After Planned Parenthood ouster, Dr. Leana Wen joining GW as visiting professor

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Dr. Leana Wen at a Baltimore Women’s March rally in January 2018. Photo by Elvert Barnes, via Flickr.

A month after being suddenly removed from her post as head of Planned Parenthood in what she said was a “secret meeting” of the organization’s board, former Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen has landed a temporary teaching job and fellowship at George Washington University.

Wen announced her new gig on Twitter today, saying she’s “honored to join exceptional colleagues” at GWU’s Milken Institute School of Public Health and its newly renamed Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity.

Wen, who served as Baltimore’s health commissioner from 2014 to 2018, said she will work with them “to train future generations of public health leaders who are dedicated to achieving health equity and fighting for social justice.”

University spokesperson Mina Radman said Wen will have two titles: visiting professor of health policy and management at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, and distinguished fellow in the Fitzhugh Mullan Institute.

This will mark a temporary return to the D.C. university for Wen, who worked there as an emergency physician and served previously as director of patient-centered care research and as an adjunct associate professor of emergency medicine at its medical school.

Wen told Baltimore Fishbowl in an email that it’s “particularly meaningful” to be named a fellow in the Institute for Workforce Health Equity, given that its namesake, Dr. Fitzhugh Mullan, has been her mentor since she was 18 years old.

“He exemplifies what it means to be a physician-leader: someone who advocates for health as a human right, who fights against deep-rooted injustices, whose North Star is serving patients and communities most in need,” she said. “What an honor to carry on his legacy!”

Wen immigrated with her family from China to Los Angeles at age 8 and enrolled in college by 13, eventually becoming a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.

She became a public health celebrity of sorts while working in Baltimore. She made strides working to address the medical crisis of opioid addiction–making overdose-reversal medication naloxone available over-the-counter, offering more widespread training on how to use it and creating the city’s first stabilization center to connect people struggling with addiction to necessary services.

She also championed Safe Streets, treating the spread of gun violence as a public health concern, led a push to significantly reduce infant mortality rates in the city and drew attention to health issues connected to long-term poverty.

Wen made national waves with that work and, in the second half of her tenure here, by taking on the Trump administration for its attempts to cut funding for teen-pregnancy prevention programs, and for “intentionally sabotaging” the Affordable Care Act. 

She was tapped for the CEO job at Planned Parenthood last October, and said her new leadership role would allow her to “fight for healthcare access, for gender equality, and for our core values in support of women, children, families, and vulnerable communities.”

But the nonprofit reproductive health care provider only gave her eight months on the job.

Wen said in a statement in July, shortly after the revelation about the “secret meeting,” that she was “leaving because the new Board Chairs and I have philosophical differences over the direction and future of the organization.”

Sources familiar with the nonprofit board’s decision told BuzzFeed News and The New York Times it was due in part to her push to emphasize Planned Parenthood’s public health services, rather than the politically hot issue of abortion access. Others said she hired the wrong people for senior leadership roles and didn’t respond to directives to change her leadership style.

“I believe the best way to protect abortion care is to be clear that it is not a political issue but a health care one, and that we can expand support for reproductive health care as the fundamental health care that it is,” Wen said in her parting statement.

Despite the fact that her last job and her new one were both in D.C., Wen said she will “continue to live in Baltimore City, where I look forward to supporting the inspiring work done every day to improve the health, well-being, and futures of our residents.”

This story has been updated.

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in CityLab, Slate, Baltimore City Paper, DCist and elsewhere.
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