Up & Comers - 2016
Commissioner of Health, City of Baltimore
Dr. Leana Wen was 8 years old when she and her family arrived in the U.S. from China seeking political asylum. She struggled with a severe speech stutter.
She earned her bachelor's degree in biochemistry and graduated summa cum laude at 18 from California State University, going on to attend medical school at Washington University. She eventually beat her stutter and became a compelling public speaker during her tenure as president of the American Medical Student Association.
"I've seen the challenges my patients face every day, and the work we do in hospitals can't solve these problems alone."
Practicing emergency medicine and teaching as a professor at George Washington University, Wen soon realized she wanted to prevent patients from having to come to the ER with gunshot wounds and other maladies associated with bad public health conditions. "I've seen the challenges my patients face every day, and the work we do in hospitals can't solve these problems alone," Wen said.
Early last year, she got the chance to tackle those broader ills. Named commissioner of the Baltimore Department of Health, she took charge of an agency with over 1,000 employees and a $130 million budget. Soon after, she played a lead role in the city's emergency response to the demonstrations and violence following the death of Freddie Gray, a young black man who died in police custody. The Gray case, she said, spurred broader public awareness of structural racism and lead poisoning among poor black children.
She also launched an aggressive prevention and treatment program for opioid addiction, including a citywide standing order for naloxone that makes it available to all city residents.
Working with healthcare providers, Wen recently released a 10-year plan to bring the African-American rates of lead poisoning, heart disease, obesity, smoking and overdoses closer to the much-lower levels of white residents. "I can't imagine another job where I get to make this much impact on people's lives and transforming the city," she said.--Harris Meyer