McIlwraith, professor of Veterinary Medicine and director of Colorado State University's Gail E Holmes Equine Orthopaedic Research Centre, was presented with the title of University Distinguished Professor.
The title was also awarded to two other Colorado faculty members - Ian Orme, professor and researcher of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology and co-founder of the Colorado State University's Mycobacteria Research Laboratory; and Diana Wall, professor of Biology and director of Colorado State University's School of Global Environmental Sustainability.
The title represents the university's highest recognition awarded for outstanding accomplishments in research and scholarship.
Colorado State University interim president Tony Frank said the three professors have not only made great strides in their respective fields but have collectively garnered more than $US100 million in research grants, taught hundreds of students who now make contributions around the world, and have influenced scientific thought in their field.
"Professors Wall, McIlwraith, and Orme have all led pioneering research that has transformed their fields of study, and all three are known around the world as among the most distinctive, innovative and accomplished thinkers in their disciplines," Frank said.
"Each has also contributed significantly to the quality of research and education at Colorado State, and this honour is a fitting tribute to the stature they've attained as scholars and faculty leaders."
Only 1 per cent of its faculty are given the rank of University Distinguished Professor and it is a lifetime award carried into retirement as an Emeritus Professor.
To obtain the rank, faculty members are nominated through an extensive review process and must be approved by current University Distinguished Professors.
McIlwraith heads the Gail E Holmes Equine Orthopaedic Research Centre, which is part of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. It treats orthopaedic injuries in some of the world's finest horses and investigates orthopaedic treatments and preventative medicine.
Many of the innovations at the Equine Orthopaedic Research Center also can be applied to human medicine.
McIlwraith joined Colorado State in 1979 in the Department of Clinical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences as an equine surgeon with a research focus in orthopaedics.
Milestones include his appointment as director of the university's equine sciences programme in 1994, which accompanied a major expansion of the orthopaedics research programme. In 2001, he became the full-time director of the orthopaedic research programme. The programme has helped make the university the world's leading centre for comparative orthopaedic research.
McIlwraith's history of accomplishment as a researcher, clinician and educator can be seen in his leadership and development of numerous programmes at Colorado State, including the musculoskeletal research programme.
McIlwraith also is a diplomate, American College of Veterinary Surgeons, and diplomate, European College of Veterinary Surgeons.