The face of the public health response to the coronavirus in Waterloo Region, Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang has been the acting medical officer of health for the past three years. Now, regional council wants to drop the “acting” part.
The region last week named her commissioner of public health and emergency services, indicating it would be applying to the Ministry of Health to have her appointed as the permanent medical officer of health.
Wang was born in Taiwan and immigrated to Canada when she was five years old, growing up in the province of Quebec, where she did her formal education and medical schooling. Bilingual, Wang attended medical school in Quebec City. She joined the region in 2004 as associate medical officer of health.
What attracted Wang to the world of medicine was the desire to contribute. However, a specific intrigue prompted her into the public health sector.
“Public health often looks at measures to help prevent disease from occurring or to try to mitigate further disease. And I do like working on the prevention side… there are other physicians that are very talented and capable [of] treating patients and taking care of them when they’re ill, and obviously we need them very much, but I liked working on the on the prevention side, and public health does do a lot of prevention,” she said of her role in the region.
Wang also enjoys the collaborative aspects of her career. “I also liked working with others. In public health [it] is a profession where you do have to work a lot with other people, because it’s necessary in order to put in place public health interventions that are effective, you need to work with other health care partners often.”
Her career path eventually brought her to this part of the country.
“I found that Waterloo Region was really one of the nicest communities I’ve ever been in. And the more that I am in Waterloo Region, the more I become attached to it. It is a special place because the people here are very special.”
During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wang described her daily workflow as “challenging” and even went as far as to say it was “relentless at times.”
“I know other people have found it really hard because they’ve had their lives disrupted by the societal measures that we’ve had to put in place and people have had to [endure] sacrifices, because of those measures… I was just going day by day, trying to do the best that I could,” she explained.
When Wang isn’t addressing press conferences and connecting with other sectors in her position, she is an introvert that enjoys drives, reading and film. Her latest favourite show is Star Wars’ The Mandalorian, seeing as she is a large “sci-fi geek.”
When she can catch a break, Wang has plans to explore the wider area.
“I’m a fairly quiet person. I do love travelling, so I travelled a lot before COVID,” she said, noting she’s looking forward to getting to know other parts of Ontario. “That’s the kind of vacations that I’ll be doing in the near- to midterm – just driving around Ontario.”
For now, she’s busy with the pandemic and moving into her new title.
“I would like to try to build on the good work that’s been done in our public health departments, and then the paramedic services … and work to make those services even stronger and more resilient for the future.”
Wang’s appointment was welcomed by regional Chair Karen Redman, who said she is pleased with the decision. “Hsiu-Li is well-known and highly respected in this community and she has done an exceptional job safeguarding the health of residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.”