Sometimes, the path envisioned is not the path taken. That certainly holds true for Memphis Madden ’11, who initially planned a career in neurosurgery in a big city. “Toward the end of my undergraduate studies, I started to get into other disciplines like sociology and anthropology and realized that I enjoyed the cultural and community aspects of health more,” she explains. She took a year off and worked in a church public health center in Memphis, Tennessee, where she attended college. It made an indelible impression. “I learned so much about how education, employment, and family/social ties are related to health. It’s where I really fell in love with public health.”
She returned north and attended the University of Pennsylvania, earning a dual Master’s of Public Health and a Master’s of Social Policy, before coming home to Trenton to work for a city council member. She now serves as the Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for the Bureau of Health Promotion and Clinical Services for the City of Trenton.
Emergencies may be in her job title, but her role was initially focused on preparing Trenton for a bioterrorism attack. She was rewriting the plan and planning for a medication distribution simulation before COVID-19 struck. “Our work really shifted.”
She went from imagining a terrorism scenario to living with a pandemic. “For a while my position helped supply city buildings, rescue missions, homes with children and youth with behavioral issues and families in need with necessary supplies.” Then, first responders starting coming down with COVID. “We started sending out care packages of gloves, sanitizers, and masks to protect themselves and for their families to take care of them while in quarantine.”
Just as her role shifted, her daily duties change as rapidly as the city’s needs change. She has pounded the pavement in the name of education. “The community didn’t understand the importance of social distancing at first. We went out to small businesses and corner stores to educate owners. Most recently, she has shifted to tracking cases.
The constant change might frustrate some, but Ms. Madden takes it all in stride and views it as a much-needed opportunity. “Our emergency preparedness plan covered bioterrorism and natural disasters, but we really never touched on pandemics. Trenton has a large population and almost 3,000 have tested positive for COVID, but we weren’t really prepared for it.”
Now, as she prepares for the city’s future, she plans to implement many of the lessons she and her colleagues have learned in real-time. “We now know what we need to do beforehand. We were a little slow in response and didn’t know how hard it was going to hit the city. It gave us an idea of how quickly it can happen.”
This is not the first time the plans changed for Ms. Madden, who never saw herself returning to her hometown. “I never imagined working here in Trenton. I saw myself working in big cities like New York or Atlanta. This was not my plan at all, but to be back here, it is rewarding because people have been saying that it’s the definition of citizenship to help the community you are from. That is what being an active citizen is, and now, it’s really the best spot for me to be.”