Leana Wen

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Leana Wen
Wen in 2013
President of Planned Parenthood
In office
November 12, 2018 – July 16, 2019
Preceded byCecile Richards
Succeeded byAlexis McGill Johnson
Commissioner of the Baltimore City Health Department
In office
December 5, 2014 – October 12, 2018
Preceded byOxiris Barbot
Succeeded byLetitia Dzirasa
Personal details
Wen Linyan

(1983-01-27) January 27, 1983 (age 41)
Shanghai, China
Sebastian Walker
(m. 2012)
EducationCalifornia State University, Los Angeles (BS)
Washington University in St. Louis (MD)
Oxford University (MSc, MA)
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese溫麟衍
Simplified Chinese温麟衍

Leana Sheryle Wen (Chinese: 温麟衍; born Wen Linyan; January 27, 1983) is an American physician, author, professor, speaker, consultant, newspaper columnist and television commentator. She is former health commissioner for the city of Baltimore and former president of Planned Parenthood. She has written two books based on her experiences as a medical professional.

Wen has served as a public health communicator during the COVID-19 pandemic and 2022 mpox outbreak, appearing frequently on CNN as an on-air medical analyst.[1][2][3]

Wen was asked to testify four times to Congress during the COVID-19 pandemic, including twice to the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.[4]

Currently, Wen serves as a public health professor at George Washington University and is a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. She is also a columnist for The Washington Post and a medical analyst for CNN.[5]

Early life and family[edit]

Born Wen Linyan (温麟衍) in Shanghai, China on January 27, 1983,[6] to Ying Sandy Zhang and Xiaolu Wen,[7] Wen moved with her parents to the U.S. when she was eight, by then having the English name Leana Sheryle Wen.[8] Granted political asylum, the Wen family lived in Compton and East Los Angeles in Southern California.[9][10][11] In 2003, Wen and her family became U.S. citizens.[10]

Wen's mother, who died of breast cancer in 2010, first worked as a hotel room cleaner and video store clerk before becoming an elementary school teacher.[11][12] Her father delivered newspapers and was a dishwasher, later serving as technology manager for The Chinese Daily News in Los Angeles.[13][11]

Wen married South Africa native Sebastian Neil Walker in Boston in February 2012, after a blessing ceremony in Cape Town in November 2011.[13] They have two children: a son born in 2017 and a daughter born in 2020.[14][15]


As a result of her own asthma attacks as a child and seeing a neighbor's child die of an asthma attack, Wen decided that she wanted to become an emergency room physician.[16]

Attending the Early Entrance Program (EEP) at California State University, Los Angeles starting at age 13, Wen graduated summa cum laude at age 18 with a bachelor's degree in biochemistry, in 2001.[17][7][9] She received a Doctor of Medicine from Washington University School of Medicine and has two master's degrees, one in Economic and Social History and another in Modern Chinese Studies,[18] both from the Merton College, Oxford in England where she was a Rhodes Scholar. She also met her future husband, Sebastian Walker, during her time in England.[13]

In 2005, Wen took a one-year leave of absence from medical school to serve as the national president of the American Medical Student Association,[7] where she led campaigns to increase healthcare access, decrease health disparities, and combat conflicts of interest between physicians and the pharmaceutical companies who notoriously use attractive sales representatives and free gifts to influence doctors, especially young interns and medical residents.[19][20] Wen became involved in U.S. and international health policy during medical school, serving in Geneva, Switzerland as a fellow for the World Health Organization and in Rwanda as a fellow for the U.S. Department of Defense.[7] In addition, she advised the U.S. Congress on physician workforce and medical education through her appointment on the Council on Graduate Medical Education by the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.[9][21]


Emergency medicine[edit]

Following medical school, Wen completed a residency at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) and Massachusetts General Hospital (Mass General) and a clinical fellowship at Harvard Medical School in Boston. She is board certified in emergency medicine. Wen started working in emergency medicine at BWH and Mass General before moving to the ER at the George Washington University (GW) in Washington, DC,[18][13] where she became a professor in emergency and health policy, and the Director of Patient-Centered Care Research.[22] She served as a consultant to the Brookings Institution and the China Medical Board, and conducted international health systems research including in South Africa, Slovenia, Nigeria, Singapore, and China.[23]

Baltimore City health commissioner[edit]

From December 2014 until October 2018, Wen served as the health commissioner for Baltimore City under two mayors.[24] She was first appointed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; in December 2016, she was reappointed by Mayor Catherine Pugh. She resigned in 2018, when she was appointed head of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.[25]

In her role as commissioner, Wen oversaw the Baltimore City Health Department, an agency of 1,100 employees and $130her million annual budget with wide-ranging responsibilities, including management of acute communicable diseases, animal control, chronic disease prevention, emergency preparedness, food service inspections, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, maternal-child health, school health, senior services, and youth violence issues.

