Jan 21, 2021
ASCO and the oncology community are deeply saddened by the news that Joseph V. Simone, MD, passed away on January 21, 2021. He was 85.
Dr. Simone will be remembered for his groundbreaking discoveries in pediatric hematology-oncology, including the development of the first curative combination therapy for children with acute lymphoid leukemia, and for his leadership throughout his career at institutions including University of Florida Shands Cancer Center, Huntsman Cancer Institute, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where he began his medical career in 1967. His career advice for oncology professionals, the marvelously candid “Simone’s Maxims,” originally published in 1999, continues to be quoted by job-seekers at every career stage. But of particular meaning to ASCO is Dr. Simone’s fundamental role in the establishment of the Quality Oncology Practice Initiative (QOPI) in 2002.
“Dr. Simone, throughout his remarkable career and in a variety of leadership roles, modeled integrity, empathy, and caring. Among many other contributions, he envisioned and laid the foundation for ASCO’s portfolio of quality programs that improve care for patients everywhere,” said ASCO CEO Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP, FASCO.
According to an interview with ASCO Daily News in 2010, Dr. Simone first found inspiration for QOPI, an oncologist-led, practice-based quality improvement program, while at MSKCC. As physician-in-chief during the period in which the Clinton administration’s health care plan was being debated, Dr. Simone was tasked with explaining the proposal’s ramifications to his staff.
“The plan would have included sending patients to community hospitals because the university hospitals were so expensive,” explained Dr. Simone to ASCO Daily News. “And the docs all said, ‘They can’t do that; we give better care here.’ And I said, ‘Where’s the data?’ Because then, of course, nobody collected data on the quality of care.”
That conversation sparked Dr. Simone’s interest in quality improvement. From 1996 to 2005 he served on the Institute of Medicine’s National Cancer Policy Board, which published several reports concerning the quality of cancer care, including Ensuring Quality Cancer Care in 1999. Although that report in particular inspired interest and dialogue on the topic of quality, tangible change in the oncology community remained elusive.
At ASCO’s request, in 2002, Dr. Simone formed a steering committee that drafted a proposal for a program to promote excellence in cancer care. The final proposal was approved by ASCO’s Board of Directors, and after a successful pilot program, QOPI was opened to all ASCO members in 2006. Since its inception, hundreds of practices have used QOPI to validate and improve the quality of care they provide. The program laid the groundwork for ASCO’s further efforts in the field of quality improvement, including the QOPI Certification Program (launched in 2010), the Quality Training Program, and the Quality Care Symposium, helping oncology professionals around the world deliver the highest standard of care to their patients.
In 2016, ASCO honored the incredible legacy of Dr. Simone by establishing the Joseph V. Simone Award and Lecture for Excellence in Quality and Safety in the Care of Patients with Cancer, which recognizes extraordinary individuals who have made multiple, significant, and enduring contributions to the quality and safety of cancer care.
Dr. Simone joined ASCO as a member in 1976 and, in addition to his instrumental work on QOPI, was a dedicated volunteer on a number of ASCO committees and task forces. He served two terms on the ASCO Board of Directors, several terms on the Special Awards Selection Committee, and on the Conquer Cancer Board of Directors, among other volunteer roles. His service to the profession and to the Society was recognized by ASCO with the 2002 Distinguished Service Award for Scientific Achievement, the 2006 Public Service Award, and the 2010 ASCO/American Cancer Society Award.
Dr. Simone concluded his maxims by describing medicine as a noble calling. “It can be the most fulfilling and rewarding of professions, if taken with a sharp eye for reality, a dash of iconoclasm, and a ready sense of humor…. Despite all the travails of human frailty that we must deal with every day, we should count our blessings,” he wrote in 1999. “I am grateful that fate and early training led me into academic medicine and would do it again in a New York minute.”