Blue Devil of the Week: Leading a One of a Kind Clinic

Pediatric endocrinologist Deanna Adkins is director of the Duke Child and Adolescent Gender Care clinic

Deanna Adkins is director of the Duke Child and Adolescent Gender Care clinic, the only one of its kind in North Carolina.
Deanna Adkins is director of the Duke Child and Adolescent Gender Care clinic, the only one of its kind in North Carolina.

Name: Dr. Deanna W. Adkins

Position: Director of Duke Child and Adolescent Gender Care, the only clinic of its kind in North Carolina

Time at Duke: 13 years

What she does at Duke: Adkins, an endocrinologist, sees pediatric patients four days a week at Duke Children’s Hospital, Duke Children’s and WakeMed Children’s Specialty Services in Raleigh and Duke Children’s Specialty Services of Cary. A third of Adkins’ patients suffer from diabetes, a third have growth and/or puberty disorders and a third deal with transgender issues. Dealing with transgender patients is a relatively new part of Adkins’ job. She started the Duke Child and Adolescent Gender Care clinic two years ago after witnessing how hormone therapy helps transgender youth and children with differences of sex development (children born with conditions affecting internal and external sex organ development). “We help their bodies to transition because they can’t get their minds to transition,” Adkins said. She also teaches courses in neuroscience, social science and cultural health.

It’s all about the hormones: The endocrine system, which regulates hormones, has interested Adkins for many years. “Endocrinology is very much like tinkering with a machine,” Adkins said, describing hormones such as estrogen and testosterone, which are produced by glands like the pituitary and thyroid, as being like “a control panel” or “a thermostat” for the body. Hormones act as signals between organs and tissues and regulate numerous body processes such as sleep, digestion and, of course, puberty.

On helping youth explore gender identity and gender expression: Adkins is proud of her medical work with gender issues. As an endocrinologist, she’s often confronted with gender’s complexity and calls it more common than people think for a person’s mind and body to be on “different pages” in terms of gender. Adkins’ clinic takes a holistic approach in treating gender issues, providing counseling as well as medical services for patients and their families.

A memorable day: “Almost every day is memorable,” said Adkins, who relishes the long-term relationships that develop in pediatric care. She sees many of her patients from early childhood to early adulthood. Clinic days full of seeing patients always lift her moods. “Kids are awesome,” she said. “They’re resilient and it’s great to watch them grow and see what kind of people they become.”

Special object in her workplace: A picture of an angel colored by one of her first patients at Duke, who was a young girl who passed away from cystic fibrosis at the age of 15. The picture hangs on Adkins’ wall.

First ever job: She was a hostess at Shoney’s. Before that, she spent the summers working on her grandparents’ South Georgia farm loading watermelons.

Something people might not know about her:  Medicine and teaching run in her family. Out of Adkins’ 22 cousins, most are either doctors, nurses or teachers.

Nominate a colleague to be the next Blue Devil of the Week.