Dr. Leana Wen is an emergency doctor and public well being professor at George Washington College who beforehand served because the well being commissioner in Baltimore, Maryland. Dr. Wen is a well-known face on CNN, the place she serves as a medical analyst, writes a weekly column in The Washington Publish and hosts the Publish’s publication, The Checkup With Dr. Wen. She’s additionally the creator of the brand new e-book, “Lifelines: A Physician’s Journey within the Struggle for Public Well being.” The busy mom of two just lately took time to talk with HealthyWomen’s editor-in-chief Jaimie Seaton.
This interview has been calmly edited for readability and size.
HealthyWomen: You write very movingly in the beginning of your e-book about watching a younger boy die if you have been a baby and the way that influenced your determination to enter medication. Are you able to discuss somewhat bit about that?
Dr. Leana Wen: After I was about 10 years outdated, there was a boy who lived in the identical house constructing as me. He was a few years youthful, and we used to stroll to high school collectively. Someday, I heard his grandmother scream for assist. I ran in and will see that he was having issue respiratory as a result of he had bronchial asthma. And I understood that feeling very nicely as a result of I additionally had bronchial asthma and knew that sensation of taking breaths in and never having the ability to totally exhale. I bear in mind grabbing my inhaler and making an attempt to assist him breathe. However then sooner or later I knew that he wanted a hospital. I additionally had extreme bronchial asthma and had been out and in of hospitals and was asking his grandmother to name for an ambulance. She was too afraid to name as a result of their household was undocumented. And he or she was afraid of immigration officers coming if she known as for medical assist. You talked in regards to the finish of the story, which is that I primarily watched this boy die in entrance of me. I understood from that second that individuals’s lives aren’t valued the identical, that we dwell in a society the place well being care shouldn’t be the essential human proper that it must be.
HealthyWomen: There’s one other loss of life later within the e-book, and each may be tied to public well being. So I questioned for those who might discuss just a bit bit about your views and the significance of public well being?
Dr. Leana Wen: I give examples within the e-book in regards to the issues with our healthcare system. The dying sufferers I’ve seen who have been denied entry to healthcare or did not have entry — in a manner that resulted of their lives being prematurely ended — that they had preventable deaths as a result of they didn’t have medical insurance, as a result of they didn’t have the flexibility to pay for healthcare, due to the place they occurred to be born or how a lot cash that they had. And it is unjust and really a lot fueled my want to be in medication.
It was additionally working within the ER that I noticed how a lot well being is not only in regards to the well being care that we obtain. It is also in regards to the air that we breathe, the meals that we’ve entry to, the housing assets which are out there. All of that’s what’s concerned on this idea of public well being. Public well being was not one thing that I went into medication pondering that I wished to do. I had no idea of what it meant. And public well being is not only the other of personal well being, it is not as if some individuals who cannot afford non-public well being care are getting public well being, however slightly public well being is about all these different situations in our lives that allow us to have well being, that isn’t simply in regards to the healthcare that we obtain.
HealthyWomen: You truly simply gave the right segue to my subsequent query, which is, Why do you assume so many People equate public well being and entry to well being care as a damaging, as in the event that they’re dropping one thing slightly than gaining one thing?
Dr. Leana Wen: It is an fascinating query. There may be this sense after we speak about well being disparities that someway well being is a zero-sum sport. Right here in my metropolis in Baltimore, there are neighborhoods only a few miles other than one other the place a baby born at this time can count on to dwell 65 years or 85 years, relying simply on the ZIP code that they occur to be born into. After we speak about lowering disparities, we’re not speaking about taking a mean and taking years of life and including it to others. This can be a idea of all boats rising, that if you assist those that are essentially the most weak, you’re helping everybody. They are not taking assets. Well being shouldn’t be a finite useful resource that is solely out there in a sure amount and you need to disperse it, slightly having more healthy situations for all. Take into consideration clear air. Or we have all been speaking about Covid. Take into consideration an infection management. These are issues that in case you are serving to somebody, you are truly serving to everybody. And so, I believe that is one thing that we have to reframe the dialog round.
HealthyWomen: How do you assume we are able to change that notion?
