UTHSC physician makes impact in pediatric nutrition

Published 4:02 am Tuesday, January 10, 2023

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University of Tennessee Health Science Center

Mark Corkins, MD, CNSC, FASPEN, AGAF, FAAP, division chief of Pediatric Gastroenterology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital and professor of pediatrics in the College of Medicine, is committed to providing pediatric nutrition information to the public and educating future health care professionals in pediatrics.

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In light of his leadership roles in several pediatric organizations, Dr. Corkins has served as a go-to source on national concerns regarding homemade and prepackaged baby food, baby formula, and other pediatric nutrition issues for local and national media, including The Commercial Appeal, The Washington Post, CBS News, CNN, and The New York Times.

His motivation, he said, has been “providing the media with trusted information, because the hope is that you’re going to get information to the public that will be helpful.”

Dr. Corkins shared his insight on the baby formula shortage that occurred earlier this year with CBS News, after he treated two patients with nutritional issues caused by the shortage.

The shortage has eased; however, he is hopeful that planning can prevent a similar situation in the future. “The formula shortage is getting better,” he said. “I have been advocating that even though the shortage is over, maybe we need to think about a contingency or backup plan, so when one factory goes down, we don’t end up with a national shortage.”

Dr. Corkins earned his medical degree from the University of Missouri School of Medicine in 1989 and completed his pediatric residency at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in 1992. He was a pediatric gastroenterology fellow at the University of Nebraska Medical Center/Creighton University.

His interest and drive to pursue pediatric gastroenterology increased after being surrounded by inspirational pediatric physicians. “One of the things that I have seen in my career is good role models. I was at residency and fellowship, and places that had great pediatric gastroenterology doctors, and you look at them and think, ‘I could do that’,” he said.

Dr. Corkins became the division chief of Pediatric Gastroenterology at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital and began teaching as a professor in the UTHSC Department of Pediatrics in 2011.

“As division chief, part of the role is to make sure we have clinicians in the right places at the right times, and another part is trying to recruit to build the division and add to the diagnostic abilities with the different skill sets and expertise that is out there,” Dr. Corkins said. “Always trying to build and enhance what we can offer to our patients.”

“As the educational mission of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, we have to make sure we provide the cutting-edge education to the students and residents that rotate through or are on the inpatient service,” he said.

In addition to his role as the Division Chief of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Dr. Corkins is the director of the Pediatric Gastroenterology Fellowship program, which provides fellows with various clinical experiences and opportunities to educate and prepare them to pursue pediatric gastroenterology careers.

“I love having a fellowship because they bring energy and excitement, and after we teach them for three years, it’s bittersweet when they finish,” Dr. Corkins said. “For our entire faculty, it is a pleasure to see how far they’ve come and how much we’ve been able to teach them in this amount of time.”

Dr. Corkins holds many professional memberships in national health care organizations, including his membership in the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), for which he has served two terms on the AAP Committee on Nutrition.

“I was on the committee for two terms, and then I became the chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition,” Dr. Corkins said. “We look at policies that the AAP has for pediatricians and create nutrition policies and guides that our pediatricians can use in patient care.”

“Dr. Corkins’ service as chair of the AAP Committee on Nutrition is a tremendous honor for him and for the Department of Pediatrics,” said Jon McCullers, MD, senior executive associate dean of Clinical Affairs and chief operating officer for the College of Medicine, and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at UTHSC and Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. “Guidance from the AAP on important topics like child nutrition is considered the gold standard for medical practice.”

Dr. Corkins is also a member of the American Society for Parental and Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN).

ASPEN is a medical professional organization with 6,000 global health professionals and a mission to improve patient care by advancing the science and practice of clinical nutrition and metabolism.

“Since I had an interest in nutrition, it was a very logical place for me to get involved and work on a task force and committees and try to come up with guidelines and polices that can help the care of kids who need nutrition interventions,” he said.

Dr. Corkins served on the ASPEN multidisciplinary task force that constructed a new definition for pediatric malnutrition, which was approved by the ASPEN Board of Directors and endorsed by the AAP. “That’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever done,” Dr. Corkins said.

The new definition of pediatric malnutrition created by the task force is an imbalance between nutrient requirements and intake that results in cumulative deficits of energy, protein, or micronutrients that may negatively affect growth, development, or other relevant outcomes.

“There are parameters we need to look at, and when those parameters are met, we make a formal diagnosis that the patient is malnourished, and we must put the resources in and work on their nutrition,” Dr. Corkins said.

In 2019, Dr. Corkins was honored as the St. Jude Endowed Chair of Excellence in Pediatric Gastroenterology. In the same year, he became an honorary member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“It is pretty cool because they don’t do that for a lot of doctors, but because I liked nutrition and I’ve worked with them, they made me an honorary dietician,” he said.

He was also the recipient of the 2015 Excellence in Mentorship Award from the UTHSC Department of Pediatrics and Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.

“The Department of Pediatrics presents one Award for Excellence in Mentorship annually. Being honored by his peers with this award demonstrates the tremendous respect and regard our faculty hold for Dr. Corkins,” Dr. McCullers said.