Obituaries: Anne Lambie: Doctor who revolutionised care of kidney disease patients

Dr Anne Lambie. Born: 13 October, 1928 in Glasgow. Died: 23 April, 2023 in Edinburgh, aged 94

Brought up in Troon, Ayrshire and Hale, Cheshire, Anne Lambie always had a particular love of horses, perhaps inherited from her father, a veteran of the Ayrshire Yeomanry. Anne decided in childhood that she would be a doctor. The approaching end of the Second World War threatened to bring a surge of applications to medical school, so she applied early and gained entrance to Edinburgh University aged only 16. Few of her sex obtained places in those days, but she stood out even further when she graduated top of her year with the prestigious Ettles Prize at the age of 21. Had she been a man she would have anticipated a smooth ride to a consultant post in her teaching hospital.

Her first shock came when she failed to be appointed to the house physician post in the new NHS that she was expected to get. She realised that being better than her male colleagues would not be enough – she needed “a wee racket”.

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She worked hard in her house jobs and news of her intelligence led to her getting a junior post with Dr (later Sir) Derrick Dunlop. Within three years she had obtained membership of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of both Edinburgh and London, again being the youngest of the relatively few candidates who managed to pass these difficult examinations.

Anne Lambie pictured with her beloved horse JazzAnne Lambie pictured with her beloved horse Jazz
Anne Lambie pictured with her beloved horse Jazz

She then won a scholarship which allowed her to sail to Boston in the United States to work with the renowned physician, Dr Arnold Relman; there she saw what her wee racket would be.

The recent Korean war had stimulated development of emergency treatments, among them being a means of supporting those soldiers with injuries leading to kidney failure.

The new artificial kidney was introduced to Boston and Anne became familiar with its ability to pull patients through what was otherwise a fatal condition. After two years of research, she returned to Edinburgh University as a lecturer, still young, still female, but now with her racket – knowledge and experience that few others had in the UK.

The two hurdles made her seniors reluctant to take her advice initially, but soon they realised that she was invaluable and she joined Dr Jim Robson at the Royal Infirmary when they obtained the first dialysis equipment in the UK, to set up the acute renal unit.

She was to lead this for the rest of her career, although it was some years before she was recognised by the NHS as a consultant; this led to another first – she was the first person to be elected a Fellow of the Edinburgh Royal College of Physicians from a lowly lecturer post.

In the 1960s Anne and her team were pioneers in revolutionising the care of people with kidney failure, a usually fatal condition. She was also a pioneer in developing the concept of a multidisciplinary team, of doctors, nurses, technicians and dieticians, to look after the range of needs of their patients.

To work well and effectively in medicine requires not only intelligence but also the personal human qualities of empathy, tolerance, industry, and a sense of humour – Anne had all these. She needed them especially when her team confronted the tragic outbreak of viral hepatitis that threatened the continuation of dialysis in Scotland before the risk of its transmission by blood was realised. She was also a popular teacher of students and graduate doctors, a sympathetic listener, and someone who cared equally for her patients and her junior colleagues. She was an exceptional role model for young female doctors in particular.

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Anne retired at 60. She had married her colleague, Howard Davies, a consultant haematologist who had also been an Ettles prize-winner. He had already retired and they had a daughter, Sarah who was working as a veterinary surgeon and pathologist.

Anne had jumped all the hurdles put in the path of a female doctor and had won international recognition in her field. She wanted more time with her family and, having always had a horse and continued riding when she could throughout her career, with horses.

The time and effort she had devoted to medicine was now spent in the Pony Club, especially teaching riding to children and judging dressage. She is remembered there as ‘always having something encouraging to say to every child’. She also contributed much effort into fundraising for the new development at Easter Bush of Edinburgh University’s Veterinary School. She continued these activities into her 80s, still riding her beloved Jazz at 89. Howard predeceased her in 2003. She leaves her daughter, Sarah, and sister, Margaret, a retired physiotherapist.


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