Skip to main content

Informing and overcoming: Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang’s personal pandemic pivot


Her deliberate and methodical approach to navigating the pandemic has become familiar to Waterloo region residents.

What most people don’t know is Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang dreaded the spotlight and pushed aside her fear of public speaking to handle the public health crisis.

In an interview with CTV Kitchener, Dr. Wang explained she had a stutter growing up.

“People would hang up on me,” she said. “I couldn't get the words out over the phone. In person, they would walk away. You know they'd find it very funny and laugh.”

She said she never expected she’d end up having to speak publicly on a daily basis.

“That would have just scared me out of my mind,” she said.

Despite still struggling with a stutter, the demands of the pandemic overshadowed her speech concerns.

“It helped focus my energy on things I thought people would appreciate even if I wasn’t very smooth at speaking,” she explained.


Dr. Wang said for the first year of the pandemic, she regularly worked 16 to 18 hours per day.

“It was a difficult and unsustainable pace to be honest,” she said.

She said her breaking point came when Waterloo Region was not getting its fair share of the COVID-19 vaccine last year during the initial rollout.

“I didn’t even see it coming, but I broke down,” she said.

“I felt kind of like ‘I don’t know what to do,’” she continued. “With help from others I got over that.”

Asking for help and taking a break were things Dr. Wang said she had to adjust to.

“What I’ve discovered is that people want to help and those that are able to will,” she said.

Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang and her husband pose with a replica Millennium Falcon. (Submitted)

“If I don't take a real break, my brain will take a fake one and then I will be of no use to anybody,” she said, adding by overworking herself, she’s also setting a poor example.

Frequently during the pandemic, Dr. Wang thought of her late mentor Dr. Sheela Basrur. As Toronto’s medical officer of health, Dr. Basrur led the province through the SARS crisis. She went on to become Ontario’s medical officer of health from 2004 to 2006.

“What I learned from Dr. Basrur the most was the importance of trying to do the right thing and having integrity… the other things will fall into place,” Dr. Wang said.

Dr. Basrur died of cancer at the age of 51 in 2008 at Grand River Regional Cancer Centre in Kitchener.

“I have thought about what would Sheela do? How did she do in the past? And what can I learn from that,” said Dr. Wang.


Now, when she wants to escape, Dr. Wang says she turns to some of her favourite TV shows or movies.

“I am a big Star Wars and Marvel Cinematic Universe Geek,” she said. “My favourite show recently has been the Mandalorian and as my colleagues know I'm a big baby Yoda fan.”

Her husband also recently encouraged her to get into cycling, which she has come to enjoy.


While she said it's still essential people continue to adhere to public health measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, Dr. Wang believes the emergency phase of the pandemic is over. She considers this time a “breather period” and a chance to catch up on other public health issues, like childhood immunizations, that have been on pause.

“There's always work that we have to do, but yeah we are trying to pace ourselves,” she said. Top Stories

Stay Connected