Lives of the fellows

Rachel Mary Rosser

b.9 October 1941 d.10 July 1998
MB BChir Cantab(1967) MA(1967) MRCP(1970) MRCPsych(1973) PhD(1980) FRCPsych(1983) FRCP(1985)

Rachel Rosser was one of the leading psychiatrists of her generation, establishing post traumatic stress disorder in the public mind following the King’s Cross fire. She started life in Coventry during the blitz and grew up in great poverty. Her talents took her to King’s High School, Warwick, where she was consistently top of her class, and then to Newnham College, Cambridge, as a scholar. She qualified as a doctor at St Thomas’s. Her subsequent medical career took her to the medical schools and hospitals of Guy’s, the Maudsley, Queen Elizabeth Birmingham, King’s College, Charing Cross and UCL/Middlesex.

Before entering psychiatry she gained her membership of the College, and as a psychiatrist she was both deeply versed in pharmacology and in psychotherapy, where she had developed her skills with the help of a personal analysis. She effectively combined these different disciplines for the benefit of her patients.

Her widest clinical impact came with the setting up of a stress clinic after the King’s Cross fire. This clinic, which at its peak had more than 1,000 victims on its registrar, subsequently supported patients from the Marchioness and Lockerbie disasters.

Her research interests were similarly widespread and derived from the problems faced by her patients and their doctors. At the widest level this involved pioneering with her husband in 1960s a now well-established subject, Quality of Life Assessment. She also did research in more traditional areas such as evaluating the success of psychotherapies, pharmaceutical regimes and psychosomatic approaches. Again she had a wide impact on the aftermath of disasters, establishing post traumatic stress disorder clinically and in the public mind. She wrote powerfully and simply about the way victims should be handled and the impact on the healers.

She was very conscious of the limits of traditional medicine. She took early retirement from University College London to take time to explore new ideas for helping patients. At her death she was at an advanced stage of planning a research unit in Norwich to explore the ideas of multi-faith health and healing, with a view to establishing where benefits could be best obtained from a wide range of practices. She was well known internationally amongst leaders in this area and she had discussed her ideas with and received support from Mother Teresa.

She cared passionately about all she undertook. Her care for patients and all those around her, and her entertaining lively personality disguised her brilliant mind. She is survived by her husband, Vincent Watts, the vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia, and two children, Ben and Hannah. She died following an accident at her home.

Vincent Watts

[Brit.med.J.,1998,317,821; The Times 18 July 1998; The Independent 21 July 1998; The Guardian 24 July 1998; The Daily Telegraph 23 July 1998]

(Volume XI, page web)

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