Richard Frank Rand qualified as Master of Surgery (CM) at Edinburgh in 1880, as a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (FRCS) in 1883, and as Doctor of Medicine (MD) at Edinburgh in 1889. He practiced briefly in the West Indies, where he survived an attack of yellow fever that impaired his hearing. In 1890 he served as medical officer to the Pioneer Column which occupied Mashonaland (in present Zimbabwe) at the instigation of Cecil J. Rhodes, and then served the Chartered Company's police in the same capacity. Later he was the first hospital surgeon of Fort Salisbury (now Harare). After returning to the Cape Colony he undertook another trip to Zimbabwe in 1897-1898, travelling by train to Bulawayo and by coach on to Harare. He collected plants around both towns and along the route between them. His specimens, with useful field notes, were presented to the British Museum (Natural History).
During the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) Rand served in the Medical Corps with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, but returned to Britain before the end of the war and obtained the Diploma in Public Health (DPH) at Cambridge in 1902. From September that year to July 1903 he resided in Johannesburg, collecting plants out to Witpoortjie in the west and as far as Greylingstad in a south-easterly direction. During this time he applied for registration as a medical practitioner in the Transvaal Colony. He presumably also made the geological observations on which he based a paper entitled "Some Transvaal eruptives", which appeared in the Geological Magazine (London) in 1905.
In 1908 Rand settled in Salisbury (now Harare) and collected plants until ill health caused him to leave in 1910. During World War I (1914-1918) he served in the South African Medical Corps and participated in the invasion of German South West Africa (now Namibia) by South African troops in April 1915. Shortly after the war, in 1919, he visited the territory again, travelling by train to Windhoek and L?deritz. Though he does not appear to have collected plants during this journey he studied the effects of wind erosion at L?deritz and published his observations as "Angra Pequena and subaerial denudation" in the Geological Magazine (1920).
In 1926 Rand returned to Zimbabwe on mining business. He appears to have spent most of his time at Miami (now Mwami, in Mashonaland West), where he practiced medicine and collected plants, though at the time he was also listed as a medical practitioner in Francistown, Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana). He spent his last years in England.
Rand was a pioneer plant collector in Zimbabwe and compiled detailed notes on the structure, fertilisation, seed dispersal and biology of plants in several regions of southern Africa. His notes were published in the Journal of Botany (London) under the title "Wayfaring notes..." and pertained to Mashonaland (1898, 1909, 1912, 1926), the Johannesburg area of the Transvaal (1903, 1904), and Great Namaqualand (Namibia, 1920). His plants were described in the same journal by several different botanists in 1899, 1900, 1903, 1911, 1912, and 1926, but many of the species thought to be new at the time have since been renamed. Species such as Moraea randii, Holothrix randii, Melhania randii, Buchnera randii, Lopholaena randii and Harveya randii were named after him. Most of his specimens are in the Natural History Museum, London, but there are some in the Albany Museum, Grahamstown, and in the Bolus Herbarium at the University of Cape Town.