Canadian born, but a Fort Worth icon, TCOM’s Dr. W. Paul Bowman retires
His first Leukemia patient at Cook Children’s Hospital was 22-months old and had a severe form of the disease for which survival rates in the early 1980s were less than 20 percent. Unfazed, W. Paul Bowman, M.D. saw his first patient through a new and intensive therapy and sent her off to live life to the fullest.
Early in 2021, almost 40 years later, Dr. Bowman received a phone call from that patient.
“It sent a chill up my spine; I was so happy to hear from her,” he recalled.
Dr. Bowman’s career in pediatrics, hematology and pediatric oncology, began when he was a medical student in 1973, and for nearly 50 years has left an impact and legacy unmatched.
Dr. Bowman has been the Chair of Pediatrics and Women’s Health at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine (TCOM) since 2008. He’s also been a friend, mentor and one of the most respected pediatric oncologists in the nation. He is now being celebrated as he retires on March 31.
“Dr. Bowman has had a distinguished career that has spanned nearly 50 years and we have been honored to have him as part of TCOM,” said Dr. Frank Filipetto, Dean of TCOM. “He has meant so much to our community and been a mentor for so many of our students. We thank him for his incredible service and wish him the best on his retirement.”
Pediatrics was meant to be
Dr. Priya Bui, who will assume the role of Interim Chair of Pediatrics and Women’s Health at TCOM on April 1, is a protégé of Dr. Bowman, and TCOM alum herself. As a student, she saw what made him special.
“When you are in Dr. Bowman’s presence, your success is the only thing that matters,” Dr. Bui said. “I observed him as a medical student and every patient was special to Dr. Bowman and he knew them. They knew him and that personal connection was there with each patient and it makes him very special.”
Dr. Bowman was a third-generation physician, so he was instinctively drawn to pediatrics. His father was a pediatrician and his grandfather practiced family medicine in the rural outposts of Canada. It was his first clinical exposure in caring for a child with Leukemia that changed him.
“I told my professor in Winnipeg ‘I want to do this,’” Dr. Bowman said. “Leukemia was the disease that got me most interested in caring for children, and I decided to specialize in it.”
After his pediatric residency, in 1976 Dr. Bowman entered a fellowship in pediatric hematology-oncology at the renowned St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. Driven to find a cure for Leukemia through his research and clinical trials, Dr. Bowman found it hard to leave St. Jude, but a phone call on a hot July afternoon from Fort Worth changed all of that.
Cook Children’s Hospital, as it was then known, was starting up a new program, they needed a Co-Director of Hematology and Oncology, and Dr. Bowman was their man.
“I preferred to be on the front lines in the clinic, and as luck would have it, I received that phone call from Cook Children’s in 1982,” said Dr. Bowman.
He arrived in Fort Worth, joining Co-Director Dr. John Champion, also recently recruited from St. Jude, and the two began to build a new program from the ground up at Cook Children’s Hospital. In 1989, Dr. Bowman was named the Medical Director of the Hematology and Oncology Department at Cook Children’s which had expanded into a new building at its current location — 801 7th Avenue. The department became nationally known over the two decades while Dr. Bowman was at the helm, but with all the success, something was still missing.
“Along the way, something was gnawing at me,” Dr. Bowman said. “I began to realize something was missing. We had started connections with TCOM in the late 80s and early 90s with rotations and we went over to campus and that was fun, I really enjoyed it. Gradually we began to build some relationships, but I thought we needed to have more of a commitment to medical education.”
Despite the success in his twenty-five year full-time run at Cook Children’s, Dr. Bowman decided it was time for a change. He was ready to get into medical education and academic medicine. In 2008, TCOM had an opening for Chair of Pediatrics, and the rest is history.
“It’s what I was looking for, and I could do it without moving. I loved it,” said Dr. Bowman. “The idea was for Cook Children’s and TCOM to partner and foster relationships to develop pediatric medical education.”
Thus began the second phase of the legendary career for Dr. Bowman, a medical educator who would serve as a mentor and guide for those looking at pediatrics and pediatric hematology and oncology.
A Mighty Mentor
Dr. Bowman joined TCOM in 2008 and also was appointed Director of Medical Education at Cook Children’s, while still practicing hematology and pediatric oncology about 30 percent of the time. His plate was full, but his career was re-energized.
“My career focus was revitalized by having a new academic opportunity to work with young people, open doors for them, and see our faculty grow and thrive,” Dr. Bowman said.
