Courtesy of UF Health
BY DOUG BENNETT
The University of Florida Health Shands Children’s Hospital is the No. 1 children’s hospital in Florida and stands among the nation’s elite pediatric hospitals in eight medical specialties, including a first-ever top-10 ranking in cardiology and a historically high ranking for pulmonology, according to the 2021-22 Best Children’s Hospital Rankings released today by U.S. News & World Report.
Every ranked medical specialty program improved its standing from last year, and the eight ranked programs are the most for UF Health since 2016. The No. 7 ranking for pediatric cardiology punctuates 11 years among the nation’s top programs, including six consecutive years in the top 25.
Seven other specialties made significant gains in the rankings, including pulmonology (No. 21), diabetes and endocrinology (No. 12), neurology and neurosurgery (No. 45), cancer (No. 45), urology (No. 46), neonatology (No. 47), and nephrology (No. 48). Overall, UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital is ranked No. 5 among pediatric hospitals in the nine-state southeast region.
“These are exceptional achievements across a wide range of pediatric medical specialties. The rankings validate the skilled, attentive care that our physicians, nurses, and staff members provide every day and night. Parents trust us to provide the very best care for their children, and it is especially gratifying to deliver on that promise in so many specialties,” said David R. Nelson, M.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health.
The pediatric cardiology and heart surgery program is the highest-rated in Florida for the sixth consecutive year. Pulmonology and endocrinology are now in their fourth year as the state’s top programs.
“It is an incredible accomplishment to move up the rankings in so many specialties, especially during an uncertain and turbulent pandemic year. This recognition reflects our deep, ongoing devotion to patient care, research, and medical education,” said Desmond A. Schatz, M.D., the hospital’s physician-in-chief and interim chair of the UF College of Medicine’s department of pediatrics.
Schatz said he is particulary proud of the resilience and focus shown by pediatric faculty members and hospital staff. In the past year, those efforts included securing a $1 million grant to expand telemedicine services and medical monitoring equipment among underserved and vulnerable populations. Research funding has grown during the past year, and UF continues to be a national leader in areas that include pediatric heart care and diabetes research and treatment, Schatz said. Two women faculty members are beginning a prestigious, nationally selective executive leadership program, while others have emerged as expert voices on pandemic issues related to children, he noted.
“In every facet that can be measured, there is a profound commitment to improving the lives of children. When parents bring their children to be seen by our physicians and providers, they can be assured they’re in the right place for state-of-the-art care,” he said.
Mark S. Bleiweis, M.D., director of the UF Health Congenital Heart Center, credits the cardiology and heart surgery ranking to several factors. One of those is achieving high-quality patient outcomes while also taking on highly complex cases and a large volume of procedures. Teamwork is another factor.
“This is a recognition of the extreme dedication, hard work, and creativity among many people. They are all dedicated to the same vision of providing the highest levels of innovation and patient care,” he said.
In addition to patient outcomes and volumes, Bleiweis said he is proud of efforts to develop advanced therapies for heart failure patients and research that has focused on single ventricle defects.
Sreekala Prabhakaran, M.D., interim chief of the pediatric pulmonary division, said the department’s historically high ranking is a result of a long-standing commitment to patient care through multidisciplinary programs for neuromuscular diseases and severe asthma. Several subspecialties, including the severe asthma program, neuromuscular disease and cystic fibrosis programs use a family centered, culturally appropriate approach to develop individualized treatment plans for children. A medical-legal team, which helps to address barriers to care, is also embedded in the severe asthma program. This is the fourth consecutive year pulmonology is ranked among the nation’s top 30 programs.
“Staying among the nation’s very best pulmonary programs requires an intense amount of dedication across our entire team,” Prabhakaran said. “That is evident every day as we approach patient care, physician training, and medical research with determination and vigor.”
In diabetes and endocrinology, the division continues to build on its well-established national and international reputation for exceptional care, research, education, and advocacy in Type 1 diabetes, said Michael J. Haller, M.D., a professor and chief of pediatric endocrinology.
The division also has a thriving metabolic program that uses individualized assessments of the underlying conditions that lead to obesity and pairs it with tailored therapy focused on healthier lifestyles.
One new initiative involves working on bringing telemedicine kiosks to UF/IFAS agricultural extension offices in rural, underserved counties. That, Haller said, will open up health care access to children without internet access at home. UF Health continues to be a world leader in comprehensive care for children with Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic condition that causes low muscle tone and early-onset weight gain and can lead to extreme appetites later in childhood. Haller said that expertise has broader implications because pharmaceutical companies are often interested in working with Prader-Willi patients to study potential obesity treatments.
“People are making UF Health a destination for specialized pediatric services because they know we have the expertise and experience to provide premier care,” Haller said.
UF Health Shands CEO Ed Jimenez said ranking among the nation’s elite pediatric hospitals in so many medical specialties is a natural outcome of putting children first.
“While we strive to be the best children’s hospital in Florida, being among the nation’s elite is great company. In a year of unprecedented challenges, these rankings affirm the best efforts of our pediatric researchers, physicians, nurses and staff. It vividly illustrates what everyone at UF Health strives for every day and what families expect: compassionate, world-class care supported by innovative medical research and expertise,” Jimenez said.
The U.S. News Best Children’s Hospital rankings are compiled from clinical data and a reputational survey of pediatric specialists across the country