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UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital nationally ranked in five specialties, makes big gains in three

Rainbow over UF Health Shands Hospital

University of Florida Health Shands Children’s Hospital has been nationally ranked in five medical specialties, making significant gains in three areas — pediatric cancer, cardiology and heart surgery, and diabetes/endocrinology, according to the 2019-20 Best Children’s Hospitals rankings released today by U.S. News & World Report.

UF Health’s pediatric cardiology and heart surgery program achieved a historically high ranking, moving up eight places to 11th in the nation. Two other UF Health pediatric specialties also made significant jumps: Diabetes and endocrinology is now ranked No. 19 (up from 27th), and cancer rose to No. 25 (up 24 spots from a year ago). Two more pediatric specialties — neurology and neurosurgery (42nd, up from 50th) and pulmonology (22nd, same as last year) — are also ranked among the nation’s elite programs.

“These rankings validate the dedication and skill of our physicians, nurses and staff members,” said David R. Nelson, M.D., UF senior vice president for health affairs and president of UF Health. “Parents of our young patients trust us with their children’s treatment. It is particularly gratifying to know that the care they receive across five specialties is among the very best in the country.”

The hospital’s pediatric cardiology and heart surgery program was the highest-rated in Florida for the fourth consecutive year. Also ranked highest in Florida were cancer, diabetes and endocrinology, and pulmonology. The neurology and neurosurgery program is the second-highest ranked program in the state.

“It’s really spectacular that so many of our programs are viewed so highly,’’ said Scott Rivkees, M.D., chair of the UF College of Medicine’s department of pediatrics and physician-in-chief of UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital.

“This reflects our continued investment in pediatric specialties and pediatric programs overall. Developing exceptional pediatric programs is a long process and requires a huge team effort. That resulted in us being even more highly regarded then we were before,” Rivkees said.

UF Health’s pediatric cardiology program has some of the best outcomes in the nation for children who have heart surgery, Rivkees noted. The UF Health Congenital Heart Center has a 99.1 percent survival rate, according to a report from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons. During a four-year period through July 2018, it had a 100 percent survival rate for eight of 10 benchmark heart procedures.

Mark Bleiweis, M.D., director of the UF Health Congenital Heart Center, said it is a privilege to lead a team that continues to achieve higher rankings and improved outcomes. The center has recently seen an increase in the number of complex cases and a higher percentage of small infants, Bleiweis said, which makes the strong patient outcome figures even more impressive. The results for heart transplants as well as complicated procedures to correct the underdeveloped left sides of patients’ hearts has been particularly satisfying for Bleiweis.

“We have great specialists taking care of heart disease. We have outstanding surgical and medical teams and great postoperative care. All of those factors have come together to achieve the best outcomes in the country. This could not be achieved without the seamless collaboration of our physicians, nursing staff and dynamic care team,” he said.

Among UF Health’s ranked programs, the pediatric cancer specialty made the largest jump. William Slayton, M.D., chief of pediatric hematology and oncology, said his division’s unprecedented rise in the rankings is a result of many factors: improvement in the rate of bloodstream infections, which can be common in children receiving chemotherapy; five-year cancer survival rates; a one-year survival rate for bone marrow transplant patients that is among the best in the nation; and a trio of ongoing clinical trials involving pediatric brain tumors and immunotherapy that has raised UF Health’s national profile.

“I’m extremely proud of the inspired efforts by everyone in the division. We have always focused on looking out for patients’ best interests. This ranking honors all of that hard work,” Slayton said.

In diabetes and endocrinology, ongoing efforts to improve patient care and expand research opportunities continue to demonstrate UF Health’s dedication to moving the field forward, said Michael Haller, M.D., chief of pediatric endocrinology. The division optimized automated electronic medical records, facilitating the ordering of screening labs for patients with diabetes. Retinal screening is now offered in its clinics, making it easy and efficient for patients and doctors to ensure there are no signs of diabetes-related vision problems. In addition, the division continues to offer exceptional multidisciplinary care for children with Prader-Willi syndrome, Turner syndrome and gender health issues, Haller said. Its efforts to expand telemedicine services in Ocala, Tallahassee and Daytona Beach are continuing.

“We’re very excited to see that our team continues to be recognized for the outstanding efforts being made to improve the lives of children affected by diabetes and endocrine disorders,” Haller said.

Ed Jimenez, chief executive officer of UF Health Shands, said the overall rankings reflect the staff’s unwavering commitment to innovation and patient care.

“Providing the best possible patient experience requires dedication, focus and teamwork. Our expertise and outcomes are why parents continue to turn to UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital to solve their child’s complex medical issues,” he said. “These rankings from a respected, external group confirm that we have some of the best clinical programs in the United States.

The U.S. News Best Children’s Hospital rankings are compiled from clinical data and an annual reputational survey of pediatric specialists across the country. In the survey, more than 11,000 physicians were asked where they would send the sickest children. Survival rates after surgery, adequacy of nurse staffing, procedure and patient volume and other information can be found at

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Doug Bennett
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