Australia’s first known pathologist of Aboriginal and Australian South Sea Islander descent
Dr Anna Eastman is a histopathologist at Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology, Toowoomba. She was awarded Fellowship of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA) in 2018 and is Australia’s first known pathologist of Aboriginal and Australian South Sea Islander descent. She explains how she ended up following a career in pathology after starting a family.
“I was always interested in working in the medical field, but I ended up doing other things when I left school. I decided to get married and start a family and also began studying for a business degree. It wasn’t until I was 30 that I started my medical degree when I started to think more about the future and what I really wanted to do.
“When I was a medical student, I did a clinical placement that included a component of microbiology which I really enjoyed – that was what got me interested in pathology! At university we also had a number of pathology tutorials which I found really fascinating so I started to look into this as a potential career option. It was around my fourth year of medical school that I started to make some enquires into pathology, which is what brought me to where I am today. I think one of my career highlights is the moment I received my Fellowship from the RCPA; knowing that I was the first graduate that was of Aboriginal and Australian South Sea Islander descent was a very proud moment.
“In general, I would say a lot of students don’t know enough about pathology to consider it as a career option. You really don’t have any idea of what goes on in a laboratory until you’ve actually been in one. People don’t realise that pathology plays such a big part in the clinician’s decision making and patient care. We are involved in regular multidisciplinary meetings in which clinicians, surgeons, oncologists, radiologists and pathologists are making decisions on treatment plans for patients. This is a great part of the role.
“The lifestyle component was also really important for me – there are a lot of specialties where you don’t work regular hours and you have to be on call. Having already had a family (I already had three of my four children when I finished medical school) that wasn’t really an option with me. Even though the work I do is fascinating with no two days the same, I find that I have a very good work-life balance. I would really recommend any prospective trainees try and spend some time in a laboratory to find out more about what is involved,” said Dr Eastman.
As well as working as a histopathologist at Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology, where she reports across all areas of histopathology with a special interest in gynaecological pathology and dermatopathology, Dr Eastman sits on the RCPA Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Maori Health and Workforce Steering Committee. This Committee enacts the College’s commitment to achieving health equity for the Indigenous peoples of Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand and includes representation of Indigenous pathology fellows, trainees and doctors from both Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.
One of the roles of the committee is to grow the Indigenous Pathology workforce by promoting and supporting Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Māori tertiary students, doctors, scientists and dentists to participate in the College training programs, educational and professional activities. It also promotes mentoring programs, Indigenous health scholarships and research opportunities for RCPA Indigenous trainees.
“Through my position on the committee and being someone who has been through the training program and graduated from the College, I feel I can provide support and mentorship for other Indigenous trainees coming through the system. We have funding available for trainees who are of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Maori descent to facilitate mentoring, and attend conferences etc. so it is important that trainees know this is available to them,” said Dr Eastman.