This article was written by our partner Douglass Hanly Moir Pathology.
Dr Ben Armstrong is a proud Melukerdee and Pinterrairer man. Hailing from the small town of Nubeena, in South-Eastern, Tasmania, Ben is the second known Aboriginal pathologist in Australia, and the only Aboriginal microbiologist. He works for Douglass Hanly Moir Pathology, pathology partner for Sydney WorldPride, and spoke to us about the intersectionality of being Aboriginal, gay and a doctor.
First of all, what does a microbiologist do?
Microbiologists are specialist pathologists who look for tiny organisms that cause infections, including bacteria, fungi and viruses. Microbiologists work with medical scientists, who perform different scientific tests to diagnose infections so they can be treated. The job of the microbiologist is to review and fine-tune each result from a medical perspective, making sure it’s as useful as possible to each patient and their treating doctor. We look for STIs, urine infections, fungal disease, COVID-19 and other viruses. We really cover all types of infections.
Did you always know you wanted to become a pathologist?
I was always interested in science and health, and pathology is the perfect blend. It was something I loved, but growing up, I didn’t really know that becoming a doctor was an option, so I studied to become a medical laboratory scientist at uni. Later on, when one of my classmates transferred into med, I realised that maybe I could follow the same path. After a lot of hard work, I’m very lucky to be able to care for my community.
What does it mean to you being the first Aboriginal microbiologist?
People don’t realise how important it is to have role models growing up. When I grew up, I didn’t know any Aboriginal people in the health professions, but I was lucky that my maternal grandmother, a Scottish Australian, was a nurse and a great role model. If you grow up not knowing anyone who has a profession, then it’s not even on your radar as something you can pursue. These days, I am lucky to know a lot of Aboriginal doctors, and for their kids, it’s totally normal to consider becoming a doctor. I would love other Aboriginal people to see me and think ‘oh, maybe I can become a doctor too.’
Other than your day-to-day role as a microbiologist, what other professional involvement do you have with the LGBTQIA+ community?
I do lots of work on public policy relating to STIs for state and federal ministries and different committees. This includes the Blood Borne Viruses and Sexually Transmitted Infections Standing Committee (BBVSS), which is developing the national strategies and policies for STIs and blood-borne viruses.
You are a regular at Fair Day, but this was your first one as a volunteer. What was that experience like for you?
The Fair Day crowd is always like this writhing, chaotic sea of gorgeous figures, bouncing around with such beautiful energy. It’s such a happy event and everyone is having a great time. Everyone is comfortable in their own skin. That’s not something we feel everywhere, but at Fair Day you are surrounded by people who you know will just accept you.
Being on the other side this year was a lot of fun. We were there to promote a positive health message, reminding people of the importance of getting tested for STIs. Particularly in the age of PrEP (HIV Pre Exposure Prophylaxis), getting tested as a primary part of protecting sexual partners is even more important than before. It was lovely to see all those smiling faces lining up for temporary tattoos and badges, and waiting to get a photo in the photobooth.
It was also great to have fun with some really important health messages like ‘Stay safe. Get tested’, or ‘Test. Play. Repeat.’ – which is really important for PrEP users. The international visitors seemed to really enjoy the Aussie ‘Get tested down under.’