Rebecca Legge

Monday, January 09, 2017

‘It’s not about willpower. It’s a chronic disease…’

A passionate advocate for people with addictions, medical doctor Rebecca Legge has devoted her life’s work to helping reduce suffering.

An addictions specialist who spends two mornings a week at Phoenix, she is the attending physician who sees everyone coming into treatment at least once, and, some, many more times than that.

“I do everything that would happen in a regular doctor’s office,” she says, noting that this includes screening for diabetes and cholesterol, managing chronic pain, dealing with diseases related to smoking and helping with depression and anxiety.

But while those might sound like a regular doctor’s duties, Legge knows that her work is more nuanced than that. “Phoenix is quite unique,” she says. “It’s definitely integrated in so many different ways.” The whole team looks not only at medical symptoms, but also social conditions, access to education, employment and housing.

For Legge, the reason the program works is because Phoenix focuses on the whole life and emphasizes the importance of community. “There’s a fundamental approach where the wellbeing of the individual and the wellbeing of the community need to be held in balance,” she says.

After completing her medical training nine years ago, Legge started working as a corrections physician, where, to her surprise, most of her job ended up being related to addictions. Eventually, she wrote her board exams and became certified as a specialist. “There’s such a vast need for addiction specialists,” she says. “The reason I love coming to work every day is that you never know what story it going to come for you. It could be as simple as someone who is overjoyed by being clean for one day.” She has been working with Phoenix for five years now.

Most of all, Legge believes that society has it wrong when it comes to how it perceives people with addictions. “People don’t want to struggle with addictions,” she says. “It’s not about willpower. It’s a chronic disease, like diabetes.”

By making the paradigm shift and by helping people who would otherwise fall through the cracks, Legge is using her medical training to make a difference.

“Everyone who works here shares the heart to be part of something that’s going to have a big, positive impact on other people’s lives.”