Posted by: mollywelsh13 | April 6, 2016

Leana Wen: Courage in Medicine

Hey everyone and happy last week of blog posts! Hopefully we’ll make these interesting and I’ll try to keep mine short and sweet. (I tried)

So whenever I’m in the car, I listen to Ted radio hour on NPR. It’s a great mix of my two very favorite things: Ted talks and NPR. And that’s where I discovered Leana Wen.

I’ll put a link to both her Ted talk and the NPR interview, but I’ll give you a brief overview of what she’s all about (if you’re going into healthcare you should totally listen/watch though).

Dr. Wen’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and during the course of her treatment she stumbled upon some disheartening information. While browsing the internet, she found out that her doctor was a highly paid representative for the pharmaceutical company of the cancer medications she was receiving. Understandably, she was terrified, so Dr. Wen, as a practitioner herself, decided to start a website called Who’s My Doctor? to increase transparency of doctors. It is voluntary, but it is a space where doctors can disclose their conflicts of interest, their beliefs, and anything that could affect their medical decisions.

The backlash was enormous. Dr. Wen’s email was hacked, people called her employer to say that she should be fired, and she even got death threats.

So onto leadership. I think that we see doctors as leaders. As kids, we look up to them, we trust them, we believe in their expertise, and we look to them for guidance. Dr. Wen is calling for transparency and as she explains, transparency builds trust. Trust is something that is absolutely essential in a leader-follower relationship. It seems that when followers know about their leader as a person, as a communicative, collaborative, caring (woah alliteration) person the relationship become stronger and bonds build.

Dr. Wen herself is an incredible leader. She has created a movement to improve the entire healthcare system while putting the needs of her followers first. Doctors are originally seen as these sort of untouchable, detached leaders and Dr. Wen wants to transition that into servant leadership. As I’ve explained, that created a LOT of discomfort, anger and fear.

So is Dr. Wen a tempered radical? Do these doctors have a right to be angry? Could this transition apply to other leadership positions? The relationships between doctor and patient are very unique and intimate, so do all followers need to know everything about their leaders? Are boundaries important in leadership?

Ted Talk/NPR interview



  1. I wasn’t able to load the TED talk but I still find this topic really interesting and one I hadn’t considered before. Why is there such a power distance between doctors and patients when the context of the relationship is built around personal intimate details? I think Dr. Wen intended to be a tempered radical and then was thrown into full on activism. The fact that her cause created so much consideration after having a modest, localized beginning displays the success of tempered radicalism. I think the Doctor’s have a right to be angry just as anyone whose norm has been disrupted does. However, how they chose to act after the initial creating of the website is more telling. The entire doctor/patient relationship is structured on the doctor expecting to be privy to every detail of the patients life that they may find relevant. Why is so absurd that patients would expect the same from their doctors?

  2. Dr. Wen seems awesome and a true innovator. I am always questioning medical professionals and so many times in television they can be portrayed as untrustworthy. Creating a site where people can see what affiliations and beliefs their doctors have is a good idea. I like that as of now it is optional so that not all doctors have to participate. I don’t necessary think it is tempered because she was not trying to make a change with out people noticing. Dr. Wen was very straight forward and vocal about her idea. I think she has some very good ideas and there are other non-tempered ways to get those out and into the medical community. There can always be improvements and I think Dr. Wen can make them. It is just hard because she is receiving so much backlash and criticism. However, one has to be brave to make changes and I from what I have seen she is capable.

  3. I am actually really shocked at the level of backlash she got from starting something like this. When I was reading your post, I was like “huh, this is an amazing idea!” I think it is awesome to have something like this! And, it is up to the doctor to put his or her information up there (right?) so I don’t understand why people would be so harsh on her. I would LOVE to know anything that would sway my doctors opinion on things, especially because of the line of work and how it deals with literal life and death. Those are things I would want to know! I think this is a great example of tempered radicalism because instead of fighting the issue on the front lines, Dr. Wen took a more round-about approach to creating the change she wanted to see. Although this is an example of tempered radicalism that didn’t work, I think if she had not used a tempered approach she would have still gotten the same or more backlash. I applaud her efforts to make this website a thing and I wish so many people weren’t against her. I am a full supporter!

