Lives of the fellows

Dorothy Isabella Vollum

b.7 November 1935 d.28 April 2015
MB BS Lond(1960) DCH(1964) MRCP(1965) FRCP(1979) MSc(2000)

Dorothy Vollum, a consultant dermatologist at Lewisham Hospital, London, was a respected career clinician, psychotherapist and counsellor in retirement, a lover of travel and music, and a woman of deep faith and spirituality.

Born in Oxford, Dorothy was evacuated with her mother and brother to Canada in 1940, when she was five, returning four years later to what she described as ‘the tedium of school’, where she was cheered by her love of music and art – loves that stayed with her throughout her life. Inspired by her father, Roy Lars Vollum, a bacteriologist, she felt a vocation to be a doctor from an early age. Overcoming personal illness, including asthma, she trained at St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical School, gaining the undergraduate Brackenbury scholarship. She qualified MB BS in 1960, and gained a diploma in child health in 1964 and her MRCP in 1965. She was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1979.

During the 1960s she held appointments at St Bartholomew’s, the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, Osler Hospital, Oxford, Whittington Hospital, St John’s Hospital for Diseases of the Skin and King’s College Hospital. During this time she was involved in paediatric dermatology and also developed an interest in the dermatological complications of drug addiction.

In 1971 she worked for a year at Mulago Hospital, Kampala, Uganda, and was an honorary lecturer at Makere University, gaining experience of skin disease and leprosy, with a particular interest in pityriasis rosea and pellagra. She was at very short notice evicted from Uganda at gunpoint during the regime of Idi Amin, an experience she seldom spoke about, but which was traumatic and had a profound effect on her. To her great credit, she was delighted, if a little apprehensive, to return to Uganda in 1981, sponsored by the Nuffield Trust, to give a course in dermatology and venereology. The hospital in which she was based was built to high specifications, but had little electricity and water and virtually no medical supporting services; even essential drugs were in short supply. Petrol costs were so high and wages so low that staff could not always afford to come in to work. There were, however, some enthusiastic medical students and Dorothy was able to pass on her considerable knowledge and give some clinical support to the Russian doctor who had succeeded her.

In 1977 she spent some time as a visiting professor in dermatology at the Nemazee Hospital, Shiraz, Iran, and in 1985 she was invited to be a visiting consultant at the Bakhsh Clinic in Saudi Arabia, where, as a woman, she could be a respected dermatologist, but could not go out to buy essentials unless she was covered from head to toe and accompanied by a man.

From November 1972 until May 1995 Dorothy worked as a consultant dermatologist at Lewisham Hospital, running a unit for the treatment of skin disease, seeing about 2,800 new patients a year and developing special interests in contact dermatitis and the management of leg ulcers. She gained a reputation for hard work, but was not always the easiest person to work for – she expected very high standards from her staff and colleagues. She was an excellent clinician and fair, gaining people’s trust and respect, and is still remembered with great affection by many.

Dorothy wrote and co-wrote a significant number of papers and case reports, based on her work and experiences in the UK and overseas.

Although Dorothy retired as a consultant dermatologist, she never really stopped; she lived life to the full, working, learning, supporting others and striving to excel in all she did. Latterly she studied counselling and psychotherapy, starting with a pre-counselling course in 1989, going on to gain an MSc in integrative psychotherapy in June 2000, with a particular interest in depression, anxiety, self esteem, loss and bereavement. During her training she was described by her supervisors as ‘conscientious, committed and thoughtful’ with ‘an ability to tune into the emotions and beliefs’ of her patients. Her interests and training in this field were broad and reflected her thirst for learning and her very open mind. She studied concepts such as image-work and psychodrama, as well as more traditional cognitive therapies and gestalt. She was accepted as an honorary psychotherapist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust in October 2004.

Dorothy was a committed Christian who nurtured her spirituality and took great comfort from her religious beliefs. Through her faith she met many great friends with whom she shared both spiritual and social times, creating mutually cherished memories.

In addition to her time spent working and teaching in Uganda, Iran and Saudi Arabia, Dorothy loved travelling, often with fellow dermatologists, enjoying the mix of culture, hospital visits, lectures and friendship. She also enjoyed a number of faith-based pilgrimages.

Dorothy was a regular visitor to Skyros holistic holiday centres in Greece and Thailand, attending either one or the other and sometimes both every year over a period of about 20 years. She loved the atmosphere and particularly enjoyed being a client in the gestalt group therapy sessions. She made special and lasting friendships during her visits to Skyros. Perhaps her empathy as a psychotherapist came both from her medical experiences and from her years of involvement in personal therapy.

Dorothy had a passionate interest in music, being a competent pianist, though her real love was singing. She had professional singing lessons and sang in a small choir. She also regularly attended opera and choral concerts, enjoying the music and the social aspects of these events. Dorothy never stopped learning; she had German lessons until she was too weak to continue, interested in both reading and speaking the language.

Although she never married and had no children of her own, she was a devoted daughter, sister, aunt and great-aunt and had many friends. She lived a rich life despite personal illness, using her own experiences and faith to provide support, friendship and comfort to others. She will be remembered for her contribution to dermatology, her wisdom, generosity, great ability to listen and for her laughter and friendship.

Karen Trem

(Volume XII, page web)

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