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University Lecturer in Anatomy, 1964-92


Dr Pamela MacKinnon joined the Department of Human Anatomy as University Lecturer in 1964, having moved to Oxford in 1961 with her three children after the death of her husband. Prior to this, she had embarked on a career in medicine, gaining one of just six annual places for women on the pre-clinical course at King’s College London, during the Second World War. After qualifying (M.B., B.S., Lond, 1948) she did her house jobs in Chest and Gastrointestinal medicine at King’s College Hospital in London. In 1950, she was given a Demonstratorship in Anatomy at the Middlesex Hospital and later a Lectureship at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine. Her main scientific interests at this stage of her career, including her Ph.D. thesis, were in the effects of stress on various physiological functions. To further this field of work, she spent 23 days at the top of Mont Blanc with six others, studying the effect of acute high-altitude stress on body fluids.

In 1964, Dr MacKinnon commenced a Tutorial Fellowship at St Hilda’s College, becoming the College’s first Medical Fellow and Tutor, and also her University Lecturership in Anatomy. In doing so, she became only the second woman appointed University Lecturer in the Department of Human Anatomy, the first being Dr Alice Carleton. She later also became an 'Extraordinary' Lecturer in Anatomy at New College, whose statutes at PamelaMacKinnonhigherres.jpgthat time did not provide for women. Her own basic research was mainly on the brain mechanisms involved in the control of sex hormones. A clinical application of this work was achieved when, after she had assisted Professor G W Harris in setting up a metabolic laboratory at a local hospital, it became possible for her to study the effects of mental illness and drug treatments on pituitary gland activity. In the Anatomy department, where teaching commitments encompassed Endocrinology as well as gross anatomy, her work was supported by the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust; a Royal Society exchange visit to Hungary was followed by sabbatical leave spent in Professor B Hálász’s Neuroendocrine department in Budapest, working visits to the United States, and a lecture tour of South African universities. At Oxford, she was also elected to a number of university committees, including an appointment as a Delegate for Military Instruction. In the medical school, her particular contribution, (the MacKinnon Committee), moulded the then entirely departmentally based courses into six largely cross-department courses for the first two preclinical years, a profound change from which the school still benefits. She retired in 1992.

In 2005, Dr MacKinnon, together with co-author Professor John Morris, published a seminal Oxford Textbook of Functional Anatomy which continues, with their recent revision, to form the basis of gross anatomy teaching at Oxford and other Medical Schools. There are three volumes - “Musculo-sketetal System”, “Thorax and Abdomen” and “Head and Neck”. Despite fighting a long battle with Parkinson’s, Dr MacKinnon and Professor Morris completed the revision of their textbook in the latter years of her illness.


This profile has been compiled with thanks to St Hilda’s College for "Obituary for Dr Pamela Mackinnon, M.B.B.S. (London), 1948; Ph.D. (London), 1957; M.A., 1964, Fellow, R. Soc. of Medicine; Fellow & Tutor, St Hilda's, 1964-92; Emeritus Fellow, 1992 – 2009.", prepared by Dr Jane Mellanby, December 2009, with Dr Barbara Levick.