Meritorious Service Award goes to Phillip Nelson

Dr. Phillip D. Nelson
Dr. Phillip D. Nelson

The AVMA presented the AVMA Meritorious Service Award to Dr. Phillip D. Nelson July 15 during the keynote for AVMA Convention 2023 in Denver.

Dr. Nelson (Tuskegee ’79) stepped down in September 2022 as dean of Western University of Health Sciences (WesternU) College of Veterinary Medicine after 15 years. He currently serves as professor of immunology at the veterinary college.

Prior to joining the WesternU faculty, Dr. Nelson served as an associate dean at Mississippi State University (MSU) College of Veterinary Medicine from 1994-2005. He also was a professor of academic and public affairs from 2001-05 at MSU.

In 2005, he joined WesternU as executive associate dean for preclinical programs and became the veterinary school’s second dean two years later.

WesternU’s veterinary college opened in 2003. It operated under provisional accreditation from its inception to 2008, when the AVMA Council on Education (COE) voted to move it to limited accreditation, and then in 2010 it became accredited. It was the first veterinary college in the United States to operate with a distributive teaching model.

Dr. Nelson played an integral role in the development of WesternU’s problem-based curriculum and in the management of WesternU’s faculty, support personnel, and instructional resources. Also during his tenure, he was instrumental in the building of a veterinary hospital on WesternU’s campus; developing its Veterinary Ambulatory Community Service Program, which introduced veterinary services into underserved communities; and fostering WesternU’s relationship with Los Angeles County Animal Control, including a spay-neuter program at the Center East Valley facility.

Dr. Nelson served as president of the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) in 2017-18.

This award recognizes a veterinarian who has brought honor and distinction to the veterinary profession through personal, professional, or community service activities that are conducted outside the scope of organized veterinary medicine or research.

Dan Baxter, executive director of the California VMA (CVMA), wrote in the nomination letter that Dr. Nelson has been “at the forefront of state and nationwide efforts to highlight problems within the veterinary profession attending to diversity, equity, and inclusion, particularly with respect to the disproportionate lack of Black clinicians within the profession.”

Dr. Lori Teller, 2022-23 AVMA president, said: “Dr. Nelson has dedicated much of his professional life to helping shape our future colleagues. His passion for veterinary medical education is well known and unsurpassed. When you look at Dr. Nelson’s achievements, I think we’d all agree that he’s a perfect candidate for this award.”

A version of this story appears in the August 2023 print issue of JAVMA.

Dr. Phillip D. Nelson gives his acceptance speech, which took place during the keynote presentation on July 15 during AVMA Convention 2023 in Denver. (Video by Matt Zingale)