Obituary: Dr Kathleen Wilson OBE

Nurse turned academic co-authored the defining textbook for healthcare students

Born: 25 June, 1922, in Castle Douglas.

Died: 2 March, 2010, on Deeside, aged 87.

DR KATHLEEN Wilson OBE was a remarkable nurse who almost died of diphtheria when her career was in its infancy but went on to achieve lasting renown with a nursing bible that continues to educate generations of healthcare students.

Many still have their copy of her best-selling textbook on their shelves, almost 50 years after it was penned by Wilson and her friend Jenny Ross. Even today's computer-savvy young trainees have blogged that it is a "nurse-essity", testimony to its straightforward, clear guide to anatomy and physiology

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She wrote a number of books during a distinguished career that saw her travel from the Borders to Africa, New Zealand and America, obtain a doctorate, edit a nursing journal and become a visiting professor. She was among the first to raise awareness within the profession of research into all aspects of nursing, urging and encouraging practitioners to consider and accept new methods and ideas – no doubt the product of her predominant characteristic, her determination.

But nursing alone did not define Wilson. She played the stock market, was a keen shot until her 70s, had a golf handicap in single figures in her younger days and loved fishing, tying her own flies. She was also an enthusiastic bridge player and had been known to instruct her younger relatives in the finer points of poker.

Wilson was born on a farm, Lochdougan, Castle Douglas, to Peter and Elizabeth Wilson, and was educated at Kirkcudbright Academy, leaving school in 1940 with qualifications in English, science, maths, geography and history. She began work as an auxiliary nurse at Moat Brae Nursing Home in Dumfries – the house whose garden inspired JM Barrie's Peter Pan. She had hoped to do physiotherapy but suffered a near-fatal dose of diphtheria that year. It affected her speech and partially paralysed her lower legs, and she needed nightly massages to regain feeling. Around the same time she also fell down some steps and cracked her skull.

However, she recovered to go on to complete her nursing and midwifery training in Edinburgh between 1942 and 1946.

Wilson then spent a year as a midwife at Simpson Memorial Hospital and six months as a district midwife in Edinburgh's Stenhouse before moving to London University College Hospital.

In 1948 she left for West Africa's Gold Coast, where she worked for two years as a sister in the Colonial Nursing Service, an experience she said she would not have missed. It was there she met Jenny Ross, with whom she was to write Anatomy and Physiology in Health and Illness, first published in 1963. Now in its tenth edition and with numerous reprints, it was the best-selling academic title in bookshops in 2005.

Her other publications include her PhD thesis A Study of Biological Sciences in Relation to Professional Nursing and Foundations of Nursing and First Aid, written with Ross in 1955. It covered the fundamentals of nursing from routine procedures such as bedmaking and disinfecting to how to deal with the most challenging emergencies, including poisoning and haemorrhages, and was later amended with new material more applicable to the demands of the profession in Africa.

When she returned to Scotland in 1950 she worked for six months as an unqualified tutor at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary before attending the Royal College of Nursing and then returning to tutor at the ERI. She rose to principal tutor at the Department of Nursing Studies at Edinburgh University. In 1960, while on the university's staff, she graduated with a BSc.

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During the 1960s Wilson travelled to New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia, through the Nuffield Foundation, and spent a year at the University of California.

In 1972 she became nursing liaison research officer for the West Midlands, an area, she noted, that covered five counties and served five million people. She was also the only nursing member of the Chief Scientist's Committee of the Department of Health and Social Security on policy making, responsible for granting research funds for England and Wales.

Wilson was also an examiner for nursing degree courses at Leeds and London and a member of the regional nursing training committee in the West Midlands but resigned a number of positions and retired in 1977, citing too many jobs, to edit the International Journal of Nursing Studies. In addition she was honorary senior research fellow at the University of Birmingham and a visiting professor at Leuven University, Belgium, with the World Health Organisation. However, her greatest moment was receiving her OBE for services to nursing.

She never married and retired to Peebles and later Aboyne, indulging until recently her lifelong love of fishing on the River Spey, with her brother Peter, who survives her.

Her niece, Jane Elvy, who valued her common sense, good conversation and humour, said: "She was a lovely woman, great fun and always pleased when I told her of yet another nurse I'd met who enthused about her anatomy and physiology book, often calling it a much-treasured 'bible', still on the bookshelf many years after they had qualified."

Eileen Frame, chair of Royal College of Nursing Scotland, said: "Dr Kathleen Wilson made a huge contribution to the education of nurses over the decades and nurses of all ages will associate her name with some of the core textbooks which formed the basis of our education."