Originally published in the 2010 ASCO Daily News

Joseph V. Simone, MD, of the University of Florida Shands Cancer Center, is the 2010 recipient of the ASCO/American Cancer Society Award. He will be presented his award and give his lecture on the origins and future direction of quality in cancer care during a Special Session at ASCO's Annual Meeting.

Dr. Simone, Interim Director of the University of Florida Shands Cancer Center in 2008-2009, is now a Senior Advisor to the Center. He has also served in leadership positions at the Huntsman Cancer Institute and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Dr. Simone spent much of his medical career at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where he joined the staff in 1967 and served as its Director from 1983 to 1992.

The ASCO/American Cancer Society Award and Lecture honors an individual who has made significant contributions to the prevention and management of cancer. In addition to his extensive leadership experience in cancer administration, Dr. Simone — a pediatric hematologist-oncologist by training — has made groundbreaking discoveries in the field of cancer research. While at St. Jude, he contributed to the development of curative treatments for childhood leukemia and lymphoma.

“The institution had just opened a few years before, and they were trying to develop better treatments for children with leukemia,” said Dr. Simone in an interview with ASCO Daily News. “With guidance from our mentor there, Dr. Donald Pinkel, our research team was the first to say this was a curable disease, at least in some patients. And you can’t top that — that’s the best you can do in any career.”

Dr. Simone began his medical career with no particular speciality in mind. While attending the Stritch School of Medicine of Loyola University Chicago, he worked as a lab technician at a community hospital and became interested in hematology. He chose a residency in internal medicine at Presbyterian- St. Luke’s Hospital and a fellowship in pediatric hematology at the University of Illinois. According to Dr. Simone, although he was an internist by training, pediatric hematology (unlike adult hematology) was not its own field at the time — by choosing it, he was also choosing to practice oncology.

Advancing Quality in Cancer Care

Since his tenure at St. Jude, Dr. Simone has continued to make significant contributions to the oncology community. In 2002, capitalizing on his extensive knowledge and experience working in the health care field, he put forth the initial concept for ASCO’s Quality Oncology Practice Initiative (QOPI®), a topic he plans to discuss during his award lecture.

Dr. Simone first found inspiration for QOPI, an oncologist-led, practice-based quality improvement program, while serving at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. As Physician-in-Chief during the time 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. “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, includingEnsuring 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 that time, more than 500 practices have registered for the program. QOPI’s most recent success was the January 2010 launch of its certification program, which will provide 3-year certification for outpatient hematology-oncology practices based on practice achievement.

Dr. Simone has been an ASCO member since 1976. His efforts have been previously recognized by ASCO through the receipt of the Public Service Award in 2006 and the Distinguished Service Award for Scientific Achievement in 2002. In addition to his work with QOPI, he has served on a number of ASCO committees and task forces. Of his service within a multidisciplinary society such as ASCO, Dr. Simone said: “It’s a collegial atmosphere. Everybody is facing the same issues. As with any specialty organization, you learn from going to meetings, but you also learn from serving on committees. It’s been very helpful for me as I moved along in my career.”