In January, Cecile Richards announced that she was stepping down from her role as the president of Planned Parenthood, and yesterday the women's health organization announced her replacement: Leana Wen, MD, MSc, FAAEM.
This is the first time in 50 years that Planned Parenthood will be run by a doctor. Dr. Wen, who is an emergency physician and currently serves as Baltimore's health commissioner, will assume her new role in November.
An accomplished medical doctor and a highly-regarded public servant with a track record of fighting for women's healthcare rights, Dr. Wen is exactly the type of fearless leader that Planned Parenthood needs right now as it fends off threats to its public funding and an administration resolved to rollback reproductive rights.
But aside from just her professional accomplishments, Dr. Wen also has an impressive and interesting personal background that makes her even more suited to take up the task of leading Planned Parenthood at this moment.
She's an immigrant.
Shortly after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, when Dr. Wen was almost eight years old, her family left Shanghai and moved to Utah, and later California. She called her family's story "the typical immigrant narrative" in a TED talk: her parents cleaned hotel rooms, washed dishes, and pumped gas, so that she could afford to go to medical school.
"We were outsiders in a Communist regime and remained outsiders in a predominantly Mormon Utah and then inner-city Los Angeles," she wrote in the New York Times. Her family relied on Medicaid and Planned Parenthood for healthcare. In 2003, she and her family gained political asylum and became U.S. citizens.
She's sued the Trump administration.
In March, Baltimore City sued the Department of Health and Human Services after they cut an $8.6 million grant funding a teen pregnancy prevention program.
"As a doctor and a public health official, I’ve seen how much this grant has helped us in Baltimore," Dr. Wen told the Baltimore Business Journal. "Numerous studies show reducing teen birth rates increases young girls' ability to graduate from high school and to have economic stability for themselves and their families."
In the end, a federal judge ordered that $5 million be restored in grant funding to two of the city's programs.
She is passionate about public health issues.
In 2015, Dr. Wen left clinical practice to become the Baltimore City health commissioner, because she wanted "the opportunity to bridge the worlds of frontline medical care and public policy," she wrote in an op-ed for NPR. There, she pushed to have transgender-related medical services, such as sex-reassignment surgery, covered by the city's health insurance plan. She also issued a blanket prescription of naloxone, the drug that reverses opioid overdoses, to Baltimore City residents, and has been outspoken about strategies to help fight the opioid crisis.
She is a truth-seeker.
When Dr. Wen's mother was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, she stumbled upon websites stating that her mom's oncologist had been paid by the same drug companies that made her chemotherapy drugs by chance. As a doctor, she knew something was wrong here, and as a daughter, she sensed her mother's fear.
"What I learned was that to become a doctor, we have to put on our white coats, put up a wall, and hide behind it," she said in a TED talk. "There's a hidden epidemic in medicine." This experience led her to start a platform called, Who's My Doctor, which allowed doctors to publicly disclose conflicts of interest to provide patients with full transparency. And she wrote a book called When Doctors Don't Listen, about how to help patients ask critical questions during doctor's visits.