He had an impact immediately on TCOM students as a mentor. One of those was Dr. Priya Bui. After graduating from TCOM in 2011, she found herself in the role as mentor during her residency and couldn’t help but think back to the times Dr. Bowman mentored her.
“I found that the mentorship of students was something fulfilling for me,” Dr. Bui said. “I thought of Dr. Bowman often and his impact and aspired to also have a role in training, encouraging and helping students identify what makes them passionate about medicine and inspire them to do their best, as Dr. Bowman once inspired me. This ultimately brought me back to TCOM.”
Another young life changed by Dr. Bowman started out as one of his patients. Chelsee Greer was 13 when Dr. Bowman sat in her hospital room and gently explained how he would try to cure her cancer.
Five hours from their Odessa home, Greer and her mother, Lindee, traveled to Fort Worth after Greer’s hometown pediatrician suspected her fatigue, low-grade fever and night sweats could be caused by Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.
A biopsy had confirmed it.
“I remember Dr. Bowman’s calmness,” Greer said. “He explained very clearly what he was going to do to make me better and that my treatment usually had very good results. He helped me believe I was going to get through this.”
That moment at Cook Children’s started a relationship that did not end with her treatment. Greer was cured and — driven by her experience and Dr. Bowman’s extraordinary care — grew up determined to achieve her own career in pediatric oncology.
With Dr. Bowman as a mentor, Greer graduated from TCOM in 2016 and in 2019 became one of the first two graduates from TCOM to earn prestigious three-year fellowships in Pediatric Hematology-Oncology at UT Southwestern Medical Center/Children’s Health in Dallas.
In 2012, Dr. Bowman relinquished his duties as Director of Medical Education at Cook Children’s, and reduced his clinical practice, permitting his time and energy to be focused mainly at TCOM. The Pediatric Research Program launched in 2014 began to flourish, with more and more TCOM students choosing pediatrics as their specialty for residency training each year. From 2009-20, 301 TCOM students chose pediatrics as their specialty under the leadership of Dr. Bowman.
“By their very nature, educators are effective teachers,” said Dr. Don Wilson, who succeeded Dr. Bowman as Director of Medical Education at Cook Children’s Medical Center, as it has been known for over 25 years. “Many are great role models. A select few are inspirational. Rarely, do you find someone like Dr. Bowman, who is all three.”
The Next Chapter
After a lifetime of treating the most vulnerable with the most heinous of diseases, Dr. Bowman is looking forward to a change of pace.
“The first thing I’ll do is take a deep breath,” said a smiling Dr. Bowman. “I made a commitment to spend more time with my wife and family, and we are looking forward to traveling together and I have some old hobbies that I will have more time for.”
His departure will leave a void, but all you have to do is look around the region and you will find a physician that Dr. Bowman influenced.
“Many of the Pediatricians in our North Texas Community or who are affiliated with Cook Children’s were mentored by Dr. Bowman during their training here at TCOM,” said Dr. Filipetto. “He has touched so many lives through the students he has mentored to be great Osteopathic Pediatricians.”
“Dr. Bowman’s many years of service to Cook Children’s, his impact on the growth and development of Hematology/Oncology services for children, and his contributions to research and education are truly remarkable,” said Dr. Wilson. “His retirement, while well deserved, leaves a void that will be hard to fill.”
In retirement, Dr. Bowman plans on staying active in the Texas Pediatric Society and hosting a Leukemia Symposium at Cook Children’s in 2022. He also has a hobby from his youth of playing the drums that he plans on picking back up along with spending time with his adult children and grandchildren.
Throughout his career, Dr. Bowman has seen the results of his labor through the incredible advances in patient care, cancer genetics and clinical research. When he began his fellowship training, there were only two main recognized varieties of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. Today, based upon groundbreaking research at St. Jude in which Cook Children’s collaborated, there are more than 20 genetically distinct varieties. Survival rates for childhood Leukemia in the 1970’s were less than 40 percent but today the five-year survival rate is greater than 90 percent.
“There is no greater professional satisfaction for me than seeing an individual child overcome these diseases,” Dr. Bowman said. “The thing that was most fulfilling in my years of clinical practice has been the care of the individual patient and family. Pediatrics has always been a total team effort. In the recent academic years of my career at TCOM, it has been tremendously fulfilling to support students in their pursuit of careers to improve the health of children. And that also is a team effort!”
He has been a respected leader, mentor and caregiver to thousands. Many will miss him, but Dr. Paul Bowman’s impact will last for generations.