Goulston, Stanley

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MB BS 1939 MD 1983 MPhil 2004 FRCP FRACP

Stanley (Stan) Goulston, together with Sir William Morrow, played a fundamental role in establishing the first gastroenterology unit in Australia, the Department of Gastroenterology at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, in 1958. He was also the first to introduce a Literature option into the Medical Faculty of the University of Sydney.

Stan was born in Glebe, Sydney in 1915 and attended Sydney Grammar School. He matriculated in 1932, gaining entry to study Medicine with an Exhibition. In 1939, he graduated from the Medical Faculty with honours, and went on to complete his Residency at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

With the outbreak of World War II, he enlisted in the AIF in May 1940. He first served as a Registered Medical Officer with the 1st Australian Pioneer Battalion in Palestine and Libya, then with the Northern Territory Force until 1943, and eventually even in the United Kingdom and Europe. Stan’s war service was specifically mentioned in despatches and in 1942, he received the Military Cross for his service in the Middle East.

After the War, he engaged in postgraduate studies and was appointed Senior Registrar at the British Postgraduate Medical School in London until 1947.

Stan returned to Australia in August that year to work at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital as Honorary Assistant Physician (becoming Honorary Physician in 1960). At the same time, he began tutoring and then lecturing later-year medical and science students within the Faculty. From 1950, he also consulted at Ryde Hospital.

In 19581 Stan and Sir William Morrow initiated the Department of Gastroenterology at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, the first such hospital unit in Australia. This early unit formed collaborations between the surgeons and other practitioners to develop medical programs for patients suffering from gastric illnesses.

Many key papers on the research by the new group were published during this time. Stan published several papers with Professor Vincent McGovern in the field of Gastroenterology, in particular on acute and chronic hepatitis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, ischaemic colitis, pancreatitis and functional disorders. Stan also published widely on issues of medical education.

Stan was active with the Royal Australian College of Physicians and was a Member of Council from 1960 to 1976; Censor from 1960 to 1974; Censor-in-Chief from 1970 to 1974 and President from 1974. He was also active with the Gastroenterology Society of Australia, playing a vital part in its establishment in 1959. That year he served as their inaugural Honorary Secretary and was President of the organisation from 1963 to 1965.

Later in his career, Stan began to pursue a lifelong interest in literature and its role in Medicine. He says, “I always believed literature imparted a necessary balance to the overwhelming progress of science in medical education,” and that “beyond diagnosis and treatment, doctors need to understand the emotions and issues of being human.” Stan’s own life and love of reading provided him with an understanding of how we deal with grief, love, suffering, dying and even addiction. His extensive knowledge of literature enabled him to choose literary examples that would help to engender such an understanding in his students. Stan wrote and introduced an option into the medical course entitled Literature as a Catalyst in Medical Education, an eight-week option with weekly seminars. The students were provided with a selection of outstanding literature to read from “world sources of novels, essays, poetry and drama” as a catalyst for discussion of issues pertaining to being a medical practitioner. Just some examples of the topics covered in this initial course were: Suicide, The Pros and Cons of Ageing, Death and Dying, Drug Addiction, Aboriginal Health, The Meaning of Suffering, Giving and Receiving Bad News, The Role of Narrative in Medicine, and Susan Sontag’s Illness.

For reading material on drug addiction for example, extracts were taken from Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, from Thomas de Quincy’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, from Eugene O’Neill’s play Long Day’s Journey into Night, and Michael Dransfield’s poems Fix, Still Life with Hypodermic, and Notes for an Inquest. Feeling that not only his students but his colleagues too could benefit and be inspired by literary input, Stan offered a poetry reading as part of a Grand Round at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. His colleague Yvonne Cossart recalls:

The theatre for Stan Goulston’s first ‘poetry’ Grand Rounds was packed. Former colleagues and students turned out to support his experiment, more from personal regard for a much admired physician than interest in literature. Then Stan began to read from modern poems expressing feelings of loss, despair, joy and reconciliation experienced by doctors as participants and bystanders in the drama of life. The discussion of the readings was fitful, emotions have little place in ordinary medical meetings, and a subdued audience dispersed afterwards to their afternoon tasks. Over weeks and months the impact of that session grew and further invitations to Stan to return to Grand Rounds followed. He has convinced many of the value of poetry in medicine.

In 1980, Stan was made a Member of the Order of Australia and in 1987, Officer of the Order of Australia for his services to medicine, in particular in the field of Gastroenterology.

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Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Goulston, Stanley. Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.

An alternate version appears in: Mellor, L. 150 Years, 150 Firsts: The People of the Faculty of Medicine (2006) Sydney, Sydney University Press.