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Norman Dott (1897-1973)

As the NHS celebrates its 70th anniversary, we take a look at the life of Professor Norman Dott, who helped establish the University's neurology department in 1960.

Norman Dott
Norman Dott by Sir William Hutchison, © The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh

Norman Dott was born in Edinburgh on 26 August 1897, the third of the five children of Peter McOmish Dott, a picture dealer based on George Street in the New Town, and Rebecca Morton.

Changed ambition

He was educated at George Heriot's School and originally intended to pursue a career in engineering. However a serious motorcycle accident on Lothian Road hospitalised him and left him with a permanent leg injury that rendered him unfit for service in the First World War. The long spell in hospital re-inspired Dott and he changed his ambition to focus on medicine rather than engineering. So he enrolled to study Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, graduating MB in 1919.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1923, before receiving a Rockefeller Travelling Scholarship, allowing him to travel to America to study further in Boston under pioneering brain surgeon Professor Harvey Williams Cushing. 


In 1932 Dott began lecturing at the University of Edinburgh, and in 1947 was given a professorship in neurosurgery (one of the first in the world). Meanwhile, he also worked in Edinburgh's Sick Children's Hospital and conducted private brain surgery.

In 1938 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and during the Second World War he set up a specialist brain injuries unit near Edinburgh. He was then made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for this work in 1948.

A first for the NHS

In 1960 he set up the University's Department of Neurosurgery at the Western General Hospital, one of the first such facilities under the umbrella of the National Health Service, and became the first Chair of Neurological Science. The department included a world-class ward, theatre and rehabilitation facilities, much of which Dott helped design.

In 1962 he was made a Freeman of the City of Edinburgh, while the University awarded him an honorary doctorate (MD) in 1969. The Royal College of Surgeons of Canada made him an Honorary Fellow in 1973.

Norman Dott retired in 1963, and died in Edinburgh on 10 December 1973. A portait of him still hangs at the Western General Hospital.

Cataloguing his notes

The Wellcome Trust-funded project, 'Cataloguing Norman Dott’s neurosurgical case notes (1920-1960)' builds on the work of two previous projects to ensure long-term preservation of the Norman Dott's case notes, and will open up the research potential of this material.

Find out more

Related links

Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences