Wen makes ‘helping others’ a lifetime goal

Wen makes ‘helping others’ a lifetime goal

At 26, alumna Dr. Leana Wen ’01 has already accomplished what many could spend a lifetime trying to achieve.

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Headshot of Leana Wen
Courtesy Photo

Wen, a native of Shanghai, China, is an accomplished and highly-awarded scholar, published writer, physician, champion and ambassador for global health issues, and a spokeswoman and leader among her peers.

She has journeyed to Europe as a doctor – the first time as a Global Health Fellow at the World Health Organization three years ago. She ventured into Africa in 2007, after she was selected to accompany New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof on a reporting trip through several countries. And right now, the Rhodes Scholar is finishing up a master’s degree in global health science at Oxford University in England and waiting to find out where she will complete her residency in emergency medicine when she returns to the United States this summer.

And that’s just the condensed, Reader’s Digest version of this young achiever’s life.

“I want to have a better understanding of the world,” Wen says matter-of-factly, explaining her extensive travels, academic accomplishments and world experiences.

“The opportunities that I have taken – they were not really planned,” she continued.  “It’s more that I had a picture of what I wanted and when opportunities came up that matched that picture, I took them.”

The first educational opportunity that Wen credits with setting her on this path toward a career in global health and medicine, however, was attending Cal State L.A. Wen enrolled in the University through the Early Entrance Program for exceptionally gifted young students when she was 13.

From her first days on campus, she was seen as eager to learn and get involved. “I found her to be an enthusiastic, highly motivated student who enjoys learning,” Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor Ray Garcia wrote. “She definitely has the type of dedication, self-discipline, and intellectual curiosity one must have if they expect to succeed in scientific research and/or medicine.”

On campus, Wen was actively involved in laboratory research projects, including those overseen by Garcia and Emeritus Chemistry and Biochemsitry Professor Donald Paulson.

“(Paulson and Garcia) exposed me to ways of looking at the world… a thought process,” she said. “And they showed me that the world was not always what I perceived. … They are two of the people that have made the biggest difference in my life.”

While at Cal State L.A., Wen also participated as a research trainee in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Biomedical Professional Development Program, founded a chapter of the American Medical Student Association, and found time to initiate and coordinate two annual blood and bone marrow drives held to assist a fellow Cal State L.A. student diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

“As long as I have known Leana, she has always had a very strong commitment to community service and a genuine dedication to social responsibility,” Garcia added.

Wen, too, says her main focus has never strayed from her goal of “helping others.”

And as opportunities emerged, such as a leave from medical school to serve a one-year term as national president of the American Medical Student Association, the largest independent national organization of physicians-in-training, she took them on.

“I still don’t know where I am headed in the sense of what I will be doing, but I have always had a sense of what I wanted to do,” she said. “I’m trying to make a difference on a larger level.”

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