Joan Acheson was a former clinical research fellow and honorary consultant in the department of medicine, Manchester Royal Infirmary, and a consultant adviser in clinical computing to the Manchester Central Hospitals and Community Care NHS Trust.
Born Joan Barnett, the eldest of three children of Ernest Barnett, a pottery manufacturer, and Eva Barnett née Hodgkinson, a housewife, she was educated at Orme Girls’ School, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire. Training in medicine was a goal of hers from childhood, and she graduated from the University of Birmingham Medical School in 1951. After undertaking house jobs at Birmingham General Hospital, she was married in 1953 to a fellow graduate of the medical school – Harold William Kennedy Acheson (‘Bill’).
Following the birth of their son David William Kennedy Acheson in 1955, Joan Acheson strove to balance the life of a young mother with the life of a career physician. This took her down a clinical research path with a primary focus on the aetiology and pathogenesis of strokes. Joan worked as a clinical assistant at North Staffordshire Royal Infirmary, then as a research assistant in the department of neurology at the same hospital from 1953 to 1964, before becoming a British Heart Foundation research fellow in the department of neurology, North Staffordshire Royal Infirmary from 1964 to 1970. During this period, she published several articles in The Lancet and the Quarterly Journal of Medicine and co-wrote a monograph on strokes entitled Strokes: natural history, pathology and surgical treatment (London, Saunders, 1975).
Despite a growing and successful career in neurology in Stoke-on-Trent, Joan moved to Manchester in 1970 when her husband took on a new role in the newly-established department of general practice at Manchester University. Following the move, Joan’s career took a totally different path with a focus on renal medicine, initially as a research fellow in the department of medicine, Manchester Royal Infirmary under the guidance of Douglas Black.
In 1977, Joan became part of the Married Women’s Training Scheme and launched into a new clinical career, gaining her MRCP in 1980 at the age of 54. She continued at Manchester Royal Infirmary as a registrar, then a senior registrar in renal medicine, becoming an honorary consultant in the department of medicine, Manchester Royal Infirmary, in 1986.
Throughout Joan’s tenure at Manchester Royal Infirmary, and on top of her clinical focus, she was an avid support of the greater use of computers in medicine. Joan, while not a computer programmer in any way, had a unique insight from a systems analyst perspective of how to streamline the collection, handling, trending and use of information to improve patient care, patient time management and ultimately better use of NHS resources. This passion for the use of computers in medicine led Joan to become a consultant adviser in clinical computing to the Manchester Central Hospitals and Community Care NHS Trust in 1989, a role that she stayed engaged with until she was in her late seventies.
During her medical career, Joan Acheson strove to strike a balance between being a mother and an outstanding physician who gained an MD as well as becoming a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. Her patients remember her for her practical advice, wise approach to managing difficult clinical decisions and her wisdom on how to balance the complexity of chronic disease that required continuous medical interventions.
Outside of medicine, Joan Acheson had many other interests. She took a leadership role at the Orme Girls’ School, where she went to school, and was on the governing body for many years, serving as chairman and vice chairman as the school moved from being an endowed school to independence. She always had a great fondness for fell walking and, after leaving clinical medicine, moved full time to the Lake District with her husband Bill, where they enjoyed their passions for gardening, fell walking and embroidery. Joan moved to Montana in the USA in June 2019 to be closer to her son who lives there. She died peacefully in Kalispell, Montana a month later.
David William Kennedy Acheson