BGS Presidents - Biographical Sketches: Robert Stout

Professor Robert W Stout

President, British Geriatrics Society, 2002-4

After qualification I had great difficulty in deciding my future career in medicine, mainly because I enjoyed all aspects of medicine.   I felt drawn to hospital medicine with an academic component.   I decided to start training in internal medicine as I felt that it would be good general training for whatever specialty I chose.   For a while I was attracted to cardiology and took registrar training in Belfast and Hammersmith Hospital, London, but I found that I missed the broader aspects of general medicine.  My research in Belfast, leading to an MD, was on diabetes and atherosclerosis.      I was fortunate to be awarded an MRC Foreign Educational Fellowship and went to Seattle, Washington, to work with Dr Edwin Bierman, a noted researcher in that field.   When I arrived there, I found that he had recently taken on the new (at least in the United States) specialty of gerontology, mainly as a research interest covering atherosclerosis and osteoporosis.   This stimulated my interest in ageing.   On returning to Belfast, I continued research in atherosclerosis as a British Heart Foundation senior research fellow and subsequently senior lecturer in Medicine, at Queen’s University, Belfast.

The chair and department of Geriatric Medicine in Belfast had been planned by Professor George Adams (second President on the BGS), and an honorary professor at Queen’s University.  He retired in 1974 and spent two years in Winnipeg before settling near Oxford.    The chair was advertised at this time and, based on my gerontology experience in Seattle, I applied and was appointed.    I had the task of establishing a new academic programme at a time when geriatric medicine’s future was in question, and when recruitment into the specialty was very low.    I established new teaching and research programmes and a postgraduate training programme.   These soon attracted excellent trainees, some of whom first came to do research and subsequently decided on a career in geriatric medicine.      For four decades, there has been a steady flow of high quality recruits into geriatric medicine in Northern Ireland so that all our hospitals have excellent services for the health care of older people, led by consultants who have made this their specialty of first choice   Their interest was often awakened by the four week clinically based teaching programme which is taken by all students in the Belfast medical school.   Many have also undertaken research leading to MD degrees. The research has resulted in multiple publications and theses and changes in medical practice.

I became increasingly involved in committees and administration in both hospital and university and in 1991 was elected Dean of the Faculty of Medicine in Queen’s University, the first member of the specialty to hold such a position.     During my ten years in this post I led the introduction of a totally new undergraduate medical curriculum and a new more focused research strategy, and presided over similar developments in dentistry, and the incorporation of nursing education into the university.   In all of these, I was helped and influenced by my academic and clinical experience in geriatric medicine.  I continued to practice, teach and research in geriatric medicine, although on a restricted basis.

My final post, also part-time and undertaken along with the chair, was Director of Research and Development for the Northern Ireland Health and Social Services.   I managed a research strategy and a budget for clinical research in all health and social care disciplines.    I represented Northern Ireland on many UK research bodies including the UK Clinical Research Collaboration, the Funders Forum for Research on Ageing and Older People, and the MRC Health Services and Public Health Research Board.

I have been a member of many national and international committees.   These included the General Medical Council 1991-2002 and of its Education Committee and the Royal Commission on Long Term Care, 1997-9.  I have chaired the committees governing postgraduate and undergraduate education  and research in my discipline, the Specialist Advisory Committee on Geriatric Medicine of the Joint Committee on Higher Medical Training, 1986-92, the Benchmarking Group for Medicine of the Quality Assessment Agency for Higher Education, 2000-2, and Main Panel B (Clinical Medicine) of the Research Assessment Exercise, 2008.

I retired on 30 September 2007.   I am now joint chair (with Professor Davis Coakley of Dublin) of the Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland (CARDI), established in 2007 to promote research in ageing and older people in the island of Ireland, and chair of the Stroke Association, Northern Ireland and a Trustee of the Stroke Association.   I was a member of a public inquiry into an outbreak of Clostridium difficile infection in hospitals in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust which reported in March 2011.