Auburn Vet Med Honors 2020 Annual Conference Awards Recipients

The Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine recently honored the 2020 Annual Conference and J. T. Vaughan Equine Conference award recipients during the virtual Annual Conference awards ceremony.

Continuing a tradition of 113 consecutive years of continuing education provided by the Southeast’s oldest veterinary program, this year’s three-day program—held October 22-24—marked the first time the concurrent events have been held virtually. More than 460 attendees from 20 states and as far away as Australia attended online sessions, providing opportunities for Auburn alumni, faculty, students, veterinary technicians and other veterinary professionals from across the region and nation to participate in cutting-edge continuing education sessions and professional networking opportunities.

The first day’s sessions culminated in a virtual awards ceremony honoring a group of distinguished veterinary professionals who have practiced their profession with great skill, knowledge, energy, compassion and professionalism, recognizing those who have excelled in their profession and have enhanced the college’s reputation.

Three outstanding alumni—Brian Gilger ’92, Michael Newman ’80 and Thomas Turner ’72—were honored as the 2020 winners of the Wilford S. Bailey Award. The award is the highest honor given to Auburn veterinary alumni to recognize their professional accomplishments in veterinary medicine, outstanding contributions to their communities and the overall advancement of animal and human health. It is named to honor the late Wilford S. Bailey, who held a 50-year continuous faculty appointment at Auburn, serving in positions ranging from veterinary instructor to dean to university president.

A 1942 graduate of the college, Bailey was the first recipient of the CVM’s Distinguished Alumnus Award. Following his death in 2000, the award was named for him. Awardees are recognized in three different areas of eligibility: academia, private practice and research and public policy. This year’s recipients included:

Dr. Brian Gilger ’92 (Academia)
Brian Gilger received his DVM from The Ohio State University in 1987 before interning in small animal medicine and surgery at the Animal Medical Center in New York, then coming to Auburn as a resident in ophthalmology in 1989. He earned a master’s from the Department of Small Animal Medicine and Surgery in 1992 before returning to Ohio State as an assistant professor of ophthalmology later that same year.

In 1995, Gilger took that same position at North Carolina State University, beginning a career at that institution that has spanned 25 years. Today he is a professor of ophthalmology in the NCSU Department of Clinical Sciences. He also holds the title of adjunct clinical professor in the College of Medicine Department of Ophthalmology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

A Diplomate of both the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists and the American Board of Toxicology, Gilger was recognized in 2018 with a Clinical Research Award by the American Veterinary Medical Association. The author or editor of numerous journal articles, scientific abstracts and books, he was also named a distinguished alumnus by The Ohio State University in 2017.

Dr. Michael E. Newman ’80 (Private Practice)
After earning his bachelor’s degree from North Carolina State University, Michael Newman earned his Auburn DVM in 1980 and practiced in Ohio and Kentucky before returning to the plains to add a master’s in veterinary surgery and complete a surgical residency in 1985.

Newman next moved to Birmingham, where he was owner/president of Alabama Veterinary Surgery for eight years before taking the same position in Decatur, Alabama, for 12 years. Since 2006, he has served as owner/president of the Veterinary Regional Referral Hospital and Veterinary Development, LLC, in Decatur. In 2010, he also became owner of the Veterinary Regional Referral Hospital in Florence, Alabama.
Newman is a member of numerous professional organizations including the American Veterinary Medical Association, in which he has served as a member of the board of directors representing district three; the American Animal Hospital Association; and the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association, which has recognized his past contributions with two service awards. He is also a member of the Decatur Chamber of Commerce and a former vice president of the Decatur Animal Shelter Board of Directors.

Dr. Thomas Turner ’72 (Research & Public Policy, Other)
Following completion of his bachelor’s degree at Huntington College in Montgomery, Alabama, Thomas Turner received his DVM from Auburn in 1972 and afterward went into private practice in North Carolina. He later moved to Illinois, where he served as surgeon, medical director and hospital chairman in several practices before taking a position in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Rush University in Chicago in 1977.

Turner is currently an associate professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Rush University Medical Center and also serves as a visiting associate professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences at the Auburn College of Veterinary Medicine. In addition, he continues to serve as a staff surgeon at the VCA Arboretum View Animal Hospital in Downer’s Grove, Illinois.

A member of the Orthopaedic Research Society, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Animal Hospital Association and the Society for Biomaterials, Turner is the recipient of both the American College of Veterinary Surgeons Merit Award and an honorary member of the European Society of Veterinary Orthopaedics and Traumatology.

In addition to the Bailey Award winners, three other CVM alumni—Ashley Jane Watkins Ward ’10, Chance L. Armstrong ’10 and Jessica Rush ’10—were honored as the 2020 winners of Young Achiever Awards during the Annual Conference. Young Achiever Awards are given to recognize members of the class celebrating their 10th anniversary. The awards recognize recipients’ professional accomplishments in veterinary medicine, outstanding contributions to their communities and their overall advancement of animal and human health. The 2020 Young Achievers Award winners included:

Dr. Ashley Jane Watkins Ward ’10
Ashley Jane Watkins Ward earned her undergraduate degree from Auburn in 2006 from the Department of Animal Sciences and her DVM degree in 2010, then began her career as an associate veterinarian at the Montevallo Animal Clinic in Montevallo, Alabama.

