Priscilla White (physician)
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White was born in Boston, Massachusetts and graduated from Quincy High School. She attended Radcliffe College before transferring to Tufts University Medical School, where she graduated third in her class. At the time, Harvard Medical School did not accept women. She served her internship at Worcester Memorial Hospital.
She joined the practice of Elliott P. Joslin in 1924 and was immediately assigned the care of children with diabetes. She felt her greatest contribution to the field of diabetes was her work delineating the heredity, stages and treatment of type 1 diabetes, “although the pregnancy work was more spectacular.” White wrote Diabetes in Childhood and Adolescence in 1934, and played an integral role in the establishment and operation of The Clara Barton Birthplace Camp for Diabetic Girls, often driving 65 miles to reach the camp after a full day of work.
She began her pioneering research on pregnancy in the late 1930s and soon showed the importance of strict blood glucose control and early delivery in ensuring the healthy delivery of newborns. In 1949, she introduced the White Classification of Diabetic Pregnancies, which classified patients according to their level of risk and tailored their treatment protocol accordingly. Levels of risk were determined by age at onset, duration, presence of atherosclerotic vascular disease and renal complications. In 1968, she added proliferative retinopathy to the risk factors. This classification was widely adopted and allowed doctors to partially predict the course of a woman with diabetes during pregnancy and the chances of newborn survival.
White advocated the importance of close supervision during pregnancy by a small obstetric and diabetic team, a concept that is still practiced today at the Pregnancy Clinic, a joint collaboration between The Joslin Clinic and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
When White began working at Joslin, the fetal success rate was 54 percent; when she retired in 1974, it would be over 90 percent. During her 50 years of work, White managed the deliveries of over 2200 women with diabetes and the supervision of some 10,000 cases of type 1 diabetes. After her retirement, she continued to work on the emotional problems of young people with diabetes.
She was the first woman to be invited to give the Banting Memorial Lecture and to receive the Banting Medal, the highest scientific award of the American Diabetes Association. Hobart and William Smith College cited her as one of the 12 outstanding women physicians of the world.
White died of a heart attack on December 16, 1989.
- Priscilla White Golden Anniversary Booklet, 1975