The secret to juggling a million priorities as a vet – managing professional and personal life

An interview with Dr Alex Hynes, AES

2 March 2022 5 min read


Dr Alex Hynes is a senior vet, Director and Chief Client Officer at Animal Emergency Services (AES). Her passion is helping animals in need in the emergency arena. Her work involves treating the sickest of pets and wildlife in Australia and for her, every day at the hospital is different.

Her extensive experience and journey is covered in episode 7 of Paws, Rewind and Play. She’s a well-known vet in Australia, features on pet show Bondi Vet, has her own book, is an entrepreneur running Vet Success Academy, a public educator, a new mum and is wearing many hats!  An interesting fact, is her family’s affiliation to the animal movie, Babe. Post-production, all the animals in that movie, were taken into the care of her mother’s farm to be adopted and supported. It’s no wonder she was led to have compassion and to care for animals!

An important start to this episode, was that for Alex, recognising that when you treat animals and you don’t know what the outcome will be or if you will be sending them home, but the purpose is in doing what you can. She states:

“If you’re there to make a difference in those first few hours, that’s what is incredibly rewarding.”

Scheduling to success

Alex juggles many balls and her secret to managing it all, is through priorities and scheduling:

“I really only take on things I’m passionate about. Life’s really too short to be going through the motions or doing things only to please other people. I’m also a big scheduler. There’s always going to be pulls on your time and outside demands – if you don’t have a clear schedule or goals, then you just start to work to other people’s priorities. So I make sure that I have enough time for my family, Vet Success Academy and things outside of being an emergency vet. Time for myself is so important and it always should be.”

Vets are prone to burnout and stress and once again, Alex highlights how exercise works for her to maintain her health levels. How she fits it in? you ask. You guessed it – she schedules the same time each day between 5-6pm and makes sure everyone else knows it so that she’s not disturbed. Not to mention the fact she does martial arts and boxing. We can only imagine how much of a stress-buster this is for Alex. She adds that:

“The good thing about martial arts, is that because you wear gloves, you can’t answer your phone, it’s a break away from technology and distractions. For me, it resets my day, dilutes the stress from earlier in the day, it’s something that I love and  is an hour for myself.”

It also means that once her session is done, she can go back to emergency care when needed, but has clearly communicated her boundary to all stakeholders so she can see to herself and to the animals needed all in time.

Planning ahead, allocating time, focusing on goals and prioritising what’s important are the keys to balance and success.

Pandemic pressure and managing resource

At Covetrus, we acknowledge that it’s not always easy to lead, take the initiative and “see to yourself”. The idea of self-care can seem like a fantasy when we’re still living in a pandemic and in the time of a global vet shortage. Pets, pet-parents and colleagues are all leaning on each other very heavily, so it can seem somewhat burdensome and overwhelming to even try to take time off.

We asked Alex to provide advice in this area since we knew of her unwavering ability to juggle so many balls at once. Transparency and communication are her weapons.

“You can’t go in thinking you’ll solve all the problems of the business, there’ll always be something that comes up. But I really think it’s important to let people know when you are available. As a Director, we’re really good at managing that, seeing people’s availability means we know we can call people that we know are available and can be on the frontline. Seeing when they’re not available means we respect that boundary, they have the chance to get their free time, spend time with their family and be ready for other times to support colleagues when it’s their time off.”

Using technology to alleviate stress

Ideas from Alex include looking at how technology can assist and potentially transform the way a clinic is run. Something they’ve recently been experimenting with is virtual health systems, where scribes are updating records. Eighty per cent of work is done, it just means vets only need to fill in the small gaps and this saves much needed time for vets to focus on treating animals.

“The innovation in technology and adoption of it in clinics came about because of the pandemic and also to think outside the square. Learning to innovate and other ways to get the job done is really important. For any business in this age, technology so important.”

At AES, Alex’s team use practice management software (PMS) and use RxWorks. As a Chief Client Officer, an important aspect and priority is the client experience. They wanted the client journey to be as frictionless as possible. Digital communication, especially in the time of COVID-19, has been essential. Using RxWorks has meant that they can communicate with their primary vets and streamline workflows in a seamless way, that cultivates a productive and easy-to-use workspace.

“We also use RxWorks for our patient histories, making it as clear and straightforward as possible. It’s been critical for making us as efficient as possible and to facilitate with the client journey and experience. It’s been life-changing and revolutionary.”

She adds that whilst technology can appear expensive and costly sometimes, she imparts some wisdom around weighing up the pros and cons.

“When you add up and what it can cost if you’re not doing things like efficient stock controls or hours of labour if you’re not utilizing technology in the right ways, it’s a false sense of efficiency to skimp on technology or think you can work around it, which in the long run, can really just take more time and money away from you.”

Vet Success Academy and using video training to your advantage

Having founded Vet Success Academy with her partner and senior vet Dr Gerardo Poli, their collective personal and professional experience led to purpose and serving others:

“In a vet’s first years, you’re very focused on your own accomplishments and your desire to improve and progress. I feel blessed with all the experience and knowledge I gained over the years. We wanted to share that knowledge beyond the vet professionals within our organisation, and do it for the wider community and globally. Vet Success Academy was born.”

Alex explains that Vet Success Academy is a platform where you can improve upon your clinical skill set and/or softer skill performance traits such as communication, leading and managing.

In the time of a pandemic, Vet Success Academy works well because of the online resource library full of videos that allows clinicians and professionals to use it as a reference centre. Impressively, the videos were built up for a number of years to act as a resource for the launch of the academy:

“You can have textbooks and they are valuable but there’s something about being able to watch something on a video and being able to understand how to do a procedure or surgery. We would film surgeries because we were lucky, in that it is a very busy hospital and we’d have no idea what’s going to walk through the door, but realised an opportunity where we could record these and narrate them.”

For example, professionals can look up how to do a splenectomy and watch parts of the video in preparation for doing a booked surgery they have.

“You can see it, it’s not just a diagram in a book. You actually see how another experienced vet carries it out and has key explainers.”

Vet Success Academy also values and channels an education that isn’t necessarily taught at vet school.

“It’s all about how you interact with people, how you communicate, productivity, leadership, self-care; we even cover things like imposter syndrome. These are all huge things for our profession and if you can master them, you can really accelerate your career. This is the other huge component to Vet Success Academy. It caters to both types, for those who may be more interested in the clinical, technical side and to those who ask, how can I be the very best leader of my vet team?” 

Alex’s top three takeaways: learn, lead and look back

It will be reassuring to hear Alex talk about mistakes, in the same way our conversation with Danny the Vet resulted in:

“You just need to have that learning mindset. I make mistakes every day and I can only learn from them. I’m a big fan of journaling. I journal at the end of every day and I think about things I’m grateful for but also think about things that didn’t go well; and how I want to do better next time.”

Her second takeaway is about leadership and compromises. As humans, she recognises the strong desire for humans to be liked.

“When you’re a manager in a position of leadership, sometimes you have to make tough decisions all the time. If you know in your heart of hearts, if you’ve made a call based on what is the best decision overall and it’s for the greater good, then have peace in that, you can’t please everyone.”

And lastly:

“I always reflect how can I do better? The two enemies for a vet professional, in my opinion, is complacency and arrogance. I want to steer clear from complacency. For example, many veterinary businesses are having trouble with COVID-19 and the global vet shortage, but we’ve been lucky to avoid it so far. However it would be naïve to think: that would never happen to us. So just always being aware and never rest on your laurels.”

An important point to note is that in the how can I do better reflection, it doesn’t just equate to productivity and success, but an ode to better balance, rest and much-needed self-care for vet professionals!