When an emergency vet was referred to as a “force of nature”—by her own CEO—it was no wonder she was snapped up as one of the new Bondi Vet presenters. By Kerryn Ramsey
As emergency services continue to expand in the veterinary field, not all vets are keen to take on this action-packed, late-shift lifestyle. “Emergency vets are a little bit of the odd cousin of the veterinary profession,” says Dr Alex Hynes, a director and senior emergency vet at Animal Emergency Service (AES). She admits that the job involves unsocial hours, and vets have to face danger and challenges. “When I first started doing emergency, people said, ‘You’ll never last; it’s a young person’s game. If you want a family, you can’t be an emergency vet. You can’t have a healthy lifestyle. You can’t make it work long-term’.”
Despite these difficulties, Dr Hynes has found that being an after-hours vet was one of her most rewarding career moves. She has been working for the past 11 years at AES, which runs five hospitals in Queensland and Western Australia.
Dr Hynes graduated from University of Queensland in 2000 and for her first job, she worked in mixed practice in the Brisbane Valley before heading to the UK for a prospective 12-month stint.
“Like many Aussie vets who work in the UK, I ended up loving the experience and stayed for five years,” she says. After taking on positions at large and small practices, as well as locuming, she began to consider specialising as a surgeon. However, her mindset changed in 2006 when she started working at an emergency hospital.
“Here, I got to do some incredible, life-saving surgeries,” recalls Dr Hynes. “With each new case, I had to get an animal out of trouble and out of pain, and then follow a diagnostic pathway to ascertain the best treatment.”
Dr Hynes is also attracted to the variety of emergency practice. “I really thrive on the fact that every day is going to be different with unique challenges.”
Joining the AES team
When Dr Hynes returned to Australia, she contacted Dr Rob Webster, chief executive officer of AES and fellow graduate from her cohort at UQ vet school.
“Alex has such a high-energy level that emergency practice is the most suitable area for her to work in,” explains Dr Webster, who opened the flagship emergency service in Underwood, south of Brisbane, in 2005. On her first day at the practice, however, Dr Hynes was a little apprehensive.
“It was chaos,” she recalls, laughing. “I’d never seen such a busy emergency hospital. There was a part of me thinking, ‘Wow, am I ready to deal with this?’ But there was another part of me thinking, ‘This is home for me.’ I think that vision of creating a home for emergency vets captivated me.”
Her partner Dr Gerardo Poli is also part of the AES family and is director of the Jindalee hospital. The two began working together out of tragic circumstances when their supervisor and mentor at AES, Dr Caitlin Logan, took her own life in 2013. “The team at AES looked to Gerardo and me to lead them out of that sad time and re-focus on the important work we were doing.”
The two vets first met as colleagues at AES but Dr Poli admits that they didn’t like each other much at first. “We’re both very strong personalities so we clashed pretty regularly,” he recalls. “It took Caitlin’s death for us to realise how important it was to learn to work together. We both have different strengths which we respect and support in each other these days.”
Dr Hynes has been so dedicated to her profession, she has worked every Christmas Day and Boxing Day for the past 11 years—even her 10-year-old daughter Victoria is used to her mum’s commitment and often spends time helping at the hospital. Dr Hynes sees the festive season as a “perfect storm” as they’re invariably the busiest days of the year.
“I think many people don’t understand what happens in emergency hospitals. The TV series will show what’s involved, the dedication of the team, what we do.”
Dr Alex Hynes, director, AES
“You can imagine the stress and emotion of pet owners on these days. Their regular vet, who they really trust, is closed but we’re there for them when they really need us. Saving lives on days like this is how we can make a real difference.”
While Dr Hynes is an animal lover—as a child growing up in the Southern Highlands, NSW, she used to ride horses in competition and imagined herself as a horse vet—the first degree she actually started at the Australian National University in Canberra was economics and business.
“I’d always been good with problem solving and critical thinking, so it seemed like a natural choice but I soon realised it wasn’t a good fit,” she says. Her business background, however, has been valuable. “Nowadays, it’s handy being able to adopt a business owner’s perspective at AES.”
