2019 Great Immigrants Recipient

Leana Wen
Physician and Public Health Leader
Born in:

Leana Wen’s family immigrated to the United States when she was just seven years old. Her father was a dissident, and the family was granted political asylum following the crackdown in Tiananmen Square. Arriving in California with $40, Wen’s parents worked multiple jobs to get by: her mother cleaned hotel rooms and worked in a video store while her father washed dishes and delivered newspapers. Wen’s ambition to become a doctor took root when she was just eight years old after she witnessed a neighborhood child die of an asthma attack. Being undocumented, the victim’s family was afraid to call 911 for assistance, and Wen — who also suffered from asthma as a child — tried but failed to rescue the boy with her own inhaler. And she saw her mother relying on Planned Parenthood for care since the family didn’t have health insurance. These early experiences motivated Wen to pursue a career in medicine, with a particular interest in public health. Graduating from California State University, Los Angeles, at the young age of 18, Wen earned two master’s degrees from the University of Oxford, where she was a Rhodes Scholar, going on to take her medical degree from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. While working as an emergency physician in Washington, D.C., she launched a national campaign advocating for transparency in medicine. Later named Baltimore’s health commissioner, Wen helped shape the national conversation on the opioid crisis when she directed city pharmacies to fill prescriptions for an overdose-reversing drug, a decision credited with saving thousands of lives. In 2018 Wen became the first physician in nearly 50 years to lead Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which provides high-quality, affordable health services to more than 2.5 million patients nationwide every year. Reflecting on her advocacy at Planned Parenthood, Wen told Elle, “It’s not some random principles that we’re fighting for. It’s literally about patients’ lives, women’s lives.”