|The results are in for Northern Ireland Vet Nurse of the Year Awards and this year Belfast has made a clean sweep. NI Vet Nurse of the Year is Lesley O’Neill of Braemar Veterinary Clinic in Belfast. NI Student Vet Nurse of the Year is Michelle Darby of Balmoral Veterinary Centre and NI Veterinary Customer Care representative of the year is Alison Fletcher of Cedar Grove Veterinary Clinic, both also in Belfast.A special recognition award went to Louise Richards from the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise’s (CAFRE) Greenmount Campus – the only centre in Northern Ireland to offer the Veterinary Nursing course approved by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.|
The awards rely on nominations and are judged by the British Veterinary Nursing Association President Fiona Andrew, Melanie Spahn, President of the Association of Veterinary Surgeons Practising in Northern Ireland and Fiona Marjoram, representing sponsors Hill’s Pet Nutrition.
Lesley O’Neill of Braemar Veterinary Clinic and now NI Vet Nurse of the Year has been a vet nurse for 19 years, yet her enthusiasm remains undiminished. Colleagues described her as ‘warm and empathetic taking time to reassure clients their pet is in safe hands’, and ‘extending the same love and devotion to her own pets to the patients under her care.’ Many of her own pets are previously homeless or lame animals whose lives she has transformed and she has also taken time to inspire and support trainee vet nurses on their journey towards qualification. One client described how Lesley’s efforts made the difference when it was as time to say goodbye to her beloved pet, “..her support gave me the strength to take that brave step and let her go…Whilst I miss my best friends every day I take comfort that, with the help of my vets, we took the best care of her we could.”
NI Student Vet Nurse of the Year is Michelle Darby of Balmoral Veterinary Centre who was described as ‘extremely dedicated to animal care both inside the practice and out.’ She has a natural gift in handling animals and her ‘happy and calm attitude brings a positive and relaxed atmosphere to the practice’. A fellow vet nurse gave Michelle what could be the ultimate accolade for a student, “I feel not only does Michelle learn from the veterinary surgeons and nurses but we also learn from Michelle.”
NI Veterinary Customer Care representative of the year is Alison Fletcher of Cedar Grove Veterinary Clinic. A flurry of nominations from clients and colleagues alike supported Alison’s entry. One client who had not had a holiday in 10 years because of the needs of her pets was given the chance to have some time away when Alison volunteered to stay in their home and care for their pets to give them a break and another client described how they always felt ‘happy and reassured’ to see her at the reception desk. Alison gained her position as Head of Customer Care after 20 years in veterinary nursing and practice. Her ‘wealth of knowledge’ and ‘incredible memory for client and pet names’ has proved invaluable and there is a genuine feeling that ‘nothing is too much trouble for her’. Her ‘tremendous empathy’, mentoring skills and overall dedication were highlighted by vet Pat Hart who says every client at the practice knows ‘they will be treated with kindness, courtesy and made to feel special’.
A special recognition award went to someone who is admired by all who know her. Hills and the BVNA judging panel decided that Louise Richards deserved recognition for continually going above and beyond the call of duty in her capacity as veterinary nursing instructor at CAFRE’s Greenmount Campus. Louise displays exceptional skills, adaptability and attention to detail in all she does and makes a major contribution to veterinary nursing education.
The judging panel say the judging itself was very close this year and the standard of entries remains incredibly high. Fiona Marjoram of Hill’s Pet Nutrition said, “We’ve also known that vet nurses are incredibly dedicated people but these awards really bring it home that the extent of that dedication is often staggering. We are incredibly proud to be associated with these awards that celebrate the best of veterinary nursing in Northern Ireland and congratulate all the winners.
The winners all receive trophies and gift vouchers and their wins are celebrated at the AVSPNI/BVNA Congress.