“It is not an overstatement to say that Phil’s compassionate care for patients with lung cancer and his determined efforts to improve their treatments and outcomes through research have made him a towering figure, both at the Medical Center and in the field of oncology nationally and internationally,” said Dr. Jochen Reiser, The Ralph C. Brown, MD, Professor of Internal Medicine and chairperson, Department of Internal Medicine, and Dr. Amina Ahmed, director, Cancer Service Line, and associate professor, Division of Gynecologic Oncology, in a message announcing Bonomi’s retirement.
Bonomi earned his medical degree from the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago and a Master of Science from the U of I in Chicago as well. He completed an internship and residency at Geisinger Medical Center in Pennsylvania before coming to what was then Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center in 1975 for a fellowship in medical oncology.
He has remained at the Medical Center ever since. During that time, Bonomi has been crucial to the growth of the Medical Center’s cancer program and it repeatedly being ranked among the best in the country by U.S. News & World Report. He was director of the Division of Hematology, Oncology and Cell Therapy for 24 years, with 16 overlapping years as director of medical oncology.
Bonomi provided the best description of his extraordinary commitment in a 2017 blog post. “My goals have always been to prolong life and relieve suffering for my patients," he wrote. "That’s been my personal mission statement throughout my career.”
As Bonomi notes in his essay, when he began his career as a lung cancer specialist in the late 1970s, the treatment options and outcomes for patients with lung cancer were poor. They have improved greatly since then, and Bonomi deserves a significant part of the credit for that improvement.
His contributions to science throughout his career have been prodigious, as seen in the 270 scientific articles Bonomi has authored or co-authored, the 22 book chapters he’s written, and his more than 270 abstracts and poster presentations.
He has been a national leader in cancer research for decades, serving for more than 30 years on the Lung Steering Committee of the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group, a National Cancer Institute-funded network of cancer centers and hospitals that collaborate on clinical trials. He has been the committee’s chairman and co-chairman and co-chairman of non-small cancer lung cancer studies. In addition, Bonomi served on the Chemotherapy Committee of the National Cancer Institute-funded Gynecologic Oncology Group for more than a decade.
He also has been a member of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer for more than 40 years. He has served on many of the association’s committees and contributed to RUSH University Medical Center being the recipients of the association’s North America first annual Cancer Care Team award in 2017.
He has served on the Medical Oncology Subspecialty Board of the American Board of Internal Medicine and on the Scientific Advisory Board of the national LUNGevity Foundation, which funds lung cancer research in addition to its work on patient advocacy matters. He received Lungevity’s Face of Hope Award in 2018.
The exceptional breadth and length of his work reflects the deep sense of mission Bonomi expressed in his essay: “Being able to help my patients live longer, more meaningful lives with less suffering is what drives me every day,” he wrote. He plans to continue improving outcomes for lung cancer patients though work on his research interests, including cancer cachexia and predictors of outcomes in lung cancer patients treated with immunotherapy. He also will become a professor emeritus in the Department of Internal Medicine.
His colleague Dr. Mary Jo Fidler, chief of the Section of Medical Oncology, said she “was fortunate to be assigned to work with Dr. Bonomi during my first year of fellowship, and my experience altered the trajectory of my career from a budding hematologist to an oncologist specializing in lung cancer. He has been my mentor ever since, and I’m constantly humbled by his intelligence, skill and compassion. It has been an honor to have work with him the last 18 years.”
“Dr. Bonomi has always been a beacon of strength in the Department of Internal Medicine and RUSH University Cancer Center, and someone we could call upon for advice and counsel,” Reiser and Ahmed said in their statement. “It is both difficult to absorb that he has been with us nearly half a century — dwell on that timespan for a moment — and that, while Phil will continue his research both on campus and virtually, we’ll no longer see him in clinic or on hospital rounds. Phil’s work will continue to have an impact on his patients, his colleagues, the clinicians that have trained under him, and the growth of the RUSH University Cancer Center.”
“I want to express my gratitude for the opportunity to work with wonderful RUSH mentors and colleagues at all levels for more than 40 years,” Bonomi said. “Our work wouldn’t have been possible without the RUSH spirit of collaboration.”