Leading children’s health expert to head UF department of pediatrics

Scott A. Rivkees, M.D.

An international expert on pediatric endocrinology, developmental biology and the prevention of brain injury in preterm infants has been tapped to lead the University of Florida College of Medicine department of pediatrics and serve as the physician leader for Shands Hospital for Children. 

Scott A. Rivkees, M.D., currently at the Yale University School of Medicine, has been named chair of pediatrics at UF after a nationwide search, College of Medicine Dean Michael L. Good, M.D., announced today. Rivkees’ appointment begins Jan. 3. 

“Dr. Rivkees is a nationally and internationally regarded scientist, physician and leader in the field of pediatrics and the perfect person to lead the department as we strive to translate research discoveries into the promising treatments of the future, train the health practitioners of tomorrow and also provide the best possible care to the young patients we see every day,” said Good, the Folke H. Peterson dean’s distinguished professor. 

Rivkees currently serves as a professor of pediatrics and associate chair of pediatrics for research at Yale. He also leads the department’s section on developmental endocrinology and biology and directs the Yale Pediatric Thyroid Center and the Yale Child Health Research Center.

“It is an honor to join the University of Florida, and I hope to build on the tremendous strengths of the department of pediatrics and the university,” Rivkees said. “Working together, we will continue the department of pediatrics’ evolution into a destination site of fantastic patient care, a center of discovery for the benefit of children, and a hub for training the next generation of pediatricians and physician-scholars.” 

A renowned scientist and clinician, he holds several National Institutes of Health grants and has maintained continuous funding from the NIH for 25 years. His research focuses on the prevention of brain injury in premature infants, the effects of adenosine on the developing embryo, circadian biology and thyroid diseases. 

“We have four different R01 (NIH) grants, and each one is in a different topic,” he said. “When we find something interesting, we pursue it with vigor, in the hope our discoveries will help children.” 

In 2009, Rivkees discovered a hidden safety problem with a commonly used medication for children with Graves’ disease. He found that about one in 2,000 children who took the medication were dying or going into liver failure each year. This finding led to global changes in medical practice and resulted in a major drug safety warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

Some of his laboratory’s key findings include uncovering how infants’ biological clocks develop and are regulated and the molecular mechanisms that protect the fetus from biological stress. Rivkees’ work also centers on developing new therapies and diagnostic tests for pediatric conditions. His research has led to more than 250 scientific articles, and in 2010, he spoke at the 42nd Nobel Symposium in Sweden. 

A fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Rivkees has been named one of “America’s Best Doctors” as well as one of “America’s Top Pediatricians” and one of “New York’s Best Doctors.” His work with pediatric thyroid disease has led to new treatment guidelines for children with thyroid cancer and Graves’ disease. He established the Yale Pediatric Thyroid Center, the first and largest center of its kind in the country, and takes part in several parent-support groups. In coming to UF&Shands, Dr. Rivkees will focus on expanding the number and breadth of centers of excellence that improve health care for all of Florida’s children. 

Rivkees serves on numerous boards and national task forces, and is currently chair of a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development review committee. He is also the founder and editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology. In addition, he helped draft the Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act and testified in its support before the U.S. Senate. 

Rivkees earned his undergraduate degree from Rutgers University and his medical degree from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in 1982. He completed his residency training and fellowships in pediatrics, pediatric endocrinology and neuroscience at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. Prior to joining the Yale faculty in 1996, he held appointments at Harvard Medical School and Indiana University. 

In 2005, Rivkees received the George H. Cook Distinguished Alumnus Award from Rutgers University. He received a similar accolade three years later, when his other alma mater, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, honored him with its Distinguished Alumni Award. In addition, he has been elected to the American Society for Clinical Investigation and the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering. 

Rivkees succeeds Richard Bucciarelli, M.D., who has served as chairman of the department of pediatrics since 2008. During Bucciarelli’s tenure as chairman, seven pediatrics specialties were listed among the top 50 programs nationally, according to U.S. News & World Report’s annual Best Children’s Hospitals rankings.