Dr. PK receives her award on stage

Dr. Nova Prince-Kelly receives the Zoetis Distinguished Veterinary Teacher Award at the college's annual Awards and Scholarships Ceremony, held May 23rd.

June 11, 2024

Every year, each member school of the American Veterinary Medical Association selects an educator to receive the Zoetis Distinguished Veterinary Teacher Award. Recipients are chosen in recognition of their character and leadership qualities as well as their outstanding teaching abilities, as voted by the students. 

Dr. Nova Prince-Kelly, instructor of anatomy, received the 2024 award at the Oregon State University Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Prince-Kelly is a 2007 DVM alumnus of the college. She practiced private medicine for 15 years before joining the faculty in 2022. 

The following are just a few of the student comments in nominating Dr. Prince-Kelly, known as Dr. PK, for the award:

  • “Dr. PK is the most empathetic, patient, and kind professor I have ever met. She truly views us as colleagues and wants to see us succeed. I was scared to come to vet school, PK made us all feel welcomed, safe and SMART!” 
  • “Dr. PK has genuinely played a key role in my position at this university, and I can't thank her enough. I came in and wasn’t really sure where I fit in academically, but she has continued to encourage me and remind me that I am smart and I know things. When I don’t know/understand something, she will go out of her way to make sure that I learn it so I don’t fall behind in the course material. With accommodations she has made sure that they apply to my specific needs and helps me adjust them as needed. She is realistic about how best to apply the material we are learning and emphasizes what will be applied in practice. Even outside of the classroom, she checks in on students to make sure everything is OK, and I appreciate her so much for that.” 
  • “ALWAYS in a good and positive mood. Willing to spend hours outside of class answering questions.  I feel like I could go and ask her for help regarding school or things outside of school.  In her lectures, she starts with ‘unsolicited advice’ which is both amusing but also a call back into the real world to know its OK to not be perfect and that life is hard, but we're all in it together.”
  • “Dr. Prince-Kelly's dedication to students’ educational and mental well-being is unparalleled. It is a lot to ask a person to teach, more to ask a person to teach with empathy. Dr. PK shows professionalism and a respect for teamwork and the expertise of her colleagues. She is not afraid to learn things she doesn't know and is an inspiration to her students by expressing humility, problem solving and hard work. Also, she's a blast as a professor, using humor and fun to explain concepts.”

We sat down with Dr. PK for a Q&A about her passion for teaching.

What does it mean to you personally/professionally to receive this award? 

Receiving a teaching award voted on by students is something I’m still wrapping my head around. Accepting compliments can be tough for me, but when they come from students, it adds an extra layer of meaning. I’ve taught in various capacities: from my clients in my small animal general practice, to middle and high school students competing in 4-H knowledge competitions and now veterinary students. Teaching these aspiring veterinarians is a true honor, and knowing they appreciate my efforts means the world to me. 

What classes did you teach this year?

I teach just about every first-year course and a few third-year courses:
•    Small Animal Gross Anatomy
•    Large Animal Gross Anatomy
•    Microscopic Anatomy
•    Applied Anatomy
•    Neuroanatomy Lab
•    Help in Clinical Skills
•    SA Preventative Medicine
•    Case Studies in Small Animal Medicine

What is your guiding philosophy/principle in teaching?

In this teaching role, we’re fortunate to have incredibly bright and motivated students who are eager to learn. However, we can’t take advantage of their intelligence and drive. It is crucial to set high goals for our students, but equally important to ensure that we provide them with all the necessary support and resources along the way. My aim is to ensure that every student has the opportunity and the tools they need to reach the pinnacle of their potential. 

What does it mean to you to educate the next generation of veterinary professionals?

Education is the foundation of veterinary medicine. Whether it’s educating clients, training staff, or now, teaching veterinary students, it remains at the core of my professional ethos. In fact, it was the cornerstone of my vet school application essay. Guiding the next generation of veterinary professions is a big responsibility, but also an incredible privilege. While in practice, I could only assist one animal at a time. As an educator, I aspire to impact countless more lives by empowering future veterinarians to excel in their role.  

What brings you most joy in teaching?
After working in private practice for 15 years, I started to lose my joy for veterinary medicine. Being able to take complex topics and break them down for students to have their ah-ha moments are the things I get the most reward from. 

How do you strive to bring out the best in your students?

I remember how hard vet school was. I also remember that some of my classmates were too afraid to ask questions in class because they thought the professor would think less of them. I try to be non-judgmental when they are learning. I hope I never make someone feel little for asking a question.

What are the challenges of learning to become a veterinarian, and how do you use that to inform your educational approach?

THERE IS SO MUCH TO LEARN! Even though vet school was a few years ago for me, I still remember the amount of information we had to get though in only a short four years. The more research and medical breakthroughs are made, the more we have to cover in those four short years. I try to remember that they can always look up the smaller details and try to give them the desire to continue to learn and problem solve outside of the doors of the Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine. 

What are you most excited about for your students as they graduate and head out into the veterinary world?

I honestly just look forward to hearing from them after vet school. I want to know where they end up after school, help them with difficult cases or hear how their life outside of veterinary medicine is.    

What would you say to your students as the No. 1 thing you’ve learned in your career?

Never stop learning! It is easy to get overwhelmed with all the material you have to digest when in school. There will never be an opportunity outside of the vet school walls that you get to devote so much time to learning. Don’t lose the drive to always get better. Set aside time each week devoted to journal reading or discussing cases with colleagues.  

Any final thoughts? 

I must give a HUGE thank you to all of the faculty and staff here at the Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine. It was a big change to come from general practice to academia. I would have been very overwhelmed if it wasn’t for the help of the anatomy crew and Dr. Lilian Wong — the best office mate one could ask for!