Since joining AES 11 years ago, Dr Hynes has seen the company grow significantly. After opening the Underwood practice, the company expanded to the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. This was followed by the acquisition of a clinic in Perth in 2015. AES’s newest venture has been the state-of-the-art hospital which was built in the suburb of Jindalee in Brisbane’s west. With Dr Webster at the helm, the AES hospitals have an effective management system, with a number of directors and leadership teams in the different practices. Overall, AES has 250 staff on board, including 65 vets.
According to Dr Hynes, the leadership teams are encouraged to put their individual stamp on each hospital. “We don’t constrain them too much by a set of tight governance. It means they have ownership and creativity to develop their own ideas. Some ideas work really well while others may not but that’s the path of sustainable business growth—find what works and be prepared for some ideas to fail. Despite that, the leadership teams will always develop solutions to each challenge they face.”
Dr Webster says the business continues to look at the future of veterinary emergency and critical care. “Alex and I bounce around all sorts of ideas, many of which are impractical,” he admits. “She’s completely accountable. She does what she says she’s going to do and doesn’t promise things that she cannot commit to completing.”
Queensland meets Bondi
Recently, Dr Hynes added a more unusual job to her CV—a soon-to-be TV celebrity. She’s one of five vets starring in the rebooted Bondi Vet, working with Drs Danni Dusek, Lewis Hunt, Kate Adams and Peter Ricci.
“It’s been a real learning curve,” admits Dr Hynes, who’s currently completing the final few episodes before it goes to air on Channel 9 later this year. “As an emergency vet, inside my head I’m working through complex medical problems and making quick decisions for pets in critical situations, but the role requires me to talk and share my emotions through the camera. It’s been challenging but that opportunity to share those stories is one of the greatest privileges I’ve been given so far in my career.”
While appearing on television has a certain sense of glamour, Dr Hynes is also focused on the business side of this project. Since various operations and consultation sessions will be filmed at the AES hospitals, the show will highlight the importance of emergency hospitals. “I think many people don’t understand what happens in emergency hospitals,” says Dr Hynes. “The TV series will show what’s involved, the dedication of the team, what we do and how we really try to help our colleagues, not just the general public.”
As well as being a fledgling TV vet, Dr Hynes has also become an author with the recent release of her help book, First Call for Dogs, that focuses on common emergency illnesses and injuries. On the cover is Dr Hynes hugging her “second child”—her Samoyed rescue dog, Yoshi.
This book is aimed at pet owners, but Dr Hynes has also taken on a project for veterinarians and the broader veterinary community. Working with Dr Webster and the AES team, they recently launched an online resource, titled the Hub.
According to Dr Webster, it shares free veterinary content including clinical guidelines and research with other vets. “This brings everyone into our treatment rooms,” he says. “Members can also activate involvement in undergraduate teaching, and be part of an AES alumni.”
It was Dr Hynes who first came up with the digital content when she realised that all the information AES has gained over the years needed to be shared. “This is not only for vets who refer their patients to us, but for other colleagues, such as vets working in rural areas and animal shelters. We’re keen to share our knowledge with the whole vet community.
“We include protocols on dealing with critical illnesses. So, if you’re a new graduate out in the middle of the country and you have a serious metabolic problem, such as a diabetic ketoacidosis case, and you’ve never dealt with it before, you can go to our site and see our protocol.”
With so many projects on the go, Dr Hynes is referred to—by her CEO, Dr Webster—as a “a force of nature” as well as being “an incredible vet”. Yet this 41-year-old practitioner admits she’s still a dreamer. “My dream would be to provide top-level emergency care to pets in every major city across the country,” she says. “That would be amazing because your GP vet can get a good night’s sleep and time with their family while a whole team of vets and nurses highly trained in this area are ready and waiting to do whatever is needed after hours and on the weekends. Providing that kind of care for pets across the country would be fantastic. Whether we’ll get there, I don’t know but I like to dream big.”