In the ultimate “some personal news” tweet, Dr. Leana Wen announced that she’s taking over the top position at Planned Parenthood, the women’s health organization most recently headed up by Cecile Richards. Wen’s Twitter bio lists her as the health commissioner for the city of Baltimore, as well as an ER physician and “mom to Eli.”
Just minutes after Wen’s announcement, congratulations started pouring in from doctors and leaders in the organization. “Beyond excited for this doctor, former Planned Parenthood patient, new mom, immigrant, and badass public health advocate to be Planned Parenthood’s new president!” wrote Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood’s executive vice president.
It’s unclear when exactly Wen will take over the position officially. But in the meantime, what do you need to know about the new Planned Parenthood president? Here’s a breakdown.
She’s an immigrant from China.
In the Planned Parenthood video, Wen details how her parents relied on public assistance after bringing her to the U.S. from Shanghai when she was 8. “We came to the U.S. with $40 to our name,” she says. “We depended on Medicaid and food stamps — and also Planned Parenthood for health care.” In an opinion editorial for the Baltimore Sun written last year, Wen described her father as a “political dissident” who joined her and her mother in Utah after he was released from prison.
Her parents worked multiple jobs to support her.
While raising their daughter, Wen’s parents — according to her Baltimore Sun op-ed — “worked multiple jobs while saving every penny.” Her father washed dishes and delivered newspapers; her mother cleaned hotel rooms and worked in a video store, all while attending night school and community college. Eventually her mom went on to teach elementary school in east Los Angeles.
She went to college at age 13, was a clinical fellow at Harvard, and became a Rhodes Scholar.
According to a 2015 profile on NPR, Wen was a gifted child who entered California State University at the age of 13 with the “dream of being a doctor” and graduated summa cum laude at age 18 with a degree in biochemistry. After earning her medical doctorate from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Wen became a clinical fellow at Harvard Medical School, then went on to become a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, focusing on public policy and economic history.
After going to school, she became an emergency physician.
In the Planned Parenthood video, Wen mentions that she became an emergency physician after graduating because she wanted to help the most vulnerable population. “I didn’t want to turn any patients away,” she says. The experience gave her an inside look at America’s broken health care system. “In the ER I saw what happens every day when people don’t have access to the basic right of health care,” she says. Wen describes one memory of seeing a woman “pulseless and unresponsive” due to a home abortion, because she was “too scared to seek medical attention.” Her attempts to resuscitate the woman proved unsuccessful. “She died because of a failure in our system,” says Wen.
As health commissioner for the city of Baltimore, she sued Trump for slashing health funds.
After working as a professor of emergency medicine and health policy at George Washington University, Wen took the position of health commissioner for the city of Baltimore in 2015. Two years later, when the Trump administration slashed the funds used for teen pregnancy prevention programs, Wen sued him — and won. A judge ordered Trump restore $5 million in funding for sexual health education for the city. “Health care has to be understood as a fundamental human right,” she says in the video.
She helped combat the opioid crisis in Baltimore.
As commissioner of health for the city of Baltimore, another one of Wen’s major responsibilities was addressing the opioid epidemic in her state — which the National Institutes of Health named as one of the top five states in America with the highest rate of opioid overdoses. To help combat the problem, Wen made naloxone — a lifesaving antidote for an opioid overdose — available to all by issuing a blanket prescription to every one of Baltimore’s 620,000 citizens.
She is the sixth president of Planned Parenthood, but only the second doctor.
When Wen officially takes office as president of Planned Parenthood, she will be filling the shoes of former president Richards. Although the women share a disdain for the president’s policies regarding women’s health, Wen is a decidedly different choice given that she’s a doctor. According to the New York Times, she is only the second president in the nonprofit’s 102-year history to be a doctor. She ends her introductory video on that note. “It is a sign,” she says, “that what we are doing is mainstream medical care.”
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