It is not easy to make it big especially for an immigrant. It is not easy but it is not impossible. With hard work, perseverance, prayers and a little bit of luck, Dr. Eileen de Villa did just that. She was still a little kid when her parents, who are both doctors themselves, moved to Toronto, Canada in 1975 to avoid the martial law in the Philippines. Now, she is Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health tasked with maintaining the well being of Toronto’s 2.8 million residents.
Dr. de Villa’s never forgets her parents’ teaching. “I was raised in a household where the general teaching was, ‘You’ve been a very fortunate person; you’ve been afforded a great opportunity.’ And the expectation is to give back,” de Villa says.
After Dr. de Villa completed her bachelor of science at McGill University in 1990, she was still unsure if she would follow the footsteps of her parents and pursue a medical career of her own. Still undecided, she got an internship with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization in Vienna. It is through this internship that she grew her interest in international health.
She went on to pursue a master’s degree in health science at the University of Toronto. Already decided to pursue a medical career, she went on to finish her medical school at University of Toronto in 1998. She did not stop there as she obtained her MBA at the Schulich School of Business at York University before beginning her residency, specializing in public health and preventive medicine.
As part of her residency, she was assigned in the head office of Toronto Public Health where she met her role model and mentor, Dr. Sheela Basrur. Dr. Basrur was Toront’s medical officer of health at the time. Dr. de Villa finished her residency in 2004 and was quickly appointed as one of Peel region’s associate medical officers of health. She held the position for a decade and that is where she started to build a name for herself.
More than being great in her job, she maintained a pleasing personality as well. “She’s extremely courteous to people. That comes out in terms of careful listening to what people are saying, and their perspective. She asks lots of questions, which demonstrates that she really wants to understand,” says Dr. Megan Ward, one of her colleagues at Peel.
Fast forward to 2017, Dr. de Villa is now Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health. She oversees a department of 1,800 people and is given a budget of $245 million to spend on various services. These services include research and development of medicines and vaccines, ensuring food quality, and enforcing health regulations across Toronto.
“She knows Toronto backwards and forwards, knows and understands the city’s diversity, knows and understands the social inequality issues,” says Councillor Joe Mihevc. Councillor Mihevc chairs Toronto’s board of health and led the appointment of Dr. de Villa as the new medical officer of health last April 2017. “What really impressed the selection committee is her focus on a science-based approach to public health,” he added.
As medical officer of health, “[I have] the great fortune of being able to work professionally in an area that actually is about city building and community building,” says Dr. de Villa. “To me, that is not a responsibility that stops when the work day is done.”
Photocredit: Google / Toronto Star