In 2018, she and her brother, Brian Watkins ’13, purchased Bryson Veterinary Clinic in their hometown of Wetumpka, Alabama. In the two short years since taking over ownership, she and her brother have worked diligently to build upon the tremendous success of the previous practice owner.

Dr. Chance L. Armstrong ’10
Armstrong earned his DVM Magna Cum Laude from Auburn in 2010. Following graduation, he joined a five-veterinarian mixed animal practice in Okeechobee, Florida. His time in private practice was primarily spent providing services to beef and dairy producers in the region, but he also treated horses, small ruminants and captive cervids.

After returning to Auburn in 2012 to pursue a residency in comparative theriogenology and an MS degree, Armstrong became a diplomate of the American College of Theriogenologists in 2015. Following his residency, he joined the food animal faculty at Louisiana State University. A member of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, his interests include herd health preventative management, urogenital surgery and advanced reproductive techniques in food animals. In 2018, he co-authored the second edition of the Bull Breeding Soundness Manual.

Armstrong is an active member of the Louisiana State Animal Response Team and has provided disaster relief during hurricane’s Harvey (2016), Michael (2018) and Laura (2020). through service on multiple committees. In 2014, his significant contributions to animal agriculture were recognized when he was named to Vance Publishing Corporation’s “40 under 40,” which honors young leaders in the agriculture industry.

Dr. Jessica Rush ’10
Rush received a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from Auburn prior to earning her DVM in 2010. Following her graduation, she accepted a position in a rural mixed animal practice in Ashland, Alabama.

After five years in private practice, she returned to the Auburn as a theriogenology resident in 2015. Following completion of the residency program and achieving board certification by the American College of Theriogenology, she accepted a position as assistant clinical professor at Auburn in the Department of Food Animal Medicine and Surgery. Rush’s research interests include bovine reproduction and beef cattle health with emphasis on venereal diseases and infertility, particularly in the bull.

The winners of two other major awards were recognized, including the El Toro Award for Excellence in Food Animal Medicine and the John Thomas Vaughan Equine Achievement Award. The 2020 winners of these two honors were:

El Toro Award for Excellence in Food Animal Medicine
Dr. Dwight Wolfe ‘77

The El Toro award recognizes a veterinarian, who through his or her high ideals, dedication to the production of food animals and contributions to food animal practice and organized veterinary medicine, serves as a role model for veterinary students. A 1977 Auburn DVM graduate, Dr. Dwight Wolfe was in private practice in Tennessee before returning to Auburn as a Theriogenology resident and then faculty member. While at Auburn, he served as beef section head, food animal section head and department head, and is widely regarded for inspiring and mentoring countless Auburn DVM students and residents. He served as president of both the Society for Theriogenology and the American College of Theriogenologists, and from those two organizations in 2011 he received the Bartlett Lifetime Achievement Award. He authored, coauthored and reviewed numerous scientific and clinical publications, and co-edited and authored the highly-regarded text Large Animal Urogenital Surgery. He was named Alabama Veterinarian of the Year in 2004, a member of the Alabama Livestock Hall of Fame in 2006 and received the Alabama VMA’s highest award in 2009, the Distinguished Service Award. Dr. Wolfe led fund raising efforts that in great part resulted in the construction of the Vaughan Large Animal Teaching Hospital and other parts of Auburn’s veterinary campus.

John Thomas Vaughan Equine Achievement Award
Dr. Mark Cheney ’69

The Vaughan Equine Achievement Award recognizes an Auburn College of Veterinary Medicine alumnus who exemplifies the Auburn spirit through leadership, dedication to and passion for one’s profession, hard work that improves individual and community outcome and modesty in the impact that they have had on others and their profession. Dr. Mark Cheney is a 1968 Auburn DVM graduate. Following graduation, he practiced in Delaware, then traveled between Kentucky and Florida working in the Standardbred and Thoroughbred racing industry. He has served as member and leader on the AAEP racing commission and is an honor roll inductee of both the AAEP and AVMA. He is lauded as mentor by innumerable veterinarians, helping each to developing the skills necessary to success in equine practice, and has shared this knowledge with the equine veterinary community through presentations at AAEP national convention.

Dean’s Distinguished Service Award
Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital Emergency, Critical Care and Inpatient Nursing Team

The Dean’s Distinguished Service Award is a new honor recognizing a person or group within the College of Veterinary Medicine who has been instrumental in its success over the past year. The 2020 award was presented to Stephanie J. Pitzer, certified veterinary technician and veterinary technician specialist in Emergency and Critical Care, along with her entire 20-member nursing staff at the Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital, a nationally recognized Level I Emergency and Critical Care Facility and Level I Trauma Center. During COVID-19-related alternate operations, as members of the hospital’s Emergency and Critical Care Service, Pitzer and the nursing staff provided the highest standards of individualized care to over 1,500 small animals, even during the height of the pandemic.