Western University of Health Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine student Natalie Nguyen will receive the Dr. Jack Walther Leadership Award at the Western Veterinary Conference on Feb. 16-20, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The award recognizes veterinary student leaders and promotes lifelong professional service.

Nguyen, a third-year CVM student, said she feels honored and privileged to receive the recognition, which includes a $1,000 award and complimentary registration, lodging, airfare and a daily stipend for the conference.

“Receiving this award has validated some of my work, and continues to motivate me to grow professionally,” she said. “While I am only at the beginning of my veterinary career, I hope this quality will always be reflected in my daily actions and collaborations with others. I enjoy helping the people around me and bringing others together to strive toward a common goal.”

Nguyen is co-investigator of a novel study on lead toxicity in California condors at the Los Angeles Zoo. She began the project as a volunteer assisting Dr. Curtis Eng, chief veterinarian at the LA Zoo, and she has been involved in the growth and expansion of the project, which is also mentored by CVM Associate Professor Miguel Saggese, DVM, MSc, PhD, and now sponsored by the Morris Animal Foundation.

She has also participated in veterinary internships at the Aquarium of the Pacific, Santa Ana Zoo, and Orange County Zoo, where she assisted the chief veterinarian in medical and husbandry procedures. During her second year at WesternU, she was co-president of WesternU’s Zoo Wildlife Exotic Aquatic Conservation Club (ZWEACC). Concurrently, she was treasurer of SC-AVSAB (Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior) and was involved in several other veterinary clubs.

Conservation biology and medicine have always been her biggest passions and ultimate career goal, stemming from her international traveling experiences, Nguyen said. From living in Vietnam for three years and continuously traveling throughout Europe, Asia, South East Asia, and the Middle East, she had the privilege of seeing the world from many different perspectives. Having been to 17 countries and counting, she has gained a deep respect for the interconnections that humans have with their surrounding environment.

“I was taught at a young age to appreciate all that surrounds me, including nature, the environment, wildlife, and the world’s vast variety of cultures and people,” Nguyen said. “Feeling the need to protect and preserve the environment and wildlife in vulnerable parts of the world is what drives me to take an active part in conservation. My aspiration to work in the field of conservation medicine is what motivated me to attend veterinary school, and what continues to drive me in my young veterinary career today.”

Nguyen said as a future doctor of veterinary medicine, she sees her role as a caretaker for the well-being and health of animals, as well as a leader in the veterinary community, the wildlife and research community, and the general public.

“With a focus in zoo and wildlife medicine, it is particularly important for me to be an advocate of wildlife and endangered species, and the environmental habitats they live in,” she said. “For this reason, I am currently and will continue to be involved in research projects regarding wildlife and environmental issues. This type of research requires a significant amount of team collaboration between biologists, conservationists, and other veterinarians, and enhances relationships within these communities to work further toward a common goal. My responsibility is to be a leader and on the forefront of veterinary and wildlife medicine, while advocating, educating, and setting examples of proper care for all animals.”