Pre-Viewing Reading 2: Leana Wen’s Winning Essay (excerpt)

In 2007, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof invited teachers and college students to apply to Win a Trip with Nick.” Medical student Leana Wen and Chicago teacher Will Okun wrote the winning essays that gave them the opportunity to join Kristof on a reporting trip to central Africa that summer. Reporter tells the story of their trip. Below, we have included excerpts from Wen and Okun’s winning essays. What do these texts reveal about the winners’ reasons for taking this trip? Why do you think Kristof asked a teacher and a college student to join him?


If we just looked for them, we can find injustices everywhere. Hurricane Katrina exposed Americans to abject poverty and health disparities right in our backyard. Many more injustices exist "over there," in developing nations, that result in millions of preventable deaths and lifetimes of wasted talent and squandered opportunity. I want to fight these injustices and change the world.

My upbringing exposed me to injustices firsthand. Raised in a dissident family in China, I came to the US on political asylum after the Tiananmen Square massacre. We were outsiders in a Communist regime and remained outsiders in predominantly Mormon Utah and then inner-city Los Angeles. Though Shanghai, Logan, and Compton have little else in common, they all bear witness to the differences between the haves and have-nots, and I grew up keenly aware of the impact of political, cultural, and socioeconomic oppression. As a child with life-threatening asthma and debilitating speech impediment, I also confronted the stigma of disability and the challenges of seeking health care with limited resources.

Leana Wen, a Chinese American woman, stands holding a notebook and pen. Palm trees are visible in the background, as well as the arm of a man who is out of the frame.

Yet the mechanisms to address injustices eluded me. I thought that becoming a doctor would allow me to help those most in need; however, I witnessed more problems than found solutions that had sustainable rather than short-term impact. . . . Pills might help the individual patients at that point in their lives, but [that] does not resolve the root causes of their problems.

Global change requires more than pills and individual-level change: it hinges on concerted education and mobilization. . . . It is to learn communication to the public as a method of effecting change that I apply for this opportunity. . . . Treating a patient's problems and moving on to the next ailment is not enough, and I want instead to convey my patients' stories and describe their communities' struggles. I want to solve global problems by educating and motivating the public to action. I want to learn these tools from you.

Source: Leana Wen, "Winning Essay: Leana Wen," New York TImes, April 20, 2007, accessed September 19, 2010.

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