Priscilla Kincaid-Smith AC CBE

Citation for the award of the 1992 Sir William Upjohn Medal

Raised in South Africa Priscilla Kincaid-Smith migrated to Australia from the UK with her partner Ken Fairley in the 1950s. Successfully overcoming barriers that prevented married women from working in the public service, she was a world-renowned nephrologist and trailblazer for Australian female scientists.

Appointed first assistant in the Department of Medicine at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in 1967 she established the renal unit against considerable opposition as dialysis and transplantation were considered expensive and futile endeavours. She was also heavily involved in setting up the hospital’s renal transplant unit, her leadership of the program resulting in some of the best graft and patient survival rates in the world in the pre-cyclosporine era.

Awarded an MD from the University of Melbourne in 1968, she became the first woman to be appointed Professor at the University of Melbourne in 1975. Other breakthrough roles included the first female chair of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, first female chair of the Australian Medical Association and the first female (and first Australian) chair of the World Medical Association.

An outstanding clinician-scientist, she was also acutely aware of the needs of the disadvantaged and used her reputation and influence to advocate on their behalf. In Australia, her main fame came from her identification of the link between the overuse of headache powders Bex and Vincents and kidney disease in the early 1960s – at the time the second commonest cause of end-stage renal failure in Australia. Not content with simply publishing the science and changing clinical practice she led a scientific and political campaign that resulted in the banning of the sale of these compounds, and eventually to the virtual elimination of this disease in the country.

She was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1975 and a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1989. After retirement in 1991 she continued in private practice for another decade and took up a succession of leadership roles including the Ministerial Advisory Committee on AIDS, the Australian Medical Association Federal Council, the World Medical Association, and the Human Services Task Force for Women’s Health.