Priscilla Kincaid-Smith Oration

Priscilla Kincaid-Smith Oration on Health

The Priscilla Kincaid-Smith Oration on Health honours the life and work of Professor Priscilla Kincaid-Smith AC CBE, and the impact clinician scientists have on health in society.

Professor Priscilla Kincaid-Smith was an internationally renowned specialist in kidney disease, a pioneering leader in research and clinical care, a fearless patient and public health advocate, the first female professor at the University of Melbourne in 1975, and a mentor to many. She is well known for discovering the link between compound analgesics—such as Bex powder and Vincents powder—and kidney damage, and her research on renal disease and efforts to prevent renal failure.

Read more about Priscilla Kincaid-Smith here.

2023 Priscilla Kincaid-Smith Oration on Health

Oration Synopsis

The 2023 Priscilla Kincaid-Smith Oration on Health was delivered on Tuesday 7 March by Ms Keran Howe, titled: Lived experience, practice, policy and research: The adventures of a disability advocate. This address suggests the need for an understanding of multiple ways of knowing if we are to be effective in creating change in the way we view disability and address social inequity.

About the Orator

Keran Howe OAM is an Independent Advisor to the National Disability Research Partnership and former Executive Director, Women with Disabilities Victoria. Keran has a social work background and lived experience of disability. She has been a leader in health and disability over many years advising national and state governments on policy reform related to women's health, violence prevention and the rights of people with disabilities. A Churchill Fellow, Keran has Chaired Women with Disabilities Australia and the Victorian Disability Advisory Council and Co-Chaired the National Disability and Carers Advisory Council. She is currently a member of the National Disability Research Partnership Working Party.

Her professional roles have included Manager of the Social Work Department, Royal Women's Hospital and Executive Director, Women with Disabilities Victoria.

Keran has been awarded a Centenary Medal, the Lesley Hall Lifetime Achievement Award and the Order of Australia Medal for her work on behalf of people with disabilities and has been inducted to the Victorian Honour Roll for Women.

Keran continues to work for the human rights of people with disability as an advisor in related areas.

About Priscilla Kincaid-Smith

Priscilla Kincaid-Smith was a world-renowned nephrologist and a trailblazer for Australian female scientists. Her story is filled with remarkable achievements in science and medicine that defied the gender inequity entrenched in Australian society at the time.Priscilla Kincaid-Smith

Raised in South Africa, Priscilla migrated to Australia from England in 1958 with dual qualifications as a physician and pathologist. Priscilla overcame barriers that prevented married women from working at a university or hospital in Australia, all while opening doors that were previously closed to women.

Priscilla joined the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and secured research positions at the University of Melbourne and Baker Institute. She was also made an Honorary Physician at the Queen Victoria Hospital.

After several years, Priscilla was appointed Director of Nephrology—a speciality that did not exist during her training—at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, where she served for almost 25 years before taking up the same position at Epworth Hospital. She also worked as a Physician in Nephrology at the Royal Women’s Hospital for 15 years.

Priscilla achieved an extraordinary series of firsts throughout her career. She became the first female Professor at the University of Melbourne and Faculty in 1975, the first female President of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1986, the first female Chair of the AMA in 1990, the first Recipient of the AMA’s Woman in Medicine award, and the first female and Australian Chair of the World Medical Association in 1994.

Priscilla’s most important medical accomplishment came from discovering the link between compound analgesics—such as Bex powder and Vincents powder—and kidney disease in the early 1960s. This was the second prevalent cause of end-stage renal failure in Australia at this time and affected women the most, as these painkillers were predominantly marketed towards women.

She spent years working on recognising the epidemic, defining the nature of the disease, conducting experimental studies, and lobbying for restrictions on the availability of analgesics. This work played a significant role in bringing about policy change, and by 1977 these analgesics were banned in Australia.

Priscilla was also recognised as a pioneer for her research on renal disease and efforts to prevent renal failure, including setting up the renal transplant unit at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

Priscilla was an outstanding figure In Australia and internationally. She established strong links with international organisations, including serving as the President of the World Medical Association and the International and Australasian Societies of Nephrology.

Her work was driven by a strong belief that doctors should actively engage with governments to deliver and improve health services. She was a persistent leader for women and a strong advocate on health issues beyond her speciality area, such as the availability of safe abortions. Priscilla was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to medicine in 1975 and inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women in 2001.

Priscilla Kincaid-Smith’s significant accomplishments over her lifetime laid the groundwork for future generations of female medical practitioners, but she also achieved so much more beyond this. She was an extraordinary figure whose work as a physician, researcher and leader advanced Australia’s position, and the University and Faculty’s position, within the international medical community.