Mark Corkins Has Achieved Goal of Taking Le Bonheur Division 'To the Next Level'
Mark R. Corkins, MD, is a history buff, but that's not necessarily the reason he knows that Le Bonheur Children's Hospital evolved from a sewing club more than a half-century ago.
Le Bonheur Club was a group of women who raised money toward the building of a hospital that would serve the children of Memphis. The hospital, housed in what prior to that had been an orphanage, opened downtown in 1952.
"Yes, I'm very aware of that history," said Dr. Corkins, division chief of pediatric gastroenterology at Le Bonheur. "They make sure we know about it in orientation. It's pretty cool that those families saw the need and helped get Le Bonheur started as a hospital to take care of children."
In 2010, a new, 12-story Le Bonheur Children's Hospital opened next door to the old one, and six months later Dr. Corkins left Indiana University's Riley Hospital for Children to come to Memphis. His task: build up the GI division and continue the evolution started by the sewing club.
"At the end of 2010, Le Bonheur made a real commitment to take the hospital to the next level," he said, "and GI was one of the divisions where they wanted to do that. They were looking for someone to come and be a chief and build the division up and also get a fellowship started, a training program."
When Dr. Corkins arrived, Le Bonheur had two pediatric gastroenterologists, not counting Dr. Dennis Black "who'd been hired to run the Children's Research Foundation, so he was only like 10 percent clinical," Dr. Corkins said. "So they had like 2.1 pediatric GI doctors. For an area the size of Memphis and the surrounding area, that's not even close to enough."
Now, he said, Le Bonheur has seven of the Memphis' eight pediatric gastroenterologists. By comparison, he said, "to my knowledge the state of Arkansas has only two."
Is there a nationwide shortage of pediatric GI doctors? Not exactly, according to Dr. Corkins.
"In some areas there's a dramatic shortage, and in other areas there's a glut," he said. "In places like Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, you can throw a rock and hit a ped GI doctor. And there are places where you have to go miles and miles to find one.
"To be honest, I think the younger folks would rather be in a much bigger city and in a much bigger group because the calls are spread out and in-patient service isn't as frequent, so life is a little more regular."
Le Bonheur now has a three-year fellowship program. Mentoring and training is one of Dr. Corkins' favorite aspects of his job.
"They're young, they're excited, they ask great questions and keep you sharp," he said.
Early in his career, Dr. Corkins became interested in nutrition as part of treating GI patients. It's been his focus throughout his years in medicine. The concept of the role that nutrition plays is relatively new, he said.
"We see a lot of kids who have nutritional problems, and a lot of it's in the presence of other diseases," he said. "In the old days, you just kind of expected it - 'Well, hey, they have this disease so they're just going to be small.'
"Now, outcomes are better with better nutrition. So, no, we don't accept that anymore. We have to do the things to get their nutrition better despite their disease.
"The new realization is that malnutrition is caused by disease, but basically if we can get around that we will improve outcomes. One of the big drives is that it's been shown to be cost effective. Better nutrition is cost-effective medicine to improve outcomes."
Dr. Corkins grew up in St. Joseph, Mo., and earned his undergraduate and medical degrees at the University of Missouri. He did research there with the chairman of surgery and was urged to become a surgeon. But the chairman of pediatrics at Mizzou had a bigger influence.
"He was a great role model and loved what he did," Dr. Corkins said. "You know what, I just love taking care of kids. I got into general pediatrics and found out I was fascinated by the nutrition part of it and the GI tract, because that's how nutrition gets in and why nutrition comes under GI."
Le Bonheur, he said, "is a fantastic place where, to be honest, a lot of people are taking care of kids because they love taking care of kids. In adult GI medicine, the big thing is doing colon cancer screening, and statistics tell us that adult GI doctors make three times what a ped GI makes.
"So I could do the whole scope thing - line 'em up, scope, scope, scope. But I much prefer taking care of kids. They bring me valentines on Valentine's Day ... teenage girls with Crohn's who make an appointment every December and bring me a plate of Christmas cookies that she baked herself.
"I've done this awhile. . . I get wedding invitations. One of our inflammatory bowel disease patients got married and became a pediatric nurse and invited me to the wedding. One of the fun things about pediatrics is watching them grow up and become adults and feeling like you had a part in it and maybe having a good influence on them as well as taking good care of them."
Dr. Corkins has four children - three by a previous marriage and one by marriage to his wife, Kelly Green Corkins, a pediatric dietitian whom he met at a nutrition meeting. Their child is 7 years old.
"I like to sit down and read history," he said. "I love history. But between work and the 7-year-old and a little bit of reading, that's pretty much my day."
Le Bonheur Children's Hospital