Dr. Leana Wen

physician, patient advocate, author, and speaker

About Dr. Wen

I am a physician and a writer. I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, to help those most in need. Growing up, I had terrible asthma. My earliest memories are of my parents bundling me up in the cold of the winter and shuttling me to hospitals while I gasped for breaths, then put me on machines to help me breathe. My doctors and nurses were so kind to me, and I had an idealist view of what it meant to be a healer.

I am really grateful that I have been able to pursue my childhood dream. I have had many opportunities to train with brilliant people, at Washington University, the University of Oxford, Harvard Medical School, and Brigham & Women’s and Massachusetts General Hospitals. As an
emergency physician, I draw upon the latest technologists and the best specialists to find solutions for my patients. Every day, my job is satisfying and fulfilling because I am there for my patients in their times of great need.

There was one part of my job, though, that was unsettling. As I proceeded in my training, I began to see how patients were often steered onto predefined, cookbook pathways.
Without realizing it, this became my practice too. Patient with chest pain? Follow this pathway, appropriately called the “chest pain pathway”, because most everyone with chest pain gets the same tests. Abdominal pain? Ask these ten questions and follow the algorithm. Headache? Shortness of breath? Change in mental status? Believe it or not, there are cookbook approaches for all of them. It’s supposed to be scientific and based on evidence, so that’s good, right? Yet, our patients were leaving confused and unhappy. They felt like their doctors weren’t listening to them, that who they were or why they had come to the doctor didn’t matter.

When I was a second year medical student, all of this really hit home. My mother was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. For seven years, I helped her navigate the medical system as a patient--and saw, in this process, how disconnected doctors and patients have become. I learned how out of control patients can feel, and how disempowering our health system is. I saw how important it is for patients to advocate for the care that they deserve--not the
cookbook approach to care, but individualized care that gets them to the right diagnosis.

Unfortunately, my mother died three years ago. In her memory, I have made it my life’s work to help patients get the care they need. Along the way, I have met many patients who have told me their stories of misdiagnoses and mistreatment. These stories are terrible and heart-wrenching--but they need to be told. I have also met other physicians, nurses, and healthcare providers who are also fed up with cookbook medicine, who instead want to combine rigorous science with the often-forgotten art of medicine. This is the kind medicine that I went to medical school to learn, the kind of medicine that I aim to practice. This is the kind of care that all patients should strive to get.

Join me in the movement for better care. For more on my
professional biography and why I write, please visit my blog and read my book: When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests.