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Dame Kate Campbell DBE

Dr Kate Campbell was the first person to demonstrate a link between blindness in premature babies and oxygen levels in humidicribs.

Honour Roll

Kate Campbell was born on 22 April, 1899, in Hawthorn, Melbourne. Her father, a Scotsman, was a shipping clerk while her mother, whose parents were Scots, had been a school teacher.

Campbell won a scholarship to attend Methodist Ladies College and then another which enabled her to study Medicine at the University of Melbourne. Other notable women in her class were Lucy Bryce and Jean McNamara, also scholarship recipients. As one of the top twelve students, she went to the Melbourne Hospital where she immediately encountered discrimination as women were not allowed to do casualty duty.

Campbell wanted to become competent in midwifery and so applied for a position at the Royal Children's Hospital. However that hospital did not take female residents as it did not have facilities for them. Nevertheless one senior doctor, Sir William Upjohn, felt that Kate and Jean McNamara were two of the most outstanding residents at the Melbourne Hospital, so he spoke to the Board.

After Kate had worked there for a while, she was overlooked for a promotion so she resigned and went to the Royal Women's Hospital. She also set herself up as a General Practitioner in 1927, while still working at the hospital. Until her resignation in 1934 she was the hospital's expert on the care of premature babies. She designed incubators which used hot water bottles to keep the babies warm. From 1937 she was a consultant pediatrician while also lecturing at the University of Melbourne (1929-65) in neonatal paediatrics. Kate was also involved in Baby Health Centres through her good friend, Dr Vera Scantlebury.

In the late 1940s the Queen Victoria Hospital became Melbourne's first major hospital to liberalise visiting hours when Kate and others introduced free visiting in the children's wards.

In 1951, Kate observed that since methods of oxygen administration had improved in the neonatal nurseries, more babies were suffering from blindness known as retrolental fibroplasia. After looking into it she published her findings in the Medical Journal of Australia. Later more research was conducted which proved her theory correct and she received worldwide acclaim. She was awarded an OBE for her work and was joint winner of the inaugural Encyclopaedia Britannica award for medicine in 1964.

Kate died in Melbourne on 12 July 1986.