Stan was born in Glebe, Sydney, and attended Sydney Grammar School where he took first-class honours in English in his Leaving Certificate in 1931. He won an exhibition enabling him to study medicine at the University of Sydney. At university he was awarded a blue for hockey. He graduated with honours in 1939 and that year served as a resident medical officer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH).
With the outbreak of World War II, he enlisted at the end of 1939 and was called up to join the Australian Imperial Force in April 1940. He first served as a Regimental Medical Officer with the 1st Australian Pioneer Battalion at Tobruk in Libya, being part of the iconic ‘Rats of Tobruk’. Here, as a non-combatant looking after a battalion of 1500 men, he won a Military Medal for bravery under fire and was twice mentioned in dispatches. However, he was prouder of his 'Tobruk Rat' medal, made from scraps of metal from German planes and artillery by men from his battalion. His first medical article, published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 1942, described his Regimental Aid Post as a cave under a very old fig tree, near an ancient Jewish cemetery on the perimeter of Tobruk.
On his return to Australia in 1943, he was sent for special training at Duntroon, promoted to Major and deployed to oversee the medical care given to 25,000 Australian soldiers encamped between Darwin and Katherine in the Northern Territory. In mid-1944 he was sent to London, where he served as the Deputy Director of General Medical Services on the Australian Army Staff and as Medical Liaison Officer until many months after the end of the war. Through the many medical contacts he had made in London, he was able to help other Australian doctors serving in the armed forces to find civilian training positions at the end of the war.
During his demanding war service, in early 1944 he managed to sit and pass the examinations of the RACP in Sydney and then the examinations of the Royal College of Physicians in London later that year. In 1946 and 1947 he undertook postgraduate studies at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School in London. Here he commenced his career in gastroenterology, working as Senior Medical Registrar for Dr Sheila Sherlock in the academic department headed by Sir Francis Avery-Jones.
He returned to Sydney in March 1947 to take up an appointment as Honorary Assistant Physician in general medicine at RPAH, where he was to serve until compulsory retirement in 1980. He also started consultant practice as a general physician and gastroenterologist — but for all his years at RPAH, his honorary commitments took up at least half of his working week. He brought a Herman Taylor gastroscope with him from London, clear evidence as to where he saw his future career.
He was able to work closely with one of his mentors, Dr Bill (later Sir William) Morrow, who also wished to see the new specialty of gastroenterology develop. With funds garnered by Morrow from the Bushell Trust, the two were able to convince RPAH to allow them to establish a gastroenterology service, which began in 1949. Their aim was not only to provide a consultative and diagnostic service, but also to train future gastroenterologists and to conduct research. The service developed rapidly and soon became the model for similar units across Australia. Their service trained many future directors of those units.
Goulston somehow found time to be a productive clinical researcher, publishing seminal papers with colleagues on fulminant colitis and its management, less common causes of colitis, autoimmune liver disease and many other topics. He formed a very effective partnership with pathologist Dr Vincent McGovern for much of this work and in 1981 they published a textbook entitled ‘Fundamentals of Colitis’.
Goulston was a highly regarded clinician and teacher, noted for his thoroughness, empathy, respect for patients and students and, above all, for his humility. He was a role model for a generation of young physicians.
From an early point in his career, he gave much of his time to the RACP. He served first on the NSW State Committee and then as a member of Council from 1960 to 1976, Censor from 1960 to 1974, Censor-in-Chief from 1970 to 1974 and President from 1974 to 1976. As Censor-in-Chief, collaborating especially with Dr Bryan Hudson, he led a major reform of the College’s training programs and examination processes— reforms that still formed the basis of the systems in place in 2020.
He was also active with the Gastroenterological Society of Australia, playing a vital part in its establishment in 1959. That year he served as its inaugural Honorary Secretary and was President of the Society from 1963 to 1965.
Goulston served on the Australian Drug Evaluation Committee for 15 years and was chairman from 1976 to 1982, missing only two meetings in these 15 years and none as chairman. Beginning in 1947, he was involved in the work of Legacy NSW for decades and was eventually NSW president.
He gave up medical practice at the age of 79 but did not retire. Instead, he returned to his first love — literature. From a young age he wrote poetry, some published in the Medical Journal of Australia and a collection published under the title ‘Poetry for Pleasure’ in 2007. He used his love and deep knowledge of poetry and poets to conduct annual ‘Poetry Grand Rounds’ at RPAH for several years.
He enrolled with the English Department at the University of Sydney, where after three years of study and a major thesis he was awarded a Master of Philosophy degree at the age of 82. His thesis topic was ‘Humanities in Medical Education: The Place of Literature’. On the receipt of his degree, he explained to a journalist:
‘Science is concerned with the disease, the diagnosis, treatment and possible cure, literature with the meaning of the illness to the patient. Literature develops our sympathies and makes us feel something of what it is like to be ill or to be the relative of someone who is ill. It can help us in coming to terms with the emotions and conflicts which are raised in anyone caring for those that are ill, bereaved, dying and grappling with the meaning of life.’
Based on his studies, he was able to convince the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Sydney to offer an elective course on ‘Literature as a catalyst in medical education’, which he conducted for several years. The course was always oversubscribed.
Stan Goulston had a long and happy marriage to his childhood sweetheart, Jean Danglow. They were married in 1941, just prior to his departure for Tobruk. Their marriage lasted 65 years, ending with Jean’s death in 2005. They had known each other for 75 years. They shared a love of music, nature and gardening and Jean was a vital support to Stan throughout his career. She developed her own career and became an accomplished potter. They raised four daughters, Diana, Wendy, Sue and Sadhana.
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 — particularly in the field of gastroenterology.
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