#ImmigrationMatters in Surrey, British Columbia – Racing to roll out vaccines

Racing to roll out vaccines

June 23, 2021

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Dr. Victoria Lee, President and CEO of Fraser Health

The COVID-19 pandemic is the largest and most challenging public health crisis in recent history. Dr. Victoria Lee, President and CEO of Fraser Health Authority in Surrey, British Columbia, is at the helm of pandemic preparedness and response, including the vaccine rollout in the region.

Fraser Health is one of five publicly funded healthcare regions in British Columbia. With more than 1.9 million residents across 20 communities, 32 First Nations communities and 5 Chartered Métis Nations, it is the most populous health-care region in the province. As CEO, Dr. Lee leads over 40,000 individuals she refers to as “Fraser Health Family,” including medical staff, other employees, and volunteers.

Dr. Lee describes her experience fighting the pandemic as a series of marathons and sprints. The speed at which her team of healthcare professionals moves reminds her of something in Korean culture known as “bali bali,” or “hurry hurry.” Far from needing to pace herself, Dr. Lee thrives at this tempo.

“There aren’t enough hours in the day to do what we need to do,” she says. “But at the same time, my team mobilizes and energizes me, minute-to-minute, day-to-day. We’ve accomplished an incredible amount together since the first COVID-19 case appeared over a year ago. We’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Originally from South Korea, Dr. Lee immigrated to Canada at age 12 with her parents and two younger siblings. Her parents had envisioned more opportunities for their children in Canada, a place where they could become whomever they wanted.

Dr. Lee’s interest in medicine was greatly inspired by her grandfather, an accomplished scientist in South Korea and a founding professor of the Department of Microbiology at Seoul National University.

“I grew up going to labs,” she says. “I was always interested in virology and microbiology. It was my playground, so to speak.”

Driven by a desire to make the greatest impact, Dr. Lee went on to pursue medical school at the University of Western Ontario, followed by a Fellowship in Public Health and Preventive Medicine at the University of Toronto. With additional postgraduate degrees in public health and business administration from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, she quickly became a leader in the field.

Dr. Lee joined Fraser Health over a decade ago as a Medical Health Officer to practice medicine in one of the largest and fastest-growing health networks in Canada. As Fraser Health’s first female visible minority CEO, she is proud to represent the diverse community she serves.

One of her first introductions at Fraser Health was Dr. Arun Garg, Medical Director of Fraser Health’s South Asian Health Institute. The two quickly bonded over their desire to make societies healthier. Dr. Garg praises Dr. Lee’s leadership skills throughout the pandemic: “She shows tremendous ability to bring people together with a clear direction.”

Mr. Vincent Lalonde, City Manager of the City of Surrey, is another long-time professional contact of Dr. Lee’s. “Dr. Lee values relationships and collaboration,” says Vincent. “She’s passionate about community, and always thinking of things that could improve well-being in the long-term.”

Dr. Lee is quick to credit residents of the Fraser Health region for their part in the pandemic response.

“We’ve achieved some extraordinary things during the pandemic. How people have come together, to engage and support one another, speaks to the strength and resilience of Canadian culture and society. Being Canadian is one of the things I’m most proud of.”

Immigration profile: Surrey, British Columbia

Quick facts:

  • Immigrants make up about 43% of the Surrey population. In 2016, India was the top country of origin of recent immigrants to Surrey (41%).
  • In Canada, immigrants make up 1 out of 4 health-care sector workers, including 36% of physicians, 23% of registered nurses, and 37% of pharmacists.

Did you know?

  • Almost 500,000 workers in the health-care sector are over the age of 55, most of whom will retire in the next decade or so. There’s an opportunity for immigrants to play an important role in ensuring Canadians have continued access to high quality care. Read more about what immigration does for our country.

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