April 25, 2003

Veteran surgeon Benton Adkins dies Monday

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Veteran surgeon Benton Adkins dies Monday

Dr. R. Benton Adkins Jr., longtime Vanderbilt University Medical Center faculty member and former Surgeon-in-Chief at Metropolitan Nashville General Hospital, died Monday, April 21. He was 69.

Dr. Adkins and Dr. H. William Scott Jr., professor of Surgery, Emeritus, were pioneers in the study of surgical care for the elderly. In the mid 1980s, as the life expectancy of people was increasing, the duo studied elderly people who underwent major surgical procedures at Vanderbilt to determine the degree of risk imposed on the patient during the operation. Their findings were among the first in the nation to indicate that elderly people, especially those over the age of 90, could undergo safe and effective surgical procedures. Drs. Adkins and Scott co-edited the medical textbook “Surgical Care for the Elderly.”

In 1977 Dr. Adkins was named Surgeon-in-Chief at Nashville’s General Hospital, a position he held until his retirement.

Dr. Adkins was also an active member of the U.S. armed forces, serving as lieutenant colonel, 52nd Medical Squadron with the Air Force Reserve at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. He was a member of the Tennessee Air National Guard and commanded the 118th TAC Hospital from 1984 until his retirement. Dr. Adkins was the liaison officer for the U.S. Air Force assigned to Vanderbilt and was a flight surgeon for the USAF. He also served in the Texas Air National Guard while in residency at Baylor. He was on active duty during the Persian Gulf War.

Dr. Adkins was a member of several national medical societies, including the American Medical Association, Tennessee Medical Association, and Nashville Academy of Medicine.

“Dr. Benton Adkins was a loyal supporter of the Vanderbilt surgical department,” said Dr. John L. Sawyers, former director of the Section of Surgical Sciences at Vanderbilt. “He spent his professional life at Vanderbilt where he excelled as a teacher, clinical investigator and outstanding surgeon. He delighted in teaching anatomy to the first-year medical students where he formed friendships lasting throughout their medical school days.”

His knowledge and interest in anatomy led to his election as president of the American Association of Clinical Anatomists, according to Sawyers. He was a leader in local and state medical and surgical associations, serving as president of the Tennessee Medical Association and the Nashville Academy of Medicine.

“Vanderbilt surgical residents always requested a rotation on his service to benefit from his technical skills and learning how he managed his patients,” Sawyers added. “While at General Hospital he developed a special interest in surgery in the geriatric population. His textbook, “Surgical Care for the Elderly” was so well received that the book is now in its second edition. He was proud of his work in the Air Force, rising to the rank of colonel. He went on a leave of absence to serve during Desert Storm.

“Benton was highly respected as an academic surgeon as witnessed by his membership in all the prominent national surgical organizations.

“He will be missed by his fellows surgeons, students and patients.”

Dr. Adkins was a graduate of Austin Peay State College in his hometown of Clarksville before attending Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. After graduating from VUSM in 1958 he completed an internship and residency in surgery at Vanderbilt. He also served a residency at Baylor Medical College in Houston, Texas from 1960 to 1961. He returned to Nashville following training in Texas. In his last year of residency at Vanderbilt, Dr. Adkins served as chief surgical resident.

Following his training at VUSM, Dr. Adkins was appointed assistant professor of Surgery and Anatomy at Vanderbilt, where he quickly rose to professor of Surgery and Anatomy.

“We are saddened by the passing of Benton Adkins, physician, scientist, educator, mentor, and friend,” said Dr. John E. Chapman, dean emeritus of the Vanderbilt School of Medicine. “He taught his course in anatomy with authority and with good initiatives. He added personal dimension to his scholarship. He will be missed.”

He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Ruth Crockarell Adkins. The couple had five children: Lucy Crockarell Adkins Organ, Bess Apperson Adkins Marshall, Virginia Hill Adkins, Robert Benton Adkins III, and Charles Robert Adkins, all of whom survive. His parents, Robert B. and Ethel Mae Adkins also survive.

A memorial service was held Wednesday, April 23 at St. George Episcopal Church. The family requests memorials be made to St. George Episcopal Church or to the Canby Robinson Society.