Meet Shelley Wells Collins MD, FAAP, Associate Professor and Medical Director of UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital

When Dr. Collins isn’t saving the lives of her pediatric patients, she is molding the lives of her students– a juggling act that provides her the opportunity to constantly improve her practice of medicine.

1. When and how did you decide to enter pediatrics?Shelly-Collins_-e1333031855863-220x275

I was actually a third-year medical student at the University of Miami. I thought I would choose surgery because I like using my hands, and the adrenaline rush was fun. Then, I did my pediatric rotation and I never looked back. I felt like I was really making a difference, and I couldn’t see myself being any other type of physician. I felt close to my patients, and the potential that I saw in all of them moved me with each patient I cared for.

2. How long have you been working at UF Health Shands?

I have been a faculty member here since October of 2006.

3. What is the most rewarding aspect of your job as a pediatrician?

Nothing compares to taking care of a pediatric patient. I care for children who are sick and are admitted to the hospital, and I am fortunate in that most of my patients (nearly 100 percent) become well enough to go home. During the time that I care for them, I am invited into their lives. This is a privilege — one that most people never have the opportunity to experience. When children are sick, they act sick; when they are feeling better, they let you know by how they behave.

I had one patient who was admitted with a serious infection. After several days of antibiotics and many hours of worry, I went in to see him, and he greeted me in a complete Spiderman outfit —complete with a mask and web-casting gloves. He told me he was feeling fine that day and was ready to play! Not a lot of people get to take care of Spiderman!

4. What about in terms of your role as a mentor?

I’m very fortunate to work with an exceptional group of physicians, nurses, staff, administrators and students. The work I do with students and faculty in terms of mentorship is always very rewarding. Watching as career choices are made and as light bulbs start to go off is incredibly satisfying as a teacher.

5. How has your experience in medical education influenced you as a doctor?

When you teach students and residents, you always have to be ready for the tough questions. Students now are so much smarter than I was when I was going through medical school. They’re incredibly tech savvy and are less inhibited by perceived barriers and hierarchies. As a physician, working with students pushes you to keep up with the latest literature and forms of treatment. Knowing that a drug or treatment works isn’t enough — students want to know HOW it works, and WHY that one works better than another one. It keeps me on my toes and challenges me to stay educated. It can be easy to become complacent in your knowledge, but keeping up with students makes me a better doctor.

6. What do you enjoy most about specifically working at UF Health Shands?

The people. I’ve worked in other academic medical centers where there is not a common goal and there is a lack of collaboration. At UF Health, my colleagues – both adult and pediatric – and I have the same missions. First and foremost, it’s to take care of our patients and do it safely and efficiently with the highest possible quality. Second, we teach because we believe profoundly in the importance of educating those physicians who will take over for us when we are no longer caring for patients. Finally, it’s to answer questions that haven’t even been asked yet. Research is paramount to finding the next best way to care for our patients. The faculty and staff are committed to each other and to the patients.

7. What are some of your favorite memories of working at UF Health?

Some of my memories are related to patients and some are related to my students. My first favorite memory is about a patient I took care of in the hospital for months while she awaited a heart transplant. I saw her every day and we developed a very close bond. Over the course of the months I’d cared for her, it seemed that other kids would get hearts when I was out of town. I had a vacation coming up and she told me as I was hugging her good bye for the week that she was certain she would be getting her heart because I was going out of town. Of course, I knew there was no correlation at all, but I hoped she was right — even if it meant I wouldn’t be there when it happened. Five days into my vacation, I got a call from her mom telling me they were flying her heart in and she’d be in the OR in a matter of hours. We started crying together on the phone. When I got back into town, she was already sitting up in bed with her new heart, making a necklace of beads. My other favorite patient memory is more recent. This was a patient who was from another country who came to the U.S. to vacation when she became very ill. She couldn’t walk when she came into the hospital. After many days and many tests, we came to a diagnosis of a pretty rare condition and began her treatment. The day after we started her treatment she got up out of bed, walked across the room and hugged me. Again, tears — hers, mine and her mom’s. It’s a blessing to do what I get to do.

My student memories are always bittersweet. Watching them go through their residency match and realizing their dreams is always wonderful. The hardest for me is saying goodbye to students I’ve worked with and gotten close to over their four years of school. The first graduation I went to, as my students walked across the stage to receive their diplomas, I found myself clapping loudly and saying things like “woohoo.” My students would start chuckling to themselves because my enthusiasm was probably not totally appropriate. But, I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

8. If you were not in the medical field, what job do you think you would do?

I would own a flower shop. I love putting flowers together. It is very relaxing for me and it makes my house look prettier.