Patricia A. Bomba, M.D.
Geriatrician Dr. Patricia A. Bomba ’72 has dedicated her life to end-of-life issues. She is a tireless leader and advocate for community programs and services that effectively and compassionately address the needs of the elderly and their families.
By the time she was 10 years old, Bomba was considering a career in medicine, and she traces that early interest to difficult experiences related to her grandmother’s death.
“The events surrounding her death and the impact it had on my family made a lasting impression on me,” said Bomba.
Bomba grew up in a small coal-mining town where, she said, “few people went to college.” But she was introduced to IHM Sisters at her high school and, when a chemistry teacher urged her to submit one of her science projects to Immaculata, Bomba got to know the college, and the college got to know her. She was awarded a full scholarship to Immaculata and ended up graduating first in her class.
“There were so many opportunities for leadership at Immaculata,” said Bomba. “Classes were small and the pre-med students studied together and coached each other.
“There was a sense of healthy competition and support among us,” she said, “aiming to have us all move forward together and get into medical school. I’m big on collaborative approaches, because they’re so successful, and that’s essentially what our approach was.”
Bomba was the first Immaculata graduate to enter the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville, VA.
“Dr. Mary Dugan and Sister Ann Immaculata were my two mentors,” said Bomba. “I am glad I chose to go to UVA. My son and my daughter went to law school and med school at UVA, so a part of my heart will always be in Charlottesville.”
Bomba’s original intention was to pursue hematology and oncology, but as she went through her medical training and began helping people “on that final journey,” she saw huge gaps in care at the end of life. “Death and dying just were not being dealt with,” said Bomba.
Bomba completed her residency in internal medicine at the University of Rochester, NY, and began working at Rochester General Hospital, an affiliated teaching hospital of the school of medicine, before going into private practice.
“My initial work included teaching residents and transforming care in the outpatient clinic, as well as serving as the attending physician for uninsured and underinsured patients admitted to the hospital, and overseeing a clinic for migrant workers,” said Bomba. “As my role evolved, I led development of the General Medicine Unit and assumed leadership for the Geriatrics Assessment Team at the hospital. I found I loved geriatrics. When I went into private practice, geriatric care of frail elders became my focused area of expertise.
“It is challenging to take care of seriously ill patients with multiple medical conditions and frailty,” said Bomba. “But helping these patients and their families through a most difficult journey really brought me back to center.”
As her practice was focused on the care of frail elders and their families, Bomba grew increasingly aware of the need for improved models of care.
“I’m a clinician at heart,” she said, “and I’ve always been very concerned with effective care coordination.”
After 20 years in private practice, Bomba left to become vice president and medical director of geriatrics at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.
“I saw such a great need to improve what I was seeing in my practice experience,” said Bomba, who admitted that the decision to leave private practice was not an easy one. “I still miss seeing patients one on one,” she said.
Her patients were going to miss her, too, and hundreds of them and their families and friends showed up for Bomba’s farewell party.
“They said, ‘If you leave and you don’t like it, we’ll be waiting,’” she said. “But they also made it clear to me that, ‘If you leave—make a difference.’”
Bomba has been making a difference ever since. She is a nationally recognized palliative care, end-of-life and elder abuse expert, developing and overseeing numerous community projects, and lecturing widely on these topics to health care providers, social workers, policy makers, community leaders and consumers. Her work has had tremendous impact in the areas of health care proxies, getting people into hospice sooner and providing a better, longer length of stay, and improving pain management.
Bomba heads up a two-step approach to advance care planning—Community Conversations on Compassionate Care (CCCC) and the Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (MOLST) program—as well as directing and writing content for a community website, CompassionAndSupport.org. Her work with the New York State Department of Health on policy issues and legislative advocacy established MOLST as a statewide program, and she chairs the MOLST Statewide Implementation Team.
In spite of her achievements, Bomba insists, “My children are my most important legacy. They are both successful professionals and good people.”
She also credits her parents with making her accomplishments possible. “In many respects, I owe much of what I’ve been able to do to my mom,” said Bomba. “While both of my parents were always very supportive, it was my mom who really encouraged me to engage in community service. That’s how I became involved in my current work.”
When Bomba isn’t working, she has plenty of interests to keep her busy. “I love cooking, baking, reading, and all kinds of family activities,” she said. “I was always very involved with my children’s sports. And I love to exercise, entertain and travel.
“I guess you could say,” said Bomba, “I like to both work hard and play hard.”