Dott was born in Edinburgh in 1897 to art dealer Peter McOmish Dott and his wife, Rebecca, and was the third of five children. Norman showed considerable flair for design and engineering and was apprenticed to the local engineering firm of McTaggart Scott & Co after he left George Heriot’s School. However, a motorcycle accident in Lothian Road in 1913 led to a leg injury and a spell in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Although the injury was to affect him for the rest of his life, Dott became fascinated by hospital life and entered the University of Edinburgh to study medicine, where he graduated M.D Ch.B. in 1919.
Following Edinburgh-based surgical appointments, teaching and research, Dott was awarded a Rockefeller Travelling Fellowship in 1923, spending a year with American neurosurgery pioneer Professor Harvey Williams Cushing (1869 - 1939) in Boston. In the same year, he was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. The next stage in Dott’s career saw him become Honorary Surgeon at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children whilst at the same time working in private practice as a neurosurgeon. Dott used a nursing home in Edinburgh’s New Town for neurosurgery on private patients, to which he and his team had to transport their instruments by taxi or private car!
Dott worked throughout his life for neurosurgery to be recognised and funded as a medical specialism in Scotland. Finally, 1938 saw the first patients enter Scotland’s first dedicated neurosurgical ward, the Department of Surgical Neurology in Ward 20 of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, where Dott had been given limited bed-space and theatre time since 1931. During the Second World War, Dott set up the Brain Injuries Unit in Bangour General (Emergency Medical Service) Hospital in Broxburn, West Lothian. Working with two neurology teams to treat both civilian and service casualties, he was awarded a C.B.E for this work in 1948.
Never giving up on his ambitions to obtain world-class ward, theatre and rehabilitation facilities for neurosurgery, Dott helped to establish the Department of Surgical Neurology at the Western General Hospital in 1960, taking a leading role in the design of operating theatres, notably including a reflector vaulted roof that avoided shadow falling on patient and surgeon. Dott spent only a brief time in the Western General Hospital before he retired in 1963. In the previous year, he was honoured as a Freeman of the City of Edinburgh and was made Emeritus Professor at the University of Edinburgh. He died in the city in December 1973 survived by his wife, Peggy, and only daughter, Jean.