This Duke Doctor is ‘Changing Lives’ After Opening a Clinic for Transgender Youth

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Dr. Deanna Adkins founded the Duke Child and Adolescent Gender Care Clinic in July 2015. It was the first of its kind in North Carolina and one of only a handful in the Southeast.

Deanna Adkins
Deanna Adkins was recognized as one of Durham Magazine’s 2022 Women of Achievement.

By Elizabeth Kane | Photo by John Michael Simpson

“Everybody’s best doctor is different,” says Dr. Deanna Adkins, noting that some people require a more frank approach while others “need a cheerleader.” Deanna takes the latter method with her patients, acting as a champion for them.

It’s that kind of positive leadership and teamwork mentality that led her to build teams of physicians and specialists who can work well together alongside her within Duke Medicine.

“Most of my work is teamwork, which I love,” Deanna says. “We have great teams [at Duke].” She works with a diabetes care team that involves “nutrition, social work and educators.” She also says teamwork is what led her to think about helping transgender kids and teens, and she gathered together a group of people who she felt would help these young patients at the Duke Child and Adolescent Gender Care Clinic.

“It was clear that a team was needed to care for transgender youth based on Endocrine Society recommendations and my experience with my diabetes teams, which clearly showed improved success with our teamwork,” she says, adding that, “I think part of what really drew me to working with transgender kids [is that] … not only are they just really interesting humans … they [also] needed help, [and] no one was really understanding for a long time.”

She began with adding a mental health care provider, “then, we started to build from there. … We have probably 25 team members now.” She explains that this team of specialists work together with her, attending to young patients on topics including “nutrition, vocal coaching, physical therapy and OB-GYN, among others.” It’s an important time to provide support for these patients, given recent trends of anti-trans orders and legislation in states like Texas. “These laws and proposed laws are very concerning for me, my patients and their families,” Deanna says. “They could lead to the death of transgender people, which is unnecessary and a tragedy.”

Deanna also teaches a Cultural Health and Health Disparities course to first-year students at Duke University School of Medicine – a class where “topics range from race and racism, to immigrants, to mental health, to physical disparities, rural health and spiritual health,” she says, adding that the goal is to teach students how these topics affect health outcomes. “It is important that the root cause of a person’s medical issues be addressed, and there are many disparities that keep people from successfully addressing the issues,” Deanna says. “In order for patients to improve their health, physicians and all health care providers need to help remove any blocks to this path.”

The physician remembers a time when she once asked a former patient who faced several health disparities if they would be willing to share their own experience with the health care system on a panel for her class. “Of course!” they replied, more than happy to help. “I’ll do anything for Dr. Adkins. She changed my life.”

Deanna was incredibly touched by their response. “How often in the world do you get the opportunity to change somebody’s life?” she says.

Ginna Purrington, a diabetes educator and nurse who works at the pediatric diabetes clinic at Duke University, met Deanna at Camp Morris, a diabetes camp in King, North Carolina. “It’s pretty rare to have an attending physician who comes back year, after year, after year [to volunteer at the camp],” Ginna says. “To me, that really shows her dedication to her patients.”

Ginna says Deanna is “very empathetic” and “able to be there [and be present] with her patients.”

“When [Deanna] walks forward to do something, she does it very thoroughly and very well,” Ginna explains. “She has such great integrity. … She’s really thoughtful. She looks at things from all sides.”

Ginna says patients have shared with her that they drive hours for appointments with Deanna specifically, “when they could have more easily seen someone closer to their home.”

“She’s brilliant,” Ginna says. “… I feel lucky to have [Deanna] as a colleague and as a friend. I’ve learned so much from her.”

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