Dr. Leana Wen: Nicely, I talked about reframing the narrative. That is the time for us to be doing it. The preliminary title of my e-book was, “Public Well being Saved Your Life Right now, You Simply Do not Know It.” And the thought of it’s that public well being does not have a face. Sometimes if you speak about public well being, it is about prevention. We have now prevented one thing from occurring. And so there isn’t a area for one thing that did not occur, however because of this individuals do not perceive it, and it turns into uncared for and underfunded and undervalued. And so, I believe that is the time — within the time of Covid the place individuals take into consideration public well being much more than they did earlier than — for us to place a face on public well being and get individuals to see why an funding of public well being is so essential.
HealthyWomen: Completely. I’m going to maneuver on to the pandemic now. We have seen residents not trusting public well being officers and the catastrophic outcomes. In your e-book, you wrote about credible messengers. Given the present political state of affairs with respect to vaccines and masks, how can we do a greater job and recruit higher messengers, and who do you assume these messengers might be?
Dr. Leana Wen: Public well being very a lot is determined by public belief. One of many 4 aphorisms in public well being is that the messenger issues as a lot as or much more than the message. By way of who the trusted messengers are, it actually relies upon. And I might truly say that, all of us are the trusted messenger to someone else. Any individual out there’s trying as much as us. It might be a former neighbor, it might be a colleague, it might be a cousin, it might be a nephew. There’s someone on the market to whom we’re a reputable messenger. We should always all embrace our roles as potential credible messengers to another person.
HealthyWomen: Do you assume that there are different public individuals or public sorts of people who might be credible messengers to assist us in relation to the pandemic, to get extra individuals vaccinated or carrying masks?
Dr. Leana Wen: Nicely, definitely we have seen that all through the pandemic, within the sense that we’ve seen non secular leaders actually step up, individuals locally, barbers, the group well being leaders, different people that individuals look as much as. However I nonetheless assume that individuals shouldn’t underestimate their very own function with others in their very own lives.
HealthyWomen: I learn a tweet of yours that stated, “Satisfied (sic) the remaining unvaccinated to get vaccinated will probably be very arduous. It is a a lot simpler elevate to get an extra dose to those that already determined to get two pictures and are booster eligible. Doing so is our greatest hope to guard extra People.” So my query is, will the pandemic finish if we proceed to have such a excessive share of people who find themselves unvaccinated?
Dr. Leana Wen: Tough to say. The likelihood is that, on account of how widespread omicron has been, the mix of people that’ve gotten contaminated with omicron and those that had prior immunity via vaccinations will probably be adequate for us to stop future surges. I hope that that is the case. I do not know that it will likely be, however it positively stays true although, that vaccination is our quickest manner out of the pandemic, and it is extraordinarily unlucky that there was this degree of misinformation and lively disinformation that’s stopping individuals from making the choice to guard themselves and their households.
HealthyWomen: Associated to that, if we do not get to full herd immunity, or even when we do, do you assume the virus is simply going to proceed to mutate? Is it one thing that we’re all the time going to be residing with, or do you see an finish in sight?
Dr. Leana Wen: None of us have a crystal ball. I believe one in all three situations is feasible. One is one of the best case, which is that we attain a excessive sufficient degree of immunity via prior an infection in addition to vaccination that future variants haven’t got a lot impression. Possibly we’ll have some seasonal impact and Covid turns into one thing extra akin to the flu. The second chance is that we’ve the precise reverse, that we’ve a brand new variant or a number of new variants that arrive that evade present immunity and that unfold extra simply. It might even be extra lethal, and we might see a complete new pandemic come via. That may be devastating. After which I believe there’s the third chance, which is someplace between these two. If there’s something that we have seen via Covid to date, it is that it’s totally troublesome to prognosticate, that the virus continues to throw us curve balls, and that we should be ready for no matter comes our manner.
HealthyWomen: Is there something I have never requested you that you simply want to add? And I do know that is a really open-ended query, however because it pertains to what we have already talked about.
Dr. Leana Wen: Public well being is below menace in a manner that it has not been previously. My worry previous to Covid was that public well being can be forgotten, that it is uncared for and is one thing that we simply do not speak about, and subsequently do not fund and do not worth. My concern now’s that it is gotten politicized, and it is change into positioned within the midst of ideological and partisan tradition wars. That has many harmful penalties as a result of, in fact, public well being shouldn’t be about partisanship or political divide in any manner. So, how you can bridge that going ahead goes to be our collective problem.