Dr. Rebecca A. Packer, M.S., D.V.M., DACVIM (Neurology)Associate Professor, Neurology/Neurosurgery
I grew up in Canton, Ohio, with one older brother and two wonderful parents. My mom had a Ph.D. in genetics and taught for a while before focusing on raising my brother and me. My dad is a critical care physician and pulmonologist, and he gave me an appreciation for honest and compassionate client communication. When difficult discussions must be shared with a patient, it must always be approached with compassion, but also with honesty.
Neither my brother nor I ever got the message that we should go into medicine, more that we needed to discover for ourselves what we enjoyed most. For example, when I was seven years old, we were shopping at a mall where a group of violinists was performing. I was fascinated and told my parents I wanted to learn to play. Eventually, my mom enrolled me in lessons and since then, music has been as important for me as medicine.
My parents were supportive of all my efforts and interests. Early on I demonstrated an aptitude for and an interest in science, wildlife, and biology. For the majority of my summers during middle school and high school, I worked on an Amish farm and volunteered for research projects at various wildlife centers to gain experience, often coming home with ideas and experiences that made my parents a bit nervous, since many involved a plan to travel the world and explore other cultures and countries.
At Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, I earned a degree in animal behavior; then went on to complete a master's degree in zoology at North Carolina State University with the intention of becoming a wildlife biologist. At graduation, I already had a job offer with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as an endangered species biologist, but chose instead to enter veterinary school to become a wildlife veterinarian because I wanted closer contact with animals.
Entering veterinary school at North Carolina State University, I tailored coursework for a career as a wildlife veterinarian. Along the way, I developed an affinity for oncology, but in my final year of veterinary school, during a two-week clinical neurology rotation, I fell in love with the specialty and never looked back.
I did my veterinary neurology internship at the University of Georgia and then a residency at the University of Missouri. After completing my residency, I joined the faculty at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, where I started the veterinary clinical neurology service. I was the only faculty member in neurology at that time and, with help from colleagues, built the service from the ground up to become a well-respected program.
As a board-certified veterinary neurologist, I specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the nervous system, including the brain and the spinal cord. My clinical interests include neurosurgery, movement disorders, intracranial diseases (diseases that cause either structural or functional changes in the brain), and cancerous conditions of the nervous system. I have a passion for the problem-solving that is inherent in veterinary neurology. Each case involves a roadmap of nerves and, somewhere along the way, you have to pinpoint where and when problems arise in the system. Every case is like a puzzle.
A key reason I came to CSU was the Flint Animal Cancer Center. I wanted to become part of the team, to collaborate with world-class veterinary oncologists in treating tumors of the brain and spine, and to conduct strategic comparative research that benefits both animal and human cancer patients. My research interest has always focused on advancing brain tumor therapies, through improving surgical techniques or the development of novel therapies. Canine brain tumors and human brain tumors are quite similar; so much of what we do has the potential to advance human medicine as well, and vice versa. Opportunities for collaboration abound here at the FACC, with the emphasis on helping not only our veterinary patients, but translating those therapies to help human patients as well. This philosophy fits perfectly with my own of trying to make a difference in people’s lives.
Music continues to play as large a role in my life as medicine. While growing up, I played in several different regional youth symphonies, and throughout college and my early career I played in community or professional orchestras wherever I have lived. Both music and medicine require diligence, commitment and practice, as well as an appreciation for nuance. I love both disciplines.
When I have time away from the hospital, I still love to be outside. I’m always looking for the opportunity to listen, observe and enjoy the symphony of nature.