October 1727 entered the university of Edinburgh. Being at that time intended for a commercial life, he remained only a year at Edinburgh, and was then sent to Amsterdam to gain a knowledge of business. While living there he paid a visit to Leyden, and heard a lecture on medicine by the celebrated Boerhaave, which so impressed him that he determined to devote himself to medicine. He accordingly entered on that study at Leyden, having among his teachers Boerhaave and Albinus. While a student he made the valuable friendship of Van Swieten, afterwards the eminent professor of medicine at Vienna. He graduated M.D. on 20 July 1730, with an inaugural dissertation ‘De Marcore Senili’ (Leyden, 4to), and completed his medical studies at Paris. On returning to Scotland, Pringle settled down as a physician in Edinburgh. A few years later, in March 1734, he was appointed joint professor of pneumatics [metaphysics] and moral philosophy, and regularly lectured on these subjects, taking the opportunity, it is said, strongly to recommend the study of Bacon.
This appointment did not prevent Pringle from continuing to practise medicine, and in 1742 he received a commission as physician to the Earl of Stair, commander of the British forces on the continent, being also appointed physician to the military hospital in Flanders. He did not resign his Edinburgh professorship, but was allowed to perform the duties by deputy. Pringle went through the German campaign, and was present at the battle of Dettingen (27 June 1743). The retirement of his patron, the Earl of Stair, did not retard his promotion, for in 1744 he was made, by the Duke of Cumberland, physician-general to the forces in Flanders [see Dalrymple, John, second Earl of Stair]. On receiving this appointment he finally resigned his professorship at Edinburgh. In 1745 he was recalled to attend the forces sent against the Jacobites; and, accompanying the Duke of Cumberland to Scotland, was present at Culloden. In the two years following he was with the British army on the continent, and returned in the autumn of 1748, on the conclusion of peace.
Pringle now settled in London, with a view to practice, but continued to hold the post of physician to the army, and attended the camps in England for three seasons. On 5 July 1758 he was admitted licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians, and on 25 June 1763 was chosen a fellow speciali gratia (as not being a graduate of Oxford or Cambridge). Numerous honours were bestowed upon him by the royal family. In 1749 he was made physician-in-ordinary to the Duke of Cumberland, in 1761 to the queen, and in 1774 received the highest court appointment as physician to the king, who in 1766 conferred upon him a baronetcy. Pringle married, on 14 April 1752, Charlotte, second daughter of Dr. William Oliver [q. v.] of Bath, but his wife died a few years later, without issue.
While practising with great success in London, Pringle attained a position of great influence, especially in scientific circles. Having been made fellow of the Royal Society, and having several times served on the council, he was, on 30 Nov. 1772, elected president. In this capacity he did much towards maintaining the prosperity of the society by encouraging scientific research in various departments. The annual award of the Copley medal for scientific research gave him the opportunity of commenting on the value of the investigations honoured with that prize in a series of six discourses, which were afterwards published. Among their subjects are themes as various as Priestley's researches on different kinds of gases, Nevil Maskelyne's observations on the force of gravity in the mountain Schehallion, and Captain Cook's account of the means by which he kept his crews free from scurvy. Although the last only was cognate to Pringle's own field of work, he discussed all of them with great learning and much discrimination. Pringle's scientific eminence was recognised by his being chosen, in 1778, in succession to Linnæus, one of the eight foreign members of the Academy of Sciences at Paris, and by numerous similar distinctions conferred by other scientific bodies in Europe. He was intimate with most eminent scientific men of his time, such as Priestley, Maskelyne, and Franklin, and with some literary celebrities. Sir Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck and his son, the biographer of Johnson, were his friends by hereditary connection, and his good offices were employed in reconciling the differences between father and son. Dr. Johnson, however, could never be prevailed upon to meet Pringle. The objection was probably not personal nor political (though Pringle was a staunch whig), but due to a want of sympathy in theological views. Pringle was a great student of divinity (and even, through Boswell, sought Johnson's advice as to his reading in this subject), but ultimately he became a ‘rational Christian’ or unitarian, a form of belief very distasteful to Johnson.
In 1778 Pringle's health was beginning to fail, and he felt compelled to resign the presidency of the Royal Society. In 1781 he removed to Edinburgh, intending to reside there permanently; but, finding the climate