A veterinary nurse praised for her warmth and empathy has been crowned Northern Ireland’s Vet Nurse of the Year.

From left: BVNA regional coordinator Northern Ireland Diane Young, Louise Richards from the Greenmount campus of CAFRE, BVNA president Fiona Andrew, AVSPNI president Melanie Spahn, Joanna Mcnally from Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Vet Nurse of the Year Lesley O’Neill and Student Vet Nurse of the Year Michelle Darby.

Lesley O’Neill, who works at Braemar Veterinary Clinic in Belfast, was chosen by the judges after she received glowing tributes from colleagues and clients.

Michelle Darby, of Balmoral Veterinary Centre in Belfast, was named the province’s Student Vet Nurse of the Year and Alison Fletcher of Cedar Grove Veterinary Clinic, also in Belfast, became customer care representative of the year.

A special recognition award went to Louise Richards from the Greenmount campus of the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) – 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 were judged by British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA) president Fiona Andrew, Association of Veterinary Surgeons Practising in Northern Ireland (AVSPNI) president Melanie Spahn and Fiona Marjoram, representing sponsors Hill’s Pet Nutrition.

Winner Lesley has been a veterinary nurse for 19 years, yet, the judges were told, 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”.

Student Vet Nurse of the Year Michelle was described as extremely dedicated to animal care, both inside the practice and out. A fellow veterinary nurse gave her 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.”

Customer care representative of the year Alison gained her position as head of customer care after 20 years in veterinary nursing and practice. Her “tremendous empathy”, mentoring skills and overall dedication were highlighted by vet Pat Hart, who said all their clients knew they would be treated with kindness and courtesy.

The judging panel decided Louise Richards deserved recognition for continually going above and beyond the call of duty in her capacity as veterinary nursing instructor at CAFRE.

The winners received trophies and gift vouchers.

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