She directed the city's public health recovery efforts after the 2015 Baltimore riots, including ensuring prescription medication access to seniors after the closure of 13 pharmacies, and developing the Mental Health/Trauma Recovery Plan, with 24-hour crisis counseling, and healing circles and group counseling in schools, community groups, and churches.[26][27]

Following the riots, the Baltimore City Health Department team launched numerous campaigns, including a citywide trauma response plan, youth health and wellness strategy, violence prevention programs, B'Healthy in B'More blog, and B'More Health Talks, a biweekly town hall and podcast series on health disparities.[9][28][29][30][31]

In March 2018, on behalf of Wen and the Baltimore City Health Department, the City of Baltimore sued the Trump administration for cutting teen pregnancy prevention funds, which resulted in a federal judge ordering the Trump administration to restore $5 million in grant funding to two Baltimore-based teen pregnancy prevention programs.[32] She wrote an opinion editorial criticizing proposed changes to the Title X program which would affect health clinics in Baltimore providing reproductive health care for low income women.[33] This court decision was later reversed by the 9th Circuit court, enabling the Trump administration to withhold Title X funding for abortion.

Opioid overdose epidemic response[edit]

Wen has led implementation of the Baltimore opioid overdose prevention and response plan, which includes a blanket prescription for the opioid antidote, naloxone; "hotspotting" and street outreach teams to target individuals most at risk; training family/friends on naloxone use; and launching a new public education campaign.[citation needed] Wen testified to the U.S. Senate HELP Committee and U.S. House Oversight Committee on Baltimore's overdose prevention efforts. She led a group of state and city health officials to petition the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on adding black box warnings to opioids and benzodiazepines.[34][35] In March 2016, she was invited by the White House to join President Barack Obama and CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta on a panel discussion, where she spoke about Baltimore's response.[36] She convened doctors and public health leaders to sign the Baltimore Statement on the Importance of Childhood Vaccinations[37] and to successfully advocate to ban the sale of powdered alcohol in Maryland and synthetic drugs in Baltimore.[38][39]

Congressman Elijah Cummings cited Wen's efforts to combat the opioid epidemic in Baltimore and sought her help in creating national legislation to change how the United States fights it.[40]

In 2018, the National Association of County and City Health Officials awarded the Baltimore City Health Department the Local Health Department of the Year.[41][42]

Planned Parenthood[edit]

On September 18, 2018, Wen was appointed president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.[43][25] She was the first medical doctor to serve in the role in nearly 50 years and was the first woman doctor ever to do so.[44] In an interview with Elle magazine, Wen described her excitement to be at the helm of the organization where both she and her mother had received significant medical care many years prior.[45]

Wen envisioned a new direction for discourse surrounding Planned Parenthood, endeavoring to frame abortion access as an issue of healthcare rather than politics.[44] She also wanted to expand the services provided by Planned Parenthood clinics to include treatment for medical concerns unrelated to reproduction, especially treatment for opioid addiction and easy access to Naloxone (in keeping with her former work as Health Commissioner in Baltimore).[44] In an op-ed for the New York Times after her departure from the organization, she described her initial goal as "finding common ground with the large majority of Americans who can unite behind the goal of improving the health and well-being of women and children."[45] Wen's appointment and proposed strategic plan received mixed reviews, with commentators on both sides of the political spectrum both praising her novel approach and criticizing it as "backing away from the fight [for abortion access]."[44]

