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A Day In The Life Of VicHealth CEO, Dr Sandro Demaio

A Day In The Life

Dr Sandro Demaio is a globally renowned public health expert. You might recognise him from the ABC television show, Ask The Doctor, or his popular Instagram presence, where he’s been keeping us updated with informative and educational posts across the past two years of the pandemic.

The medical doctor-turned-advocate has a remarkably impressive resume behind him. He’s spent time at Harvard Medical School, and lived in Geneva while he worked for the World Health Organisation as a technical advisor and medical officer, before finally returning to Melbourne to take up the role of VicHealth’s chief executive officer in 2019.

Dr Sandro recently took us through a busy day in his life – where, in between leading the team at Victoria’s peak prevention and health promotion agency, he still finds time for passions like cooking and gardening!

8th April, 2022

VicHealth chief executive officer, Dr Sandro Demaio! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

He starts his day reading the day’s news, catching up on social media, and watering his lush garden! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Used to small, cramped European apartments from his time living overseas, now he makes the most the backyard every chance he gets, and takes pride in his veggie patch. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

It’s a peaceful start to the day reading before gets stuck into the craziness of his job in the CBD. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

He moved back to Melbourne after a decade living and working overseas in 2019 – just in time for the pandemic! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Christina Karras
Friday 8th April 2022

‘I lead a team of really passionate, fantastic people focused on keeping Victorians healthy – for as long as possible.’ – Dr Sandro Demaio

Before the pandemic, VicHealth chief executive officer Dr Sandro Demaio would get ‘blank looks’ whenever he told people he had a PhD in epidemiology. But two years later, his work and wealth of knowledge in public health is more important, and more respected, than ever!

Sandro initially thought he would be a rural-based GP, but ‘life had other plans’. His experiences delivering aid in Sri Lanka after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, working with patients across Victoria’s regional and metropolitan hospitals, and seeing the devastating impact of preventable diseases first-hand, all pushed him towards a career in public health.

‘At each turn along the way, I asked myself a question. Could I have a greater impact with the skills and opportunities I have been given doing what I do now, or something else?’ Sandro explains.

He left clinical medicine and undertook a Masters, then a PhD in Copenhagen. From there, he spent two years at Harvard Medical School, and three years working for the World Health Organisation to ‘support national governments around the world to respond to and address chronic disease’ through policy.

After 10 years overseas, Sandro was looking to return home to Melbourne to be closer to family and his partner, Liv, when the position at VicHealth came up. His job involves leading the team at the state’s peak health promotion foundation, which conducts vital research, works to prevent chronic disease in our community, and produces public campaigns to promote a healthier Victoria. Some of the agency’s current initiatives include The Big Connect, a major program to support young people’s mental health and forge new connections, while they’re also pushing to address food insecurity through healthy local food hubs.

‘VicHealth is leading the charge when it comes to post-pandemic health recovery,’ Sandro explains. ‘I strongly believe that health is a human right, and that everyone deserves a future that’s healthy. What gets me out of bed in the morning is the strong desire to contribute to the health and well-being of those around me, and across the world’.

FIRST THING

I wake up at 6:10am. The first thing I do every morning is make a long black coffee with a splosh (big splash) of cold milk. I normally function pretty well in the mornings, which is likely a leftover from my days of early ward rounds.

MORNING

I like the morning. It’s often a time when I will read the world news, catch up on social media, and water the garden.

The time I start work depends on the day. I spend three days in the office and two visiting partners, often in regional Victoria. Usually, I get into the office in Spencer St around 8am. I take the tram, or if it’s sunny I walk through Princes Park and take a call on the hour’s journey. Once in the office, I check in with my team and have another coffee and welcome any partners working in the Victorian Health Promotion Hub (VicHealth’s HQ) that day. Then I go over the major events and updates, before getting stuck into business.

LUNCH

The weeks are busy, so my lunch break often becomes another meeting. Sometimes I will grab some sushi, or a banh mi.

AFTERNOON

In the afternoons, I try to get half an hour to wander around the office and check in with the team. It’s a great way to learn more about the work, and get to know our incredible staff. It always gives me a huge amount of energy.

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He splits his week between VicHealth’s office on Spencer Street and travelling to visit partners across the state.  Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

‘As an agency, VicHealth is leading the charge when it comes to post-pandemic health recovery,’ Sandro says. VicHealth’s work spans from research, to intervention and campaigning. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

‘With an incredible team and working with a broad range of purpose-driven partners, my sole focus is delivering the best possible health outcomes with and for Victorians.’ Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

 

Sandro says leading VicHealth ‘has to be one of the best jobs around’. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

EVENING

I normally finish work around 7pm. I love to cook, so for me making dinner is part of my evening relaxation. My style of cooking is simple, seasonal and mostly Mediterranean. And after a decade in small European apartments, I finally have a veggie box. Spending time in the garden with my veg is one of my favourite ways to unwind.

I’ll normally binge something mindless on Netflix to help me switch off – at the moment I’m watching Is It Cake – before going to sleep around 10pm. I try to get around eight hours.

Right now I’m listening to/watching/reading…

Reading Alchemy and catching up on a few missed weeks of Gardening Australia. I’m also listening to the daily BBC World News podcast to follow the horrific events in Ukraine.

I get my best work done when…?

Early morning, with a strong coffee and a quiet house.

A philosophy I live and work by is…

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not” – Dr. Seuss.

My productivity tip/tool is…

Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today – often the anticipation of the task is worse than the task itself. Get started, and it usually begins to flow.

Something I learned the hard way is…

Life is less about what you achieve, and more about how you achieve it, as well as the relationships you build along the way.

What are you most proud of so far in your career…

The United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition.

‘The last two years have really brought into sharp acuity the critical nature and contributions of public health,’ Sandro says of the pandemic. ‘We’ve realised that prevention is a much better investment, than just relying on a cure. That a strong economy, starts and ends with a healthy population.’ Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net