Tony Adkins: More Than The “Dancing Doctor”

by: cathy foreman

For almost a year now, I’ve been following this guy on the ‘gram and have been smitten by his attitude and the genuine love for children that reaches beyond the Instagram videos.

Sometimes I have a master plan that I’ve sat and meticulously thought through, but a lot of the time these things happen on a whim, and that was most certainly the case when I got the notion to reach out to Tony Adkins. I thought it would be cool to ask him a few questions, so I sent him a quick IG note and to my surprise, he responded within a couple of hours.

I wanted this article to reflect who Tony is and show how his environment and other events helped to shape and ground him, becoming the man he is as an individual and as his alter ego, “the dancing doctor.” So, I did a little research and read some articles as I didn’t want to be redundant but maybe to come at a particular question a different way, to garner a different response … that’s exactly what happened.

So, here’s what I know about this amazing human being. Maurice Tony Adkins is a PA-C, MPH, MCHS who works at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, California. He goes by his middle name, Tony and is married with two beautiful daughters. Growing up in South Central, Tony was the youngest of three sons to a single mother. At school, he was not what you would call one of the most academic students. In fact, Tony was, in his words, “in the classes a step above special education, taking remedial classes.” He says he was never challenged, so he never knew the potential of what he could be or who he could become.

At home, this was more or less enforced with his two older brothers being involved in gangs and no male adult figure to provide any semblance of a father figure or role model. The best his mother could do, to keep him out of the streets, was keep him in the house so that he could stay out of trouble and prayerfully avoid being killed. But that didn’t keep out the noise of the helicopters, fire engines, sirens and gunshots. For me, this took me back to a little television show, in the mid-90’s called South Central that featured Larenz Tate, Tina Lifford, Maia Campbell and Jennifer Lopez.

To find silence, Tony would grab his brother’s boom box and the music took him away from his situation. He says, “I use music and dance as a tool to bring my patients out of their situations.” He sees himself in them; the limitations or confinements, as they are. And, it works. They start having a ball and just have fun, forgetting for a moment the chaos that is.

In junior and high school, once again not being challenged or pushed to do much, it wasn’t until after taking a high school placement test with the Army, that changed everything. That placement test, the ASVAB would set Tony on a path to choose between Light Weight Vehicle Mechanic and Infantry. Not wanting to be on the front line, which I imagine was partly due to the surroundings of his upbringing, he chose to be a mechanic.

Tony Adkins, Army
Tony Adkins, Army

It was from the military, nine years, where he picked up his drive. When he came back home, he says, “I knew I wanted to do something better. I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to be a pediatrician.” So, with no classwork or foundation on which to start, Tony had to start at ground zero. He says, “I had to go to Junior College. It took me six years … from basic math to calc, from basic chemistry to bio chem. 1995 was when the push started.” Unlike most four year colleges, junior colleges often times offer certain classes, once a year. For this reason, it takes some students longer to complete their degrees, as was the case with Tony. In the end it’s not about the time it took you to get there, but about the journey.

Now this all sounds good, but I wanted to know how do you make the leap from mechanics and later security escort, in the military, to becoming a Physician’s Assistant. His response, “I asked myself, what do I want to do for the rest of my life and be happy? It has to be something that helps somebody and helps kids. I have to have fun every day. I definitely don’t want to be behind a desk. Becoming a doctor was what I decided to do.” While many refer to him as a doctor, Tony is actually a Physician Assistant (a professional who practices medicine in collaboration or under indirect supervision of a physician). It’s not a long stretch from being a doctor, but it is where he is right now and seemingly where he needs to be, in this space of time. I like a man that makes a decision and goes after it.

NN: Your first job, in the medical field, was as an Orthopedic Spine PA, but your focus was adults. Since you knew you wanted to work with children, did you see this position as the foot in the door, you needed to get to where you ultimately wanted to be?

Tony: I took a neuro rotation in Missoula, Montana. My undergrad was Neurology and I wanted to do something with the brain. I didn’t care about biology – I fell in love with the brain. From there, I went on to the University of Washington and started sending emails to different specialists looking to hire. I thought Orthopedic Spine is close, I’ll try that out. So, I started working with adults. It was fun, but it wasn’t really what I wanted. Working with adults was more about pain management. It was dark and dreary. I was having fun and joking, but I wasn’t really where I thought I should be. Then one day Jesus said, “AMEN”. Across the street from the hospital where I was working was a Children’s Hospital. One day this guy asked me if I wanted to take his job, he was leaving. Of course I said, “yes”. I only had two weeks to give my current boss notice and let him know I was going across the street. It was a gift from God that was handed to me in my lap. That was in Oct 2015 and this is where I will be forever.

NN: Do you have a list of songs or dances? Are you researching popular kids dances? How and what inspires the dance for you with your patients?

Tony: I have the kids select the song. Some, I just pick because they are fun and happy like those from artists like Bruno Mars or Pharrell. And, the kids like them.

Click image to see the dance

NN: Quoting you from another article, you said that what you are doing with these kids “has a clinical value as it allows me to assess patients physical abilities, mobility and recovery.” Tell me about that. Especially since more than the average portion of your patients are confined/tethered or have some form of immobility.

Tony: Physical Therapy has been working with them, but this is my own form of therapy. The dancing allows me to assess their coordination; it provides a better observation of what they can do. Patients don’t want to do the simple things you ask such as “move your leg”, “move your arm” or “squeeze my finger”, but when I ask them to dance, it’s something more and they are interested. I can see their coordination, strength and their range of motion … even how well their brain is receiving and sending messages.

We were coming to end of our talk and I had just one more thing I wanted to know. I asked Tony to tell me something that he’d never told any other publication. I didn’t care what, but I wanted one thing that if you researched Tony, you wouldn’t be able to find it on another site or in another article. I got just that and boy, how on time is it. They say, everything in its time. It happens when it’s supposed to, not before. The stars were aligned and by all accounts, they led me to Tony. This is where find out more about how he became the man he is.

Mr. Tony Adkins

Tony: Growing up, as an African American male it’s always been a struggle. A lot of people that don’t know the black experience think that we over exaggerate a lot of things … but, we don’t. As a teenager, I remember driving through the different areas that were Hispanic and African American, to then go across the street to a more affluent area, which was predominately Caucasian, and see a noticeable difference in how you, we, me are treated. From policing activities to being stopped and asked, “why are you here?” I got used to that, all the time. Sometimes those incidents take effect on your mental state; always feeling like someone is against you. I still feel it to this day; as a black man, when driving next to any law enforcement … I … feel… anxiety. Even though I’m not doing anything wrong.

It’s never a perfect time to protest or bring up a racial issue … you’re only supposed to talk about happy things. I am the only African American Provider at my hospital. Let that sink in for a moment. While across the street, where I used to work, there were two of us, myself and a Cardio Thoracic Surgeon. You always have a sense of “there are not a lot of us.” When I see my patients and others, who are African American, walking the halls … my sense of relating to them goes a lot deeper. They need to see people like me .. people like them. So, I make it a point to acknowledge them. This single gesture is important to Tony and it helps him to not lose sight of the reason he is here … “to pave the way for others.”

This, ladies and gentlemen is Maurice Tony Adkins. This is the epicenter of who this man is. Everything else is a bonus.

You can follow Tony on Instagram.