Women in medicine: Angela Thomas and Isabella Pringle

Produced by:

The Women in medicine project showcases a number of today’s leading female clinicians and the women from the history of medicine who have inspired them.

Professor Angela Thomas is director of heritage and a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. A consultant paediatric haematologist at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh, and director of the haemophilia centre at the city’s Royal Infirmary, she is also vice chair of the UK government’s Commission on Human Medicines.

After qualifying in medicine from London’s St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical School in 1980, Angela trained in adult haematology, subsequently specialising in paediatric haematology. She was a fellow in molecular biology at University College London, and was awarded a PhD.

Angela Thomas is former president of the British Society for Haematology and was appointed honorary professor in the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh, in August 2015. She has a particular interest in congenital and acquired bleeding disorders, particularly in the context of non-accidental injury, and has published and lectured extensively in this area.

Ella Pringle was a clinician with a social conscience and keen eye for how to organise and improve services for patients. More than two decades before the establishment of the NHS, she developed and led one of the most comprehensive maternal and child welfare schemes in the country.

Angela Thomas on her inspiration Isabella Pringle

Dr Isabella Pringle (1876–1963) became, in 1929, the first female fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh since the institution’s foundation in 1681.

Born in Morningside, Edinburgh, Isabella Pringle was brought up by her mother, a widow, who was listed as the as the head of family in the 1891 census.

After several years in academic secretarial jobs, Isabella (often known as ‘Ella’) attended Edinburgh University, graduating with a medical degree in 1909 at the age of 33. Following training, she travelled to Manchuria to work as a medical missionary until 1916. 

Returning home, in part due to ill health, Dr Pringle developed a special interest in maternity and child welfare. On completing further residencies at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, she passed the Scottish DPH examinations and moved to Paisley, becoming responsible for the new maternity and child welfare scheme. Under her leadership, this scheme became one of the most comprehensive of its kind in Scotland.

Ella Pringle completed her MD in 1921 and, in 1925, passed the membership examination for the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. She then moved to the city to take up post as a senior assistant medical officer in the maternity and child welfare service. 

In succinct tribute following her death, a colleague wrote ‘Dr Ella Pringle was one of that devoted group of lady doctors in this country who pioneered and gave their all for the furtherance of maternal and child health’.