Maria Trent lived in the Columbia neighborhood of Running Brook during the early 1970s while her dad worked on a doctorate at the University of Maryland, College Park, and her mom taught at Waterloo Elementary. She was just 3 years old when her family moved back to North Carolina, but she was destined to return to Howard County — after an extended academic detour took her from undergrad at Yale to University of North Carolina Medical School, to a pediatric residency at Children’s National Medical Center in D.C. and earning a master’s degree in public health from Harvard.
It was growing up in an extended family in the small town of Hertford, N.C., where she helped care for an aging aunt, and attending the magnet North Carolina School of Science and Math in Durham that spurred her interest in medicine, says Trent, now 44.
In addition to the science, “you have to be interested in people even when they are not at their best,” she explains.
Trent is now associate professor of pediatrics, specializing in adolescent medicine, at Johns Hopkins Hospital and assistant professor at Bloomberg School of Public Health, as well as director of interdisciplinary training for the JHU Leadership on Adolescent Health training program and medical consultant for the Baltimore City Health Department’s school-based health program.
Wearing so many hats, it’s no wonder Trent was named to Ebony Magazine’s Power 100 list of the nation’s most influential African-Americans, among peers including President/CEO of McDonald’s Don Thompson, national security adviser Susan Rice, director/producer Shonda Rhimes and President Barack Obama.
In the academic setting, her busy schedule includes clinical work, research and teaching — and she enjoys it all.
“Every project is inspired by something I’ve seen with a patient,” she says. “They inspire me to do the work.”
While “teenagers are teenagers” and she treats menstrual disorders in patients whose backgrounds run the gamut from wealthy international families to low-income city residents at Hopkins’ Harriet Lane Clinic (one of the oldest pediatric primary clinics in the United States), Trent’s research focus is on community medicine — specifically the urban teen girl population.
Sometimes it takes only one person to inspire. Trent had been studying the endocrine condition polycystic ovary syndrome when she saw a young patient with the STD complication pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) who had been in and out of the system, never fully educated about treatment or consequences of infertility, chronic pain and tubal pregnancy. The physician realized this one individual represented many such young women and changed the direction of her research.
But her concern isn’t with girls only.
“I’d love to see research expand to young adults and boys” in areas of sexuality and reproductive health, Trent says. She’s also interested in health management issues at the national level.
“Pediatricians have to allow time with teens. If they are well, it’s a short visit” — doctors spend on average nine minutes, she notes — “but that’s when we prevent things from happening.”
Dr. Robert Shochet, director of the college advisory program at JHU School of Medicine, calls Trent a “phenomenal teacher, role model and physician.”
“We as colleagues see her as a role model as well,” Shochet says.
In her role as a teacher, Trent has volunteered to provide research experiences for students using technology such as videos and text messages to educate patients and remind them to take medication.
“Dr. Trent takes what happens in clinical practice to find the best possible care at the public health level,” says Dr. Harolyn Belcher, a colleague in Kennedy Krieger Institute’s RISE (Research Initiatives for Student Enhancement) programs.
Adds Belcher: “She’s a great mom and daughter, able to balance things in an exemplary way.”
Trent’s husband and children help her keep her bustling life in perspective, she says.
After marriage during their respective educations, husband Gregory Hampton originally followed his wife’s career moves. When “it was his turn to be first,” he accepted the position of director of graduate studies in the English department at Howard University, and Trent was then offered an appointment in adolescent medicine at Hopkins.
Now daughter Safi, 9, and son Hodari, 6, have been added to the family, and Trent has brought her widowed mother back to the county, where she praises resources for seniors, such as HT Ride and senior center activities.
And as for the kids, they’ve become seasoned travelers, rolling their own luggage along to accompany Mom when she lectures in Europe, India or Australia. Although their schedules are not as flexible now that both are in elementary school, Trent says with some regret, each child did a PowerPoint presentation in class about his or her most recent trip to Panama.
The family lives in eastern Howard County, convenient for Trent’s commute north to Hopkins and Hampton’s commute south to Howard.
“My mother said that when we were here in the early ’70s, the area where we now live didn’t exist. And there are sidewalks, a park system, new families with young children,” says Trent. “I’m very excited about redevelopment plans for Route 1. There are a lot of changes — we have a new supermarket and a Starbucks!”
Despite lecturing and giving research presentations before large audiences, testimony before congressional committees and networking at meetings, Trent claims to be a natural introvert. Her passion for her work has helped her get past any social inhibitions though.
“The combination of being ambitious about changing outcomes for adolescents and the Southern hospitality and openness towards people from my upbringing as a small-town North Carolina girl seems to allow me to overcome it,” she says.
Off the Clock with Dr. Maria Trent
Screen time: Her favorite movie is “The Butler.” “I really enjoyed the historical foundation, even if it took liberties.” As for TV, “Downton Abbey” and “Scandal” are among her favorites.
Favorite books: “Cutting for Stone,” “In the Time of the Butterflies,” “Water for Elephants” and the writings of Nelson Mandela, Edwidge Danticat and J.K. Rowling.
Inspiration: Although she has had “too many mentors to list,” it’s now her teen patients who inspire and motivate her.
Hobby: She lives to travel. “One of the few perks of being a researcher is that you must present work at national and international meetings to give and get feedback from colleagues. In the last few years I have been all over the U.S. as well as India, Australia, France, Spain, Austria and Turkey,” Trent reports.
Little known fact: “I’m an incurable romantic — love happy endings.”