Eileen de Villa is speaking out to promote her career

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s public health chief, taking leave of absence for medical treatment.

“The person who says they are not suffering anymore is a liar,” says Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s public health chief. “For my condition, I have not been suffering for the last five years.”

“I am a different person,” says de Villa, a psychiatrist, who has been unable to work in public health for six months because of chronic insomnia, stress, and fatigue. “I still wake up and think I have to go to work. I still check my email every few days.”

“I am in pain,” says de Villa, 45, as she walks from the city’s largest emergency room to its largest outpatient clinic, a six-storey building near the University Hospital. She says she often wonders how she will find time to get through her days, much less time to complete a doctorate in community mental health.

“I am no longer the person I was four years ago,” says de Villa, who has been a Toronto doctor since the late 1990s. “I still have to make it as long as I can to be a public health practitioner.”

De Villa is speaking out because the public does not appear to know exactly what she does, or whether it even matters. Public health practitioners are generally recognized as experts in communicable diseases by their patients, but not their broader communities. And in fact, de Villa is not the first public health professional to experience health and personal challenges that have left her feeling demoralized and powerless.

She is also speaking out to promote her own career in order to raise awareness of the challenges facing public health professionals — and the broader public health community — and to ensure that public health’s future is as healthy and prosperous as its past.

Her story is a reminder that the future of public health is uncertain for many local, national, and international public health practitioners.

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