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Women of Strength: Dr. Leana Wen

Dr. Leana Wen/Provided Photo

COVID-19 is one of the largest public health crises of our lifetime. Since the pandemic began last year, scores of public health professionals have responded by contributing their expertise and insights. Dr. Leana Wen is among these public health professionals who have stepped up to provide information and resources as Baltimore, the nation and the world navigates the ever-changing complexities of this pandemic.

Dr. Wen is an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University. She’s also a CNN medical analyst and contributing columnist to The Washington Post, where she writes a weekly column on health policy and public health, plus a weekly newsletter, “A Checkup with Dr. Wen,” produced through The Washington Post.

“So much of my work in the past has been putting the face on public health,” she says. In her new book “Lifelines: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health,” Wen talks about the fact that “public health saved your life today”—something members of the public are witnessing each day amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

Wen says her primary motivation for writing the book was to tell her story from her Baltimore perspective. “I’m proud of the work my team and I did when I was the health commissioner for Baltimore, the incredible work of our partners and many people across the city committed every day to improving health and reducing disparities,” she says.

Wen cites the B’More for Healthy Babies initiative which reduced infant mortality by 38% in a seven-year period and closed the infant mortality gap between Blacks and whites by more than 50%. She reflects on the work addressing the opioid epidemic that saved more than 3,000 lives in a three-year period and a vision program that provides vision testing and glasses free of charge for every child, kindergarten through eighth grade, in Baltimore.

“I wanted the world and the country to see that Baltimore is full of innovation, courage and incredible work being done here every day,” Wen, who lives with her family in Baltimore, says.

In “Lifelines,” Wen details growing up in an immigrant family that arrived in the United States from China with less than $40 to their name. When asked where she finds her source of strength for her work, she acknowledges the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings.

“He was my mentor and the mentor for so many in our city. Cummings talked about ‘pain, passion and purpose.’ We channel our pain into our passion that becomes our purpose,” she says. “When I think about the initial work I did in patient-centered care, it was because of my mother’s illness and her misdiagnosis and eventual diagnosis of metastatic cancer. Her death from cancer spurred my work in patient-and family-centered care. The work around COVID-19 is certainly another example of ‘pain, passion and purpose.’”

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