  4. When I began reading this post I was in disbelief about what Dr. Wen had found out about her doctor, because to me when her doctor was doing seemed to be a bit of an ethical predicament. Honestly, I’m surprised that it is legal. I would agree that trust is an extremely important component of the leader-follower relationship but within the medicine realm it becomes even more pertinent. Leading in a realm where confidentiality is important can be difficult. How do you make followers you are trust worthy, if there are specific things about yourself and medical practices that you can’t share?
    Some doctors and most nurses are service oriented at times but in order for them to stay unbiased they must detach themselves to some extent, thus lessening the bond between the two parties. If they didn’t detach themselves a bit, they would feel continuously plagued with the burden of feeling bad for others and their medical situations.
    There is a type of medical degree that is more service oriented. Instead of obtaining a doctor of medicine degree (MD), instead we should be pushing future doctors to get a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree (DO).The major difference in the two degree types is that D.O. programs place an emphasis on primary care. The emphasis is on people, instead of efficiency per say. I believe this is the type of servant leadership you are talking about needing within the medical realm.
    I would concede that Dr. Wen is a leader in her own regard. But, I don’t believe that she herself is a tempered radical. Personally, I don’t think that getting the word out about malpractice makes you a leader, but rather it makes you an ethical person. Now, if she used getting the word out in an intentional and radical way, to make extraordinary change that I would say yes, but from my point of view she is acting as a voice of a problem that has been challenged in the past but nothing has come of it.
    Anyways, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  5. “Dr. Wen is calling for transparency and as she explains, transparency builds trust. Trust is something that is absolutely essential in a leader-follower relationship. It seems that when followers know about their leader as a person, as a communicative, collaborative, caring (woah alliteration) person the relationship become stronger and bonds build.” These sentences are so powerful to me, because I agree completely. Transparency is something that is so key in life, but has become not as dominant in our society. I feel like now a days we view situations and we try to hide the truth, which makes the water murky and creates false illusions. Trust is undoubtedly one of the most important aspects of creating true leader/follower relationships, but without transparency, trust is hard to gain. I say “bravo!” to Dr. Wren because I don’t always think that the ethics/values of humans are alligned how they should be, and especially in the situation of a doctor, there needs to be completely transparent goals and values at hand. Doctors have a right to be angry, but if they’re doing their job correctly and completely truthfully, then they have nothing to hide or be afraid of! Good post Molly, thank you!!

  6. While I think I understand where this anger come from, Dr. Wen has proposed a brilliant improvement to the health care system. Out of everything that scares me about growing up, going to the doctor and dealing with health insurance is probably the scariest. Most people value life towards the top of their priorities, but does that transfer when it comes to doctors? I think for me I have always seen doctors like, they have gone to a lot of school, studied a lot of things, and they haven’t lost their job yet…however, is this really what we would like when our life is on the line. I am not sure if it was this class or another but we talked about the idea of whistleblowers and how they do such great work for our greater society, but they get wrecked afterwards. Threats, blacklists, vandalism, loss of friends, and the list goes on of all the consequences that can occur because of whatever they call out. Dr. Wen is a whistleblower, she exposed a flaw that many were taking advantage of and has made an attempt at fixing this flaw, but this is messing up other people. The thing for Dr. Wen to remember is that she has the moral upper hand and she is truly doing the right thing, so no matter what other people think or say, Dr. Wen is leading the health field in a positive direction. This change will hopefully remind patients that doctors are human too and eventually it will help in the medical process to evaluate what doctor to go to for various problems. Thanks Molly for this interesting story!

  7. I think transparency is a great idea if done right. Doctors are extremely respected and looked to as leaders. However they are seen as distant and hard to reach. This is definitely an example of tempered radicalism because she was working from her inside position but not from the top-down. The fact that she got so much push back from the doctors astounded me because there should be transparency from the doctors so that patients understand everything that could happen. Thanks Molly for this story!

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