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Dr. Keara Boss

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Assistant Professor, Radiation Oncology Service

Dr. Keara Boss

I was born and raised in western Massachusetts, near Amherst. My father is a physician and it has been inspiring to see his love for the practice of medicine and his joy in his career. Throughout my formative years, he and my mother continually encouraged my interests in science.

I became aware of veterinary medicine as a career at an early age because my four siblings and I grew up with a "zoo" of pets: several dogs, rabbits, hamsters, birds, lizards and turtles. We were a big pack of kids with a herd of pets and we enjoyed every minute of childhood. I went along on all veterinary appointments and our very patient veterinarian listened to my questions and included me in the process.

At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, I entered the animal science program where all species were studied but livestock was the focus. Much of my undergrad life included early morning jobs at a couple of pig farms and dairy farms and I loved the work. For my senior honors thesis comparing alligator and crocodile farming, I studied in Australia working with crocodile farmers, and then in Abbeville, La., with alligator ranchers. It was fascinating work!

Considering veterinary school, I was drawn to North Carolina State University, with its small town feel and pastoral setting. Initially, I had no career focus, veering first toward swine medicine, then zoo medicine, then surgery. That changed in my second year during a surgical oncology presentation. It was a single lecture in a larger course but a light went on that only got brighter the next semester during further lectures in cancer biology. I knew I wanted a career studying cancer.

To understand oncology, I had to spend time in the lab. I worked in the laboratory of Dr. Matthew Breen, the Oscar J. Fletcher Distinguished Professor of Comparative Oncology Genetics at NCSU; and later, with Dr. Steve Suter, associate professor of medical oncology at NCSU.  A presentation by Dr. Don Thrall, distinguished veterinary radiation oncologist and radiologist at NCSU, explaining how radiation therapy can disrupt cancer cells in a way that is almost immediately visible, opened my eyes to radiation oncology and I never looked back.

After a small animal internship at the University of Pennsylvania, I returned to NCSU for a radiation oncology residency.  As it was ending, I decided, with encouragement from Dr. Thrall, to continue my training in laboratory research, so I entered the Ph.D. program in Comparative Biomedical Sciences with a focus in cell biology.  

Dr. Mark Dewhirst, Gustavo S. Montana Professor of Radiation Oncology at Duke University welcomed me into his lab as my Ph.D. mentor. Dr. Dewhirst is a renowned radiobiologist, and his research has advanced both veterinary and human radiation oncology. I was incredibly humbled to be included in this prestigious circle of cancer researchers.  

I entered a whole new world of tissue cultures, lab mice, and intense literature reviews from both veterinary and human medicine. For the next five years, I was part of a team searching for answers to many exciting questions.  I was encouraged and pushed beyond my comfort zone; encouraged to look for the comparative in any and all oncology research findings and encouraged to consider how cancer research fit into my future. 

Joining the FACC team, I am returning to clinics after years in the lab and my dream is to step up and contribute to advances in comparative oncology by bringing what I’ve learned in the lab to the clinic. 

I believe a good radiation oncologist must be compassionate and communicate clearly and honestly with patient families, listening attentively to understand their goals for their pet before embarking on a treatment plan.  

A good radiation oncologist must also be curious, always asking—why are we doing it this way? Would doing something different be better? How can we improve?

I love my work, but the lights in my life are my husband, Brian, a computer engineer; our very curious, energetic three year-old son, Harvey; our ten-month old daughter, Ellen; and our elderly Jack Russell terrier, Pokey. 

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