BELEN — A local, family medicine doctor who has served generations of Valencia County residents is closing out his career after 38 years.

Dr. Richard “Rick” Madden’s first day practicing medicine in the Hub City was Jan. 1, 1985.

“It was a weekend and I was on call for our practice, and I hadn’t even seen a single patient yet,” Madden recalls.

He met his very first patient that weekend during a home visit — a brand new baby.

Since then, he has cared for patients from cradle to grave.

“The more I thought about it and got through my college education, it became clear to me at some point that I was a generalist,” he said. “I wanted to be able to take care of people from all walks of life and all ages from birth to death, and that was family medicine.”

Dr. Richard Madden

Even before he began medical school, Madden said there were at least two seminal events that pointed him in the direction of being a doctor.

When he was 13, he father suggested he think about becoming a doctor. It was a career path he hadn’t considered.

“It immediately made sense to me. He saw something in me, that I hadn’t quite processed in that way yet,” he said “and it’s  about caring for people and being honored to be part of their lives.”

Madden also had a desire to learn about the science of medicine. As a young boy, he remembered the doctor looking in his ears with a lighted scope.

“I wondered how you can see all the way through,” he said with a chuckle. “So I wanted to find out how the mysteries of the body works.”

Originally from Indianapolis, Ind., Madden received his bachelor’s degree in biology from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. He earned his medical degree from the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, where he also completed his family medicine residency.

Madden didn’t go into medical school right out of college, even though that was what many did due to the Vietnam war.

“I joined the Army for three years because I was No. 16 in the first draft,” the doctor said.

He spent three years in San Antonio at Fort Sam Houston teaching medical laboratory.

“It was a really nice job compared to what could have happened — to be on the front lines of Vietnam,” Madden said.

After he was discharged, Madden set his sights on New Mexico. He’d spent several summers working at various camps in the Land of Enchantment, and he’d met his wife, Molly, there and became completely enchanted with her.

“I fell in love with her and fell in love with New Mexico,” Madden said.  “I decided I only wanted to apply to UNM for medical school.”

After getting his M.D. in 1980, Madden went on to do his residency at UNM, graduating in 1983.

As they began searching for the ideal small town, the couple were also looking closely at school districts. Their first child, Jennifer, was born nine weeks early with a diaphragmatic hernia, a birth defect where there is a hole in the diaphragm, and organs in the abdomen can move through the hole in the diaphragm and upwards into a baby’s chest.

“It’s a total medical disaster, a lot of brain damage,” he said. “We knew she we needed special education and Belen actually had the best special education we could find anywhere in the state.

“The reason seemed to be they had taken the federal monies (for special education) and developed a very top tier special ed program for elementary schools.”

During his career, Madden said he was able to work with many people with developmental disabilities, something he said was a very important and fulfilling part of his practice.

“I’ve been honored to be part of people’s lives. People are so nice in New Mexico,” he said. “I’ve been able to do all kinds of medicine.”

Medicine as a career is full of ups and downs, successes and frustrations. Dr. Madden saw one of the biggest blows to local health care during his tenure — the closure of the local hospital in 1990.

“I was chief of staff at the time. It was all about financing. It was owned by Presbyterian and they were losing half a million dollars a year and projected to lose more,” he recalled.

In 1989, the public was asked to support a mill levy — a property tax — which was voted down on a three-to-one margin.

“It would have been, on average, only $60 a year,” Madden said. “The editor (of the Valencia County News-Bulletin) at that time actually published an editorial espousing that we should vote for (the tax). His family was my patients.”

With the mill levy voted down, the hospital closed. At the invitation of Presbyterian, local physicians including Madden were asked to run a primary care clinic out of the old hospital facility.

It opened in March 1990, with Madden as one of the first doctors to practice at the location, which is still operating on Christopher Road.

“Such a sad thing for people who needed local 24-hour care, to lose their full service hospital.”

Hospital or not, Madden has cared for patients through all stages of their life, at one brief point seeing five generations at one time.

“You witness a patient’s birth and then you see them again and they’re having a baby, and then they might have their grandchildren having a baby,” he said. “At the other end of the spectrum is death. Being part of people’s dying process is immensely gratifying in the sense of being able to help the family as well as the person to grapple with what’s coming and learn from them, to provide some guidance, maybe make it easier.”

In addition to treating patients, Madden said his practice has allowed him to learn about state and local health policy and its effect.

He served on the national board for the American Academy and Family Physicians from 2010 to 2013, and prior to that, served on committees and commissions nationally for the academy.

“I felt like I got a health policy fellowship over those years,” Madden said.

He is also the chairman of the government affairs committee for the New Mexico Academy of Physicians.

When he moved to Belen in 1985, Madden said his intent was to “try it out, because I knew they needed primary care in rural areas. Then after five years, I thought I might go back to the university and teach.

“I just found, this is where I belong. I didn’t know I was a small town guy till I moved to one. It has been so rewarding and I’m so grateful to the community and my patients.”

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.