Born in Shanghai, China on January 27, 1983, to Ying Sandy Zhang and Xiaolu Wen, Leana Sheryle Wen moved with her parents to the U.S. when she was eight years old and grew up in Los Angeles, California. Her mother was an elementary school teacher before she died from breast cancer in 2010 and her father is retired from his job as a technology manager for The Chinese Daily News in Los Angeles.
Wen attended California State University, Los Angeles and in 2001, she graduated summa cum laude at age 18 with a bachelor's degree in biochemistry. She received a Doctor of Medicine from Washington University School of Medicine and has two master's degrees, one in Modern Chinese studies and the other in economic and social history from the University of Oxford in England where she was a Rhodes Scholar. She also met her future husband, Sebastian Walker, during her time in England.
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, 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. 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. 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.
Following medical school, Wen completed 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. She was married to South Africa native, Sebastian Neil Walker, in February 2012, and started working in emergency medicine at BWH and Mass General before moving to the ER at the George Washington University (GW) in Washington, DC, where she became a professor in emergency and health policy, and the Director of Patient-Centered Care Research. 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.
In 2013, St. Martin’s Press published her book, When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests. It is about how patients can take control of their health to advocate for better care for themselves.
Wen wrote a blog, The Doctor is Listening. She has been a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and Psychology Today on patient empowerment and healthcare reform. She has been an advisor to the newly established Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, and an advisor to the Lown Institute and the Medical Education Futures Study. She is the founder of a Who's My Doctor, an international campaign that calls for transparency in medicine.
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 1.5 million times.
In December 2014, Wen was appointed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to serve as the health commissioner; in December 2016, she was reappointed by Mayor Catherine E. Pugh. In this role, she oversees the Baltimore City Health Department, an agency of 1,100 employees and $130 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 protests, including ensuring prescription medication access to seniors after the closure of 13 pharmacies and developing the Mental Health/Trauma Recovery Plan, with 24/7 crisis counseling and healing circles and group counseling in schools, community groups, and churches. In the wake of the 2015 Baltimore protests, 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.
In May 2016, she served as the commencement speaker for the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the Notre Dame of Maryland University, where she was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. In 2017, Wen was named as one of Modern Healthcare's 50 Most Influential Physician Executives and Leaders.
Wen has led implementation of the Baltimore opioid overdose prevention and response plan, which includes a blanket prescription for the opioid antidoe, 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. 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. 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. She convened doctors and public health leaders to sign the Baltimore Statement on the Importance of Childhood Vaccinations and to successfully advocate to ban the sale of powdered alcohol in Maryland and synthetic drugs in Baltimore.