Lifelines: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health

Metropolitan. Aug. 2021. 352p. ISBN 9781250186232. $27.99. MED
With her latest work, Wen (public health, George Washington Univ.; When Doctors Don’t Listen) covers pertinent topics one would expect in a physician’s book about public health for lay readers: reproductive health, mother and infant mortality, opiate addiction, the COVID-19 pandemic, and more. The difference between this work and other recent books about public health, however, is Wen’s lived experience. She uses anecdotes from her work and her personal life, including her immigration to the United States from China at age seven, to illuminate the chapters. For instance, there’s personal context in Wen’s discussion of her work as commissioner of Baltimore’s health department until 2018. She still lives in Baltimore, where she has been immersed in the city’s day-to-day efforts to protect residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, and she explains a public health physician’s struggle to balance politicians’ wants with public needs. From her own childhood, Wen shares how public health policies helped (or could have helped more) her struggling immigrant family in Los Angeles during times of need.
VERDICT Wen’s book, combining memoir with a discussion of major public health initiatives, is a refreshing take on the topic, one that addresses racial disparities in health care and recenters the conversation on why society needs public health initiatives, not just an overview of what those initiatives might be. Recommended for readers interested in health policy.
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