J.T Vaughan Equine Conference

Despite the considerable hurdles posed by the worldwide pandemic and university and state protocols prohibiting large gatherings, the Auburn College of Veterinary Medicine’s 2020 Annual Conference and J. T. Vaughan Equine Conference continued 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. Despite the change in format, however, more than 460 attendees from 20 states and as far away as Australia attended online sessions. The conference still provided 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.

This year’s conference and sessions were sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim, Merck Animal Health, Purina Pro Plan, Seminole Wellness, Royal Canine and Elanco Animal Health. As always, the three-day program offered presentations in various disciplines of small animal, farm animal, and equine veterinary education, as well as numerous health and wellness courses. In order to comply with Auburn University’s COVID-19 safety protocols, all sessions were held in a live, interactive webinar format. Attendance was high for most online seminars, with between 150-250 attendees logged in during many sessions. In addition, the combined conference website included a virtual exhibit hall to allow those registered to engage with vendors.

The 2020 program offered more than 85 hours of professional sessions in various disciplines, including courses designed specifically for veterinary technicians. In-state attendees were able to earn up to 20 hours of continuing education credit, as the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medicine Education (ASBVME) had approved allowing veterinarians to obtain their required 20 hours of continuing education for 2020 either in person or online. Due to the unusual circumstances this year, many other state boards have modified their requirements for approval of online credit for this year as well. The on-demand content will remain online through December 15 for all those registered.

Although the format was virtual, the online sessions were led by some of the top veterinary professionals around the nation including speakers from the fields of veterinary education, research, and business. Among this year’s presenters were Dr. Heidi L. Hulon ’93, regional consulting veterinarian for Elanco Animal Health; Dr. Jodi Westropp, professor in the Department of Veterinary Medicine and Epidermiology, director of the Gerald V. Ling Urinary Stone Analysis Laboratory and Veterinary Medical Continuing Education director at the University of California-Davis; Dr. Gary Warner, partner in the Elgin Veterinary Hospital in Elgin, Texas; and Dr. Kevin Washburn, professor of Large Animal Clinical Sciences at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Other 2020 presenters included Dr. Cathy E. Langston, professor of Clinical Sciences and Small Animal Internal Medicine section head at The Ohio State University; Dr. David Biller ‘80, 2013 winner of the Wilford S. Bailey Distinguished Alumni Award and head of the Department of Radiology at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine; Dr. Jan Bellows ‘75, president of the Foundation for Veterinary Dentistry and practitioner of small animal surgery and dentistry at All Pets Dental in Weston, Florida; Dr. Fairfield Bain ‘83, associate director of the Equine Innovation, Discovery and Development Team at Merck Animal Health; and Dr. Erin Anderson, associate cardiologist at Pittsburgh Veterinary Cardiology.

This year also marked class reunion time for the classes of 1970, 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2015. Unfortunately, physical distancing restrictions and group gathering limitations prohibited live, in-person events this fall, but members of each of these classes will be contacted by the Vet Med alumni events coordinator, who will share more details for opportunities in the future to reconnect and celebrate with classmates.

Fortunately, one other Annual Conference tradition was able to continue despite the pandemic restrictions. 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, 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, a 1942 graduate of the college who held a 50-year continuous faculty appointment at Auburn, serving in positions ranging from veterinary instructor to dean to university president. Awardees are recognized in three different areas of eligibility: research and public policy, academia and private practice.

Three additional Vet Med alumni—Ashley Jane Watkins Ward ’10, Chance L. Armstrong ’10 and Jessica Rush ’10—were honored as the 2020 winners of Young Achiever Awards. Young Achiever Awards 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 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 El Toro Award was presented to Dr. Dwight Wolfe ’77. The El Toro Award was established in 1994 by Dr. James G. Floyd, Jr., and his family in memory of his father, Dr. J.G. “Bull” Floyd. This annual 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.

The 2020 Vaughan Equine Achievement Award was presented to Dr. Mark Cheney ‘69. Named after Dean Emeritus John Thomas Vaughan, the award recognizes leaders who help guide the equine industry to a better future. 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 outcomes and modesty in the impact that they have had on others and their profession.

Finally, 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 the college’s success over the past year. The inaugural award for 2020 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.

The 2021 Annual Conference has been tentatively scheduled for September 16-18. In-person conferences are being planned, but are subject to change based on state and university guidelines.

2020 Annual Conference Sponsors

Platinum Level

  • Boehringer-Ingelheim
  • Merck Animal Health

Silver Level

  • Seminole Wellness
  • Purina Pro Plan
  • Elanco Animal Health

Bronze Level

  • Royal Canine


Dr. Brian Gilger ’92

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 and 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.


Dr. Ashley Jane Watkins Ward ’10

Ashley Jane Watkins Ward ’10 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. Ward lives in Wetumpka with her husband, Jeremy, and their 4-year-old son, Barrett. The couple will welcome a daughter in January 2021.

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 a master’s 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 hurricanes Harvey (2016), Michael (2018) and Laura (2020). 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 Auburn as a theriogenology resident in 2015. Following completion of the residency program and achieving board certification by the American College of Theriogenologists, 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.


Dr. Dwight Wolfe ’77

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 he received the Bartlett Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. 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 fundraising efforts that, in great part, resulted in the construction of the Vaughan Large Animal Teaching Hospital and other facilities on Auburn’s veterinary campus.


Dr. Mark Cheney ’69

Dr. Mark Cheney is a 1969 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 a mentor by innumerable veterinarians after helping each to develop the skills necessary for success in equine practice and he has shared his knowledge with many more in the equine veterinary community through his presentations at the AAEP national convention.


Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital Emergency, Critical Care and Inpatient Nursing Team

The newly established Dean’s Distinguished Service 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.

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