William Russell, psychiatrist, qualified as Bachelor of Medicine (MB) and Bachelor in Surgery (ChB) at the University of Edinburgh in 1910 and as Doctor of Medicine (MD) at the same university in 1915. Meanwhile he had moved to South Africa and in November 1913 was appointed as relieving medical officer at asylums. The next year he was registered to practise in South Africa and appointed at the Pretoria Mental Hospital (now Weskoppies Hospital). He was promoted to physician superintendent of the Potchefstroom Mental Hospital (Witrand Institution) in 1922 and was still there in 1926.
In 1935 Russell succeeded J.T. Dunston* as part-time professor of psychiatry and mental hygiene at the Medical School of the University of the Witwatersrand, a post he held until 1945. From about 1939 to 1945 he also held a government appointment as 'Commissioner of mentally disordered and defective persons'. He was a member of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science and was president of Section F at the association's annual congress held in Windhoek in 1937. His presidential address, 'The evolution of psychiatry', was published in the South African Journal of Science (1937, Vol. 34). By this time he had been awarded a doctoral degree in psychiatry (D Psych).