AVMA awards outstanding veterinarians for their work in animal welfare


The American Veterinary Medical Association recently announced the recipient of the 2024 Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year and of the 2024 AVMA Animal Welfare Award

Photo: ATKWORK888/Adobe Stock

Photo: ATKWORK888/Adobe Stock

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recently named Zenithson Ng, DVM, MS, as the 2024 Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year, and Debra Hickman, DVM, DACLAM, DACAW, the recipient of the 2024 AVMA Animal Welfare Award. Each recognition is awarded annually to an exceptional individual for their contribution to animal welfare, according to the AVMA.1,2

Both awards and other recognitions are scheduled to be celebrated on Saturday, June 22, 2024, during a special event at the 2024 AVMA Convention in Austin, Texas. The event will begin 2 PM CDT on the Center Stage of the exhibit hall at the Austin Convention Center.3

2024 Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award

Ng is a clinical assistant professor of community practice at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in Knoxville, a member of AVMA’s Animal Welfare Committee, diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, and veterinary advisor of the Human-Animal Bond in Tennessee (HABIT)—a volunteer community intervention organization that collaborates to delve into the circumstances and consequences of the human-animal bond, with the goal of promoting the significance of this bond.1

The Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award is among the most esteemed in veterinary medicine, according to AVMA. It acknowledges the remarkable efforts of veterinarians in safeguarding and promoting the bond between humans and animals, and forms part of a trio of Animal Welfare and Human-Animal Bond Excellence Awards bestowed each year by the association.

“I am deeply honored to have been chosen as this year's recipient of such a prestigious award. It is a true privilege to be acknowledged for what lies at the heart of our profession as veterinarians—the human-animal bond,” Ng said in a news release.1 “The Bustad award serves as a testament to the unwavering dedication we hold towards understanding, nurturing and championing this vital connection.”

A graduate of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York, Ng went on to earn a master’s degree in human-animal bond studies from Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, Virginia. He is the first veterinarian to pursue a residency program in human-animal bond studies in the nation, according to the release.

Ng’s passion for the human-animal connection led him to develop initiatives focusing on pet owner education, animal welfare, and the role of veterinarians in community health. His research and teaching efforts include the impact of human-animal interaction, the veterinary-client-patient relationship, and stress alleviation in veterinary and animal-assisted intervention settings. Moreover, Ng exercises a holistic approach in his practice, encompassing the emotional and psychological dimensions of pet ownership and the significant role animals play in human well-being.

“The selection of Dr Ng as the recipient of the 2024 Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award recognizes his transformative impact on the field,” Carlson said in the release. “His commitment to improving the quality of life for animals and their human companions is evident through his deep engagement with both the veterinary and local communities. Dr Ng's work embodies the spirit of Dr Leo K. Bustad, celebrating and nurturing the powerful bond between people and their pets,” she continued.1

2024 AVMA Animal Welfare Award

Hickman was awarded the recognition for her years of teaching, research, and leadership in the veterinary profession dedicated to improving the well-being of animals. The award, given to a veterinarian member of the AVMA, recognizes recipients for their outstanding accomplishments in animal welfare advancement through leadership, public service, education, research/product development, and advocacy.2

"I am honored to be recognized by the AVMA with this prestigious award,” Hickman said in a news release.2 “Having had the opportunity to work with many dedicated professionals through the AVMA and affiliate organizations, I appreciate the commitment of this organization to the support of animal welfare.”

Throughout her career, Hickman has developed refinements that advanced husbandry practices, biomethodology assessments, and euthanasia methods. Her research has included improving laboratory animal euthanasia methods to mitigate pain and distress. Additionally, she has developed techniques for measuring stress levels in rodents and for utilizing body condition scoring to monitor the welfare of rats with polycystic kidney disease.2

As an educator, Hickman has taught courses on laboratory animal medicine, ethics, and welfare at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine in Lafayette, Indiana, as a clinical professor, concurrently serving as the university’s associate vice president of animal resources and attending. Hickman has also mentored aspiring veterinarians and animal welfare advocates.

"Dr Hickman’s work exemplifies the dedication and innovation required to advance animal welfare," Rena Carlson, DVM, president of the AVMA, said in the release.2 "Her leadership and research have had a profound impact on the field, and she is truly deserving of this award."

Presently, Hickman is the global director at the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International, a non-profit organization that works to promote the humane treatment of animals in science through voluntary accreditation and assessment programs. Moreover, she has certifications in laboratory animal medicine from the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine in animal welfare from the American College of Animal Welfare.


  1. AVMA names Dr Zenithson Ng recipient of 2024 Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award. News release. American Veterinary Medical Association. May 9, 2024. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://www.avma.org/news/press-releases/avma-names-dr-zenithson-ng-recipient-2024-bustad-companion-animal-veterinarian
  2. Dr Debra Hickman named winner of the 2024 AVMA Animal Welfare Award. News release. American Veterinary Medical Association. June 6, 2024. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://www.avma.org/news/press-releases/dr-debra-hickman-named-winner-2024-avma-animal-welfare-award
  3. AVMA Convention schedule: AVMA Excellence Awards Celebration. AVMA. Accessed June 12, 2024. https://s1.goeshow.com/avma/annual/2024/AVMA2024.cfm?session_key=6F1D8D18-ADCB-D05C-532D-76CB4E8640F2&session_date=Saturday,%20Jun%2022,%202024
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