Black History Month - pioneering neurologist Dr Risien Russell

Dr James Samuel Risien Russell (1863-1939) was a Guyanese-Scottish neurologist who is credited with being among the first black British consultants. Modern medicine benefits from his scientific contributions to the understanding of the human brain and nervous system, including his pioneering work in identifying SACD (subacute combined degeneration of the spinal cord).

He also enhanced understanding of mental health, and frequently clashed with psychiatrists as he advocated for treatment at home, instead of in the prevalent institutions of the time.

Dr Risien Russell was born in former British Guiana to a Scottish plantation owner and his wife, who was of African descent and of whom little is known.

As a teenager, he was sent to Scotland for schooling, eventually graduating from the University of Edinburgh in 1893. He worked in junior roles at the Royal Brompton Hospital, Nottingham General and the Metropolitan Hospital before moving to the National Hospital for Neurology, where he worked for 30 years. There he played a defining role in British neurology, rising to management board level.

An English Heritage blue plaque has been erected for Dr Risien Russell at the site of his home and private practice.

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