Wen's tenure at Planned Parenthood saw many major events with implications for reproductive healthcare, starting with the confirmation hearings and appointment to the Supreme Court of Brett Kavanaugh, and ending with the implementation of the nationwide Title X gag rule under the Trump-Pence administration. This legislation prevented medical providers who received funding from Title X from referring patients for abortion services and also prohibited the performance of abortions in the same facility as providers who received Title X funding (the rule was later overturned in 2021 by the Biden-Harris administration).[46] The period also saw a marked increase in the number of laws passed at the state level that restricted access to abortions.[47]

As president of Planned Parenthood, Wen worked to expand non-abortion services like maternal health and mental health services and to rebrand Planned Parenthood from its image as an abortion rights advocate to a comprehensive women's health organization that serves women and families.[48] She spoke out about her own experiences as a cervical cancer survivor who struggled with infertility, and about a miscarriage she suffered while in the role.[49][14]

In July 2019, Wen was forced to resign from her position after only 8 months.[50] The board gave no reason, but sources cited a dispute over management and organizational philosophy. Other sources alluded to Wen's incompatibilities with the organization on an interpersonal level, citing organization members' difficulty adapting to her leadership style.[51] In a letter to Planned Parenthood affiliates, Wen claimed philosophical differences in the direction of the organization.[52][51]

On July 19, 2019, Wen published an opinion editorial in The New York Times which set forth the circumstances underlying her departure from Planned Parenthood. She attributed her sudden departure more specifically to disagreements over the centrality of abortion in the mission of Planned Parenthood and stated her view that "As one of the few national health care organizations with a presence in all 50 states, Planned Parenthood's mandate should be to promote reproductive health care as part of a wide range of policies that affect women's health and public health."[45] Echoing her earlier statements, she described her goal to focus on the more holistic elements of the organization, while the board instead wanted to focus on the political debate surrounding abortion rights.[45]

Teaching and research[edit]

In August 2019, it was announced that Wen would join the Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University (GW) as a visiting professor of health policy and management. She was also named a distinguished fellow in the Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity (Mullan Institute), where she focused on advancing "interdisciplinary research and education, participating in the trainings of the Mullan Institute’s fellowship programs and enhancing the school’s educational opportunities in the areas of maternal and child health, women’s health and health equity.".[53][54] She is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.[55]


The Washington Post[edit]

Wen started writing for The Washington Post as a contributing op-ed writer in 2019. Her role as a columnist became formalized in 2020, and she began anchoring a weekly newsletter on public health and healthcare called The Checkup with Dr. Wen.[56][57] Her commentaries for the Post started with a heavy focus on COVID-19 and have touched on a range of other issues, including the nursing shortage, the opioid epidemic, reemergence of polio, cancer, mental health, obesity, marijuana, and other public health and policy topics.[58] In 2023, Wen received attention for a piece claiming that Covid deaths were being over counted, with some claiming vindication after claims of over counting deaths were decried as conspiracy theories years earlier.[59]


Wen has appeared frequently on CNN during the COVID-19 pandemic and 2022 monkeypox outbreak as an on-air medical analyst.[1][2][3]

Patient advocacy[edit]

In 2013, St. Martin's Press published her book, When Doctors Don't Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests with coauthor Joshua Kosowsky. It is about how patients can take control of their health to advocate for better care for themselves.[60]

Wen wrote a blog, The Doctor is Listening.[61] She was a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and Psychology Today on patient empowerment and healthcare reform.[62][63] She was also an advisor to the then-newly established Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute,[64] and an advisor to the Lown Institute and the Medical Education Futures Study.[65] She was the founder of Who's My Doctor, an international campaign that called for transparency in medicine.[66][67]

Wen is a frequent keynote speaker on healthcare reform, education, and leadership, and has given several TED Talks. Her TED talk on transparency in medicine has been viewed over 1.9 million times.[22][68][69][70]


Wen's evolving views on the COVID-19 pandemic have garnered support and controversy from both sides of the political spectrum.[71][72][73][74][75] A Texas man pleaded guilty to threatening her due to her advocacy for COVID-19 vaccines and was sentenced in federal court to six months in prison.[76]

In a June 2021 interview, Wen summarized her thinking on what was learned during the pandemic in three main points:

  • The importance of a having a national plan in place to avoid ineffective piecemeal approaches
  • How much public health depends on trust between scientists and government officials to avoid politicization of needed preventive measures like masks and vaccinations
  • The underlying health care system disparities based on ethnicity and income that were exposed by COVID[16]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Books and selected publications[edit]


