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Dr Jennifer McCaughan Obituary

We sadly record the death of a dear friend and former research fellow Dr Jennifer McCaughan.  The following obituary is published with the kind permission of Professor Peter Maxwell MD, PhD, FRCP and the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh.


Dr Jennifer Anne McCaughan MRCP Edin       

Born: 15 December 1982

Died: 7 December 2021

Specialty: Nephrology                                                                           

Designatory Letters:

MBChB (Hons) Edin 2006, MRCP Edin 2009, MRCP (UK) Nephrology 2012, PhD 2015,  

FRCPath (Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics) 2019                                                   

Menander’s epigram, “Whom the gods love die young” is sadly true of Jennifer McCaughan, a newly appointed consultant transplant nephrologist at the Belfast City Hospital and director of the Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics Laboratory in Belfast, who has died aged 38 from metastatic cancer. 

Dr McCaughan graduated with honours in Medicine in 2006 from the University of Edinburgh, receiving the Scottish Association for Medical Education Prize for the most distinguished woman graduate of the year. Her early promise translated into a rapid career progression. She started clinical training in Northern Ireland and obtained the MRCP(UK) in 2009. In 2010, she was appointed to an Academic Clinical Fellowship and started her higher specialist training in renal medicine, passing the RCP Specialty Certificate, now known as MRCP(UK) Nephrology, in 2012.

As a research student at Queen’s University Belfast, supported by a Kidney Research UK fellowship, Jennifer focused on longer term complications related to kidney transplantation. She designed elegant experiments that explored the genetic background to new onset of diabetes after a transplant. Her original discoveries of the genetic variants that predispose to this were published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, one of more than 30 scientific papers that she published during her career, some written during her final illness.

During her PhD studies, Jennifer became interested in histocompatibility and immunogenetics (H&I), the science underpinning transplantation. A bespoke training plan was developed for her and supported by the Northern Ireland Kidney Research Fund. She completed her PhD in 2015, moving back to Scotland to train in H&I at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh and Gartnavel Hospital in Glasgow, and passing the first part of the FRCPath (H&I) examinations in 2016. She managed to compress the usually prolonged period of H&I training into just 3 years. This included moving to Toronto for a year’s combined clinical nephrology and H&I laboratory fellowship with Dr Kathryn Tinckam, a formative experience that really broadened Jennifer’s understanding of both the art and the science of transplantation.

Returning to the UK in 2018, Jennifer juggled the twin demands of completing the last months of her specialist training in nephrology whilst sitting the final examinations to attain the FRCPath (H&I) qualification. She thus became uniquely qualified to lead a scientific laboratory and to practise nephrology, something never previously achieved in the UK. Later that year, Jennifer was appointed to her final senior posts. She immediately set about reforming practice with her typical fierce force of nature, tempered by the kindness and humility she had shown throughout her training.

Jennifer was an astute clinician, talented researcher, effective leader, gifted teacher, and a most generous friend. She had a very broad range of interests outside of her medical career and actively supported her church and local community. She was at the very start of a career that promised great achievements when her cancer was diagnosed in 2020. Despite her terminal prognosis, and the challenging side-effects of palliative treatment, Jennifer continued to work and support her H&I laboratory and renal unit colleagues. In every aspect of her life, it was Jennifer’s strong Christian faith which defined all that she did and all that she was.

She is greatly missed by family, friends, colleagues, and patients, but we are all the better for having known her.



Professor Peter Maxwell, MD, PhD, FRCP

5 January 2022