Dr. Phillip Nelson named recipient of 2023 AVMA Meritorious Service Award

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(SCHAUMBURG, Illinois) July 15, 2023—The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) today named Dr. Phillip Nelson, professor of immunology and former dean at Western University College of Veterinary Medicine, as the winner of the 2023 AVMA Meritorious Service Award.

Established in 2001, the 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. The AVMA Board of Directors selects the recipient.

"Dr. Nelson's tireless dedication to the veterinary profession, his innovative approaches to veterinary education and his passionate commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion have profoundly impacted our broader veterinary community," said Dr. Lori Teller, president of the AVMA. "His extensive contributions and achievements will leave a lasting legacy and continue to influence the profession for generations to come."

Dr. Phillip Nelson's acceptance speech

Dr. Nelson earned his DVM from Tuskegee Institute in 1979, completed a residency in internal medicine at Mississippi State University in 1983 and received his PhD in immunology and biotechnology from North Carolina State University in 1993. He served as acting head of the Department of Small Animal Medicine, Surgery and Radiology at Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine, and associate dean, professor of academic and public affairs and interim dean at the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine, before joining Western University College of Veterinary Medicine, where he has held a series of leadership positions since 2005, including his service as dean and executive associate dean for preclinical programs. There he helped develop Western’s problem-based curriculum and played a significant role in the establishment of a veterinary hospital on campus and the implementation of a distributive model for clinical training.

One goal of Dr. Nelson’s efforts in developing a curriculum at Western has been to develop a diverse profession that better reflects the diversity of the community that it serves. A fervent advocate for DEI in the veterinary profession, Dr. Nelson has been at the forefront of state and national efforts to highlight opportunities within the profession and has worked to address the lack of representation of Black clinicians in the field, most notably as a past president of the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) and a consultant and member of AAVMC’s Multicultural Affairs Committee. He currently co-hosts a podcast, "Peter & Phil's 'Our Courageous Conversation," which provides a platform to discuss these important issues.

Through his leadership and with the support of the faculty and staff, Dr. Nelson has been instrumental in bringing veterinary services to underserved communities. His development of Western’s Veterinary Ambulatory Community Service Program, and Shelter Medicine Program supporting Los Angeles and Upland shelters has increased access to critical veterinary care while also fostering a passion for service among the university’s veterinary students. He also developed a working relationship with Los Angeles County Animal Control and set up a spay/neuter program at their Center East Valley facility, reflecting his determination to utilize his professional expertise for the betterment of the broader society.

Dr. Nelson has been the recipient of numerous other awards, including the Norden Award for Distinguished Teaching in Veterinary Medicine and the Pegasus Award for Distinguished Clinical Instruction at Mississippi State University, Distinguished Alumni Award from Tuskegee University, the John Payne Industry Leadership Award, and most recently the California Veterinary Medical Association’s 2023 Award for Outstanding Service.

“Significant accomplishments are rarely the results of the efforts of one person. During my career, I have had the privilege and honor to work collaboratively with some of the most dedicated and ingenious people in our profession. None of these accomplishments could have been done without such collaborations,” said Dr. Nelson. “The AVMA provides an existential service in providing a national voice for the profession. It is critical that the collective voice is the summation of sufficiently diverse voices that will ultimately address societal needs. I wish to thank the AVMA for this recognition. I am both deeply honored and appreciative.”

To view Dr. Nelson’s acceptance video, click here or visit https://vimeo.com/843311498/4e66e9e9e1.

To learn more about the AVMA Meritorious Service Award and past recipients, visit www.avma.org/awards.

For more information, contact Michael San Filippo, media relations manager, at 847-732-6194 (cell) or msanfilippoatavma [dot] org (msanfilippo[at]avma[dot]org).

About the AVMA

Serving more than 105,000 member veterinarians, the AVMA is the nation's leading representative of the veterinary profession, dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of animals, humans and the environment. Founded in 1863 and with members in every U.S. state and territory and more than 60 countries, the AVMA is one of the largest veterinary medical organizations in the world. Informed by our members' unique scientific training and clinical knowledge, the AVMA supports the crucial work of veterinarians and advocates for policies that advance the practice of veterinary medicine and improve animal and human health.