  1. ^ a b Galvin, Gaby (June 5, 2020). "Dr. Leana Wen: Public Health Depends on Public Trust". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved June 8, 2020.
  2. ^ a b Rogers, Kristen (October 27, 2020). "What you need to prepare for the Covid-19 surge this season". CNN.
  3. ^ a b Hetter, Katia (July 27, 2022). "Now should I worry about monkeypox? Our medical analyst explains". CNN. Retrieved August 1, 2022.
  4. ^ "Moving Beyond the Coronavirus Crisis". Congress. Archived from the original on October 12, 2022. Retrieved October 12, 2022.
  5. ^ "Dr. Leana Wen". Macmillan Publishers. Retrieved April 29, 2023.
  6. ^ 美国计划生育机构任命华裔医生担任新领导人. Boxun News (in Chinese). September 14, 2018. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d "Wen Takes Rhodes Scholarship for Return to Oxford". November 27, 2006. Retrieved January 17, 2013.
  8. ^ Kristof, Nicholas D. (June 27, 2007). "Sheryl and Sheryle". On the Ground. The New York Times.
  9. ^ a b c d Khazan, Olga (June 22, 2015). "Working a Million Hours to Heal a City". The Atlantic.
  10. ^ a b Zernike, Kate (September 12, 2018). "Planned Parenthood Names Leana Wen, a Doctor, Its New President". The New York Times.
  11. ^ a b c Wen, Leana S. (September 7, 2017). "Leana Wen: an immigrant's story". Baltimore Sun.
  12. ^ Wen, Leana, "Tribute to My Mother", DrLeanaWen.com, archived from the original on March 10, 2016, retrieved April 14, 2016
  13. ^ a b c d Mallozzi, Vincent M. (February 12, 2012). "Leana Wen, Sebastian Walker — Weddings". The New York Times. Retrieved June 2, 2021.
  14. ^ a b Wen, Leana S. (July 6, 2019). "Opinion: Leana Wen: My miscarriage has made my commitment to women's health stronger". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 2, 2021.
  15. ^ "Dr. Leana Wen's top-5 tips for talking to kids about COVID-19". NBC News. May 14, 2020. Retrieved May 3, 2023.
  16. ^ a b Delehanty, Hugh. "Public Health Expert Leana Wen on Lessons from COVID-19". AARP. Retrieved April 30, 2023.
  17. ^ Gelles, David (May 2, 2019). "Leana Wen of Planned Parenthood Wants to Tackle the 'Fundamental Unfairness in Our System'". The New York Times.
  18. ^ a b Shesgreen, Deirdre (March 6, 2016). "Doctor wants overdose antidote in every medicine cabinet". USA TODAY.
  19. ^ MacDonald, G. Jeffrey (November 6, 2005). "Fighting the Freebies". Time.
  20. ^ Romano, Michael (January 30, 2006). "Fighting graft – it's academic. Medical centers must embrace conflict rules: critics". Modern Healthcare. 36 (5): 8–10. PMID 16479773.
  21. ^ Council on Graduate Medical Education staff (2010), Twentieth Report: Advancing Primary Care (PDF), archived from the original (PDF) on February 21, 2016, retrieved April 14, 2016
  22. ^ a b Wen, Leana (2014). What your doctor won't disclose. TEDMED 2014.
  23. ^ "Leana Wen, Baltimore City Health Commissioner, to Deliver Graduation Address to University of Maryland School of Medicine's 207th Graduating Class". somvweb.som.umaryland.edu. Archived from the original on April 21, 2016. Retrieved June 12, 2016.
  24. ^ "Leana Wen Reflects on Four Years as Baltimore's Health Commissioner". Baltimore Sun. October 12, 2018. Retrieved June 8, 2020.
  25. ^ a b "Dr. Leana Wen to Serve as President of Planned Parenthood" (Press release). Planned Parenthood Federation of America. September 12, 2018. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  26. ^ Wenger, Yvonne (December 15, 2014). "New city health commissioner to wage campaign against substance abuse". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved January 21, 2015.
  27. ^ Wen, Leana (January 15, 2015). "Why I left the ER to run Baltimore's health department". National Public Radio. Retrieved January 21, 2015.
