Professor McIlwraith obtained his veterinary degree from Massey University, New Zealand, was in practice in New Zealand and the UK followed by an internship at the University of Guelph, Canada and a surgical residency at Purdue University. He also obtained MS and PhD degrees from Purdue University. He is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, the European College of Veterinary Surgeons, the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, and a Fellow of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.
Since 1979 he has been a faculty member at Colorado State University. Currently he is a University Distinguished Professor, holds the Barbara Cox Anthony University Endowed Chair in Orthopaedics and is the Founding Director of the Orthopaedic Research Center. He also has a referral equine orthopaedic surgical practice based in Southern California and is a consultant and surgeon for clients elsewhere in the US and Ireland, England, France and New Zealand. His research interests focus on equine orthopaedic surgery and translational joint disease research includingnovel treatments for osteoarthritis and articular cartilage repair, mesenchymal stem cell therapies and early diagnosis of osteoarthritis and pre-fracture disease using imaging and fluid biomarkers.
He has received multiple awards including, the Founders Award and Legends Award from ACVS, induction into the International Equine Research Hall of Fame, the John Hickman Award from the British Equine Veterinary Association, the AAEP Research Award, the AVMA Lifetime Excellence in Research Award, the Markowitz Award from the Academy of Surgical Research, the Marshall R. Urist MD Award from ORS and is an Honorary Fellow of ICRS.