Patients receive an extra level of expertise in diabetes care when Dr. Ayotunde Dokun, M.D. Ph.D., is their physician. He combines science with care in his dual role as Chief of Endocrine Service for Regional One Health and Associate Professor in Endocrinology at University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
Dr. Dokun’s roles as researcher and physician give him a rare combination in medicine of someone who studies the science behind the care he provides patients. His clinical care specialty focuses on general endocrinology, diabetes and obesity. Dr. Dokun’s related research includes peripheral arterial disease, vascular complications and vascular disease.
He said he believes his scientific role helps him have an extra caring touch on the clinical side when talking to patients.
“It does make a difference for patients,” Dr. Dokun said. “Patients tend to tell me that’s the first time they’ve ever heard something explained in such a detailed way to them. Being a scientist does impact my clinical care.”
Dr. Dokun’s research team recently published a paper about a study that looks at the restriction of blood supply during the process of new blood vessel formation in diabetic patients dealing with high blood sugar. That blood supply restriction often results in high amounts of limb pain and possibly the ultimate loss of a toe or foot. The study shows a new therapy that could improve blood flow in diabetics dealing with peripheral arterial disease.
His research interest is better understanding the molecular side of how diabetes causes vascular complications. He feels that work also informs his care of patients at Regional One Health in a city where diabetes and obesity are major problems.
Dr. Dokun came to Memphis in July 2016, in part because he saw the potential impact endocrinology can have on the community’s diabetes problem.
“I have expertise in an area where there is a huge disease burden in this city and I thought I could make a difference, especially at Regional One Health thinking about some of the population the hospital serves,” he said. “I saw the passion of the people who interviewed me. There are visionaries here who see a way forward for a better community.”
Dr. Dokun grew up in Osogbo in the Osun State of Nigeria. After high school he moved to the U.S. and attended Bronx Community College where he became interested in research. He continued at State University of New York, Long Island with a National Institute of Health Minority Access to Research Careers fellowship. It only deepened his interest in research.
He loved research but also had an interest in becoming a physician. It was over a summer break during his undergraduate years that Dr. Dokun met someone who helped him realize he could achieve both. Dr. Dokun sought medical school programs that focused on training physicians as scientists. He ultimately attending The Mount Sinai School of Medicine where he earned a Ph.D. in immunobiology and his M.D.
That dual focus is rare. In his medical school class of 150 students, Dr. Dokun was one of seven with the dual focus and five who ultimately graduated with it.
“I’ve always been interested in medicine but the more I was exposed to medicine the more I realized there are a lot of things we don’t know how to treat, especially someone like me growing up in Africa where access to health care is limited,” Dr. Dokun said. “I got to the U.S. where I thought all the answers were and realized even here there is better access to care but doctors don’t always have the answers.”
Dr. Dokun likes the challenge of seeking those answers while also providing care to patients. Could he ever choose to focus on one over the other? Not likely, he said.
“As much as I enjoy publishing and finding new understandings of diseases there’s something really special about touching a patient, looking a person in the eye and helping them,” he said. “In a 30-minute visit the help is right away. With research it’s 20, 30 years later.”
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Dokun, call 901-545-6969.