Dr Leana Wen, MD (2007)
It was as a Rhodes Scholar that Dr Leana Wen came to Merton as, in 2007. She completed two master's degrees whilst at the College, one in Economic and Social History (2007) and the second in Modern Chinese Studies (2008). Prior to this, in 2007, she received a Doctorate of Medicine (MD) from the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis.
Leana and her family came to the United States as immigrants from China in December 1990, where they were granted political asylum. At the young age of 13, she began college at California State University, Los Angeles, to undertake an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry which she completed in 2001. Along with her university studies, she embarked on a number of other roles, including serving as National President of the American Medical Student Association.
After leaving Oxford, she became a Clinical Fellow at Harvard from 2009 to 2013. During this time, she also served as a resident physician in Emergency Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston. In 2013, Dr Wen moved to the George Washington University (GWU) Milken Institute School of Public Health, where in addition to practising medicine, she became an Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine and Health Policy, as well as the Director of Patient-Centered Care Research, a new interdisciplinary programme. In 2014, Dr Wen was appointed as the Health Commissioner for the city of Baltimore in the state of Maryland. In this role, she made a major impact on overdose prevention, aimed to treat violence and racism as public health issues, and contributed to improvements in maternal and child health, among many other achievements.
In 2019, Dr Wen returned to GWU as a Visiting Professor of Health Policy & Management, a position she still holds today. She is also a Contributing Columnist at The Washington Post, writing weekly columns focusing on public health and health policy, and anchoring a new weekly newsletter for the Post called 'The Checkup with Dr. Wen'. In addition, she is a medical analyst for CNN, where she provides on-air commentary on the Covid-19 pandemic and other public health matters. She is also a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, a leading think-tank, where she has contributed to research and analysis on health policy topics.
Dr Wen is the author of dozens of scientific articles and has written the critically-acclaimed book, When Doctors Don't Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests (St Martin's Griffin, 2013) and a new memoir, Lifelines: A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health (Metropolitan Books, July 2021). She is currently a member of a number of non-profit and health innovation boards.
Dr Wen has received many honours for her work. She has received recognition as one of Modern Healthcare's 50 Most Influential Physician Executives and Leaders and Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare. She has also received the American Public Health Association's highest award for local public health work (Milton and Ruth Roemer Award), was named one of Governing magazine's Public Officials of the Year and included among the World Economic Forum's Young Global Leaders. In 2019, Dr Wen was named among Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People. She currently lives in Baltimore, where she and her husband find much joy raising their two young kids.
Thinking of the first day you walked through the Merton Lodge arch as a student, what was your first impression?
I thought of all the students who have walked through that same arch for many hundreds of years, and what an honour it was to join them and be part of history.
Do you have a particular memory that stands out from your time at Merton?
So many! Hanging out until the wee hours in the Merton MCR. Learning how to row and the camaraderie of the team. Meeting great friends, many of whom I still keep in touch with today.
Tell us something about yourself that we would not know.
I had a baby during the pandemic! She's now 17 months old.
What tips would you give your younger self to prepare for the career you have achieved?
Think of your life as in seasons. You don't have to do everything all at once, but instead, what will you focus on this season? That takes a lot of pressure off. You can still do everything that you want to do, but it just doesn't have to be all at once, at the same time.
Describe Merton in three words.
History. Excellence. Collegiality.
We were delighted that Dr Leana Wen was able to share her expertise in our annual 2021 Merton Society Lecture, part of our 40 Years Series of lectures, on Wednesday 29 September.