these preparations. In 1964 she took a trip overseas to look at the transplant programs. In 1967, she set up a successful program at the RMH (there were still only a couple of dialysis machines available). The results were published in The Lancet, reporting an extraordinary 80% success rate.
By this time, Professor Kincaid-Smith had an established international reputation enhanced by her presidency of the International Society of Nephrology from 1972 to 1975. In 1976, she became the first female councillor of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), and in 1986, 48 years after its inauguration, she became the first female president of the RACP (1986 to 1988) — a process which she later described to be "like a papal ballot" and that "I got in by a very narrow majority, by one, I think, but I made it!".
In 1991, with the compulsory retirement age for academics being 65, she retired, continuing private practice and research activity.
Professor Emerita Priscilla Kincaid-Smith died, aged 88, in 2015.
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