  28. ^ Wen, Leana (May 4, 2015). "Triage and Treatment: Untold Stories from Baltimore's Unrest". NPR. Retrieved July 17, 2015.
  29. ^ Wen, Leana S.; Sharfstein, Joshua M. (June 23, 2015). "Unrest in Baltimore: The Role of Public Health". JAMA. 313 (24): 2425–2426. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.5561. PMID 25950149.
  30. ^ Knezevich, Alison (May 2, 2015). "Prescription help available as damaged pharmacies remain closed". Baltimore Sun.
  31. ^ Williams, John-John (April 30, 2015). "Mental health help for residents affected by turmoil". Baltimore Sun.
  32. ^ Duncan, Ian (April 26, 2018). "Judge orders Trump administration to restore $5M in funding to Baltimore teen pregnancy prevention programs". Baltimore Sun.
  33. ^ Wen, Leana S. (July 5, 2018). "Trump's family planning dystopia". Baltimore Sun.
  34. ^ "Senate HELP Committee Testimony". December 8, 2015. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
  35. ^ Dennis, Brady (February 22, 2016). "Health officials push FDA to add 'black box' warnings about using opioids, benzodiazepines together". Washington Post. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
  36. ^ Kounang, Nadia (March 29, 2016). "Obama: Addiction is a preventable disease". CNN.
  37. ^ Wen, Leana; Czinn, Steven; Dover, George (February 13, 2015). "Vaccines are safe, effective and life-saving". Baltimore Sun.
  38. ^ McDaniels, Andrea K. (March 26, 2015). "Health concerns spur ban on powdered alcohol". Baltimore Sun.
  39. ^ Barnett, Gigi (February 11, 2016). "New City Law Punishing Stores That Sell Synthetic Drugs". CBS.
  40. ^ "Forging our National Response to the Opioid Epidemic". Afro. August 16, 2018. Retrieved August 22, 2018.
  41. ^ "NACCHO Recognizes Local Health Departments and Leaders" (PDF) (Press release). National Association of County & City Health Officials. July 11, 2018. Retrieved April 13, 2022.
  42. ^ "Baltimore City Health Department Named Local Health Department of the Year". Baltimore City Health Department. July 17, 2018. Retrieved August 22, 2018.
  43. ^ Domonoske, Camila (September 12, 2018). "Planned Parenthood Chooses Baltimore's Health Commissioner As Its Next President". NPR.org. Retrieved September 13, 2018.
  44. ^ a b c d O'Connor, Ema (January 7, 2019). "Planned Parenthood's New President Wants To Focus On Nonabortion Health Care". BuzzFeed News.
  45. ^ a b c d Wen, Leana S. (July 19, 2019). "Opinion | Leana Wen: Why I Left Planned Parenthood". The New York Times.
  46. ^ "In Huge Victory for Sexual and Reproductive Health Care, Biden-Harris Administration Announces End to Title X Gag Rule". www.plannedparenthood.org. Retrieved April 13, 2022.
  47. ^ Cramer, Ema O'Connor, Ruby (July 16, 2019). "Planned Parenthood Has Ousted Its President, Leana Wen, Amid A Dispute Over The Organization's Direction". BuzzFeed News. Retrieved April 13, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  48. ^ Luther, Shefali (April 17, 2019). "Planned Parenthood's 'Risky Strategy' to Update Its Image". Kaiser Health News. Retrieved August 8, 2019.
  49. ^ Wen, Leana (January 28, 2019). "Before I Was President of Planned Parenthood, I Was Diagnosed With Cervical Cancer at a Routine Screening". SELF.
  50. ^ Bernstein, Lenny (July 16, 2019). "Planned Parenthood Ousts Leader After Less Than a Year". Washington Post. Retrieved August 8, 2019.
  51. ^ a b Kliff, Sarah; Goldmacher, Shane (July 18, 2019). "Why Leana Wen Quickly Lost Support at Planned Parenthood". The New York Times.
  52. ^ Bernstein, Lenny; Cha, Ariana Eunjung; Goldstein, Amy (July 16, 2019). "Head of Planned Parenthood forced out after eight months". Washington Post. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
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External links[edit]