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Biographical entry Sherlock, Dame Sheila Patricia Violet (1918 - 2001)

DBE 1978; FRS 2001; Hon FRCS 1989; MB ChB Edinburgh 1941; MD 1945; MRCP 1943; FRCP 1951; MRCP Edinburgh 1957; FRCP Edinburgh 1958; Hon FACP 1966; Hon FRCPC 1972; Hon FRCPI 1978; Hon FRACP 1984; Hon FRCP&S Glasgow 1986.

31 March 1918
30 December 2001
Liver specialist and Physician


Dame Sheila Sherlock was a distinguished liver specialist, and the UK's first female Professor of Medicine. She was born in Dublin on 31 March 1918. Her father was Samuel Philip Sherlock and her mother was Violet Mary Catherine née Beckett. Educated at Folkestone County School for Girls, she went to Edinburgh University to read medicine. There she played tennis for her university, and supported herself by working in the vacations as a waitress and a tutor in a crammer. When she graduated in 1941 it was summa cum laude and with the Ettles scholarship.

She was appointed clinical assistant to James Learmonth and went on to be house physician to John McMichael at Hammersmith, also a former Ettles scholar. McMichael taught her the technique of liver biopsy and with this she went on to win a gold medal for her Edinburgh MD thesis on acute hepatitis. She was awarded a Rockefeller travelling fellowship to Yale in 1947 and on her return was appointed lecturer and honorary consultant at Hammersmith at the age of 30.

Soon her liver unit became a fountain of research and internationally famous. In 1959 she was appointed Professor at the Royal Free Hospital, the first woman to become a Professor of Medicine in England. There, despite (at first) rickety accommodation, her research output continued to be profuse, including studies on the role of the hepatitis B virus in cirrhosis and liver cancer, of autoimmunity in primary biliary cirrhosis, and the value of corticosteroids in its control. She 'retired' in 1983, but went on working indefatigably.

She married the distinguished physician Geraint James in 1951. They had two daughters, Amanda and Auriole. Honoured by innumerable universities all over the world, she was created DBE in 1978 and FRS in 2001. Sheila Sherlock trained a whole generation of future hepatologists, to whom she was both mother figure and role model. An excellent tennis player, an enthusiastic supporter of the Kent County Cricket team, as well as Arsenal, she had a powerful and stimulating personality. She died on 30 December 2001 from pulmonary fibrosis.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 2002 324 174, with portrait; The Independent 8 January 2002].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England