On Wednesday, March 2, Dr. Leana Wen came to speak at Kelley Lecture Hall. While the talk was oriented primarily towards pre-med students, it was open to the general Goucher community. Dr. Wen is currently the health commissioner for the Baltimore City Health Department, the oldest health department in the United States. She is also a Rhodes scholar and the director of patient-centered care in the Department of Emergency Medicine at George Washington University, where she also gives lectures.
At the beginning of the event, a heath care fellow working with Dr. Wen explained one of the current programs their department is currently promoting. One key issue Baltimore faces is drug addiction, with 303 people having died from drug overdose in 2014. To help combat this, the Baltimore City Health Department is attempting to promote the distribution of Naloxone, a drug that can save the life of someone experiencing an opioid overdose.
According to the project’s website, http://www.dontdie.org, “NALOXONE: (also called Narcan) is a prescription medicine that can stop an overdose. Parents, relatives and friends can get it and give it to someone who is overdosing on heroin or other drugs like OxyContin or Percocet.” Baltimore is currently pursuing the establishment of a program that would train citizens to use the drug. Legislation allows anyone to receive certification to administer the drug online at http://www.dontdie.org/getcertified. Once certified, the person can purchase Naloxone at several major drug stores with a prescription provided by the website.
When Dr. Wen stood up to speak, she started by asking the audience for as many questions as possible. Although she had a presentation planned, Dr. Wen wanted to interact with the audience so as to keep them engaged. Dr. Wen then split up her questions into two sub-groups: questions related to career advice for current students and questions related to social issues. In her career advice section, Dr. Wen made recommendations on everything from working abroad to building relationships with the community a medical professional serves. She emphasized the need for credibility, and used examples of the Baltimore City Health Department hiring from communities they are trying to reach as a way to achieve this credibility.
Regarding many of the social issue questions, Dr. Wen expressed her belief that “public health is everything,” and that most social issues can be seen as health concerns. Everything from gun violence to ecological change, even racism, can be tied to the public health system. While drug abuse is commonly portrayed as a criminal justice issue, Dr. Wen stressed in her lecture that public health programs like Baltimore’s promotion of Naloxone are essential to creating drug-free communities.
Dr. Wen’s talk was relevant, even for those who aren’t medical students. If you are interested in hearing more from Dr. Wen, you can watch her TED talks on medical leadership, patient-centered care, and reform in the healthcare system or read her book, “When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests.”