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Powerful Women Let's Talk - 048: Julie Bulson

Julie Bulson
Julie Bulson

Julie Bulson is the Director of Business Assurance at Spectrum Butterworth, which we generally know as, “Emergency Preparedness”.  There’s a lot to the job of keeping the largest hospital in Grand Rapids ready for any and all emergencies.  Julie is a GVSU grad and part of KCON-the Kirkof College of Nursing and received just last year, the Grand Rapids Magazine’s Nursing Excellence award.

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Full Transcript:


Produced by women about women. Powerful Women, Let's Talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world, transforming who we are and how we live.


Jennifer Moss:

Hello, everyone. I'm Jennifer Moss and it is time for another edition of Powerful Women, Let's Talk. I want to thank you for joining us today. Today's powerful woman is Julie Bulson. She is the director of Business Assurances at Spectrum Butterworth here in Grand Rapids. Now don't let the title fool you because there's a lot behind that. We're going to get into that Julie Bulson, we are so happy and we want to welcome you to Powerful Women, Let's Talk.

Julie Bulson: Thanks Jennifer for having me.

Jennifer Moss: Happy to have you here. So, Julie, you have an important job here in Grand Rapids and quite frankly West Michigan. Your formal title is now the director of business assurance which we generally know as emergency preparedness inspector at Butterworth. I'm going to take a deeper dive into that in just a moment but, first, want to give a few more highlights of your career in medicine not to start. You are GVSU grad being a part, of course, of Kirkof College of nursing. You're a registered nurse and you received your doctorate in nursing practice in health systems leadership as well. You've been a guest lecturer with numerous presentations, you publish many articles as well. You've also received numerous awards most recently receiving the Grand Rapids magazines, nursing excellence award and that was just last year and again, a mentor to many. You've been head of our emergency preparedness for Spectrum, a huge deal. Want to talk about that. Your responsibilities in emergency preparedness and we're talking about being ready for all emergencies that could arise or strike our area. You have to have the plans in place. I would imagine if we get storms, mass casualties, power outages at the hospital. Those all fall under your umbrella, right?

Julie Bulson: Yeah, Jennifer, that's right. I have a team of staff, amazing staff that work together for the entire system at Spectrum Health and develop disaster plans, response plans and then we educate the staff and we do exercises and sometimes those exercises are in paper, sometimes those exercises involve volunteer victims that actually function as the patients as they're going through that process of the disaster and coming into the organization walking through our processes to determine if we need to modify anything and strengthen that plan just to make it better so that we're ready for whatever comes through our door.

Jennifer Moss: Have you ever had to utilize those plans? So have you been ready for anything that may happen? I know we've had some situations in Grand Rapids over the years. How did the plans work?

Julie Bulson: Yeah, actually we've implemented our mass casualty plan several different times based on volume of casualties at the scene. Quite a few years ago we had a pileup on 131 North in February during a snowstorm that implemented the mass casualty plan that works perfectly and had staff available had plenty of room to be able to take care of our patients that were coming in and that actually was one that we coordinated with the other hospitals in the city to be able to manage the patient volume that was coming to the hospital. So we just kind of divvied up the patients appropriately and worked through that process. I think another situation might be some chemical exposures or recently, we had a patient come in that was covered in gasoline and we had to have a team meet the patient  at the emergency department and make sure that he got washed off completely so that we don't bring any of that contaminate into the emergency department making it more difficult for the staff and the other patients in the department.

Jennifer Moss: When you think about that kind of thing is it is a daunting at all to be the one responsible for the emergency preparedness plan for our city?

Julie Bulson: You know it is, If I think about it too much. Otherwise, again, I've got a wonderful group of staff that work through all of these very intricate processes, work with the departments that need to and we tested frequently, which is really the key is really walking through those tasks the way that we would want to respond. It almost becomes second nature then for our staff. So education, exercising are a big piece of it.

Jennifer Moss: And new moving into another zone, you're very passionate about health care overall. I mean, I would imagine being a registered nurse. You have to be nursing and mentoring others. That's a key in your heart.

Julie Bulson: It is a key in my heart. I’ve worked with actually nursing students for years. Even when I was still practicing in the units and doing clinical care and now over the past maybe 5 years I've mentored masters level students, nurses that were going through their master's programs and a couple of the students that have been in the doctoral program. I have been a preceptor for them as well and sharing with them how emergency preparedness and business assurance actually fits into a nursing life and that as a nurse, even though I'm not clinically practicing that background in their profession really is important to my role to be able to understand the implications for the patients and for their families having gone through a crisis like that and better understanding how it's going to impact them and their lives post disaster situation.

Jennifer Moss: I was going to say it's quite intertwined and I would imagine that that nursing background really gives you as you mentioned but, just that relationship with the patients so that you come from that really true, compassionate. Sometimes I think we can use the word business and business assurance sounds a little cold but with your nursing background, you can provide that comfort and care that they need during whatever time that they're experiencing through emergencies that occur.

Julie Bulson: Yeah, absolutely you’re right and in fact, most of the hospitals across the country don't have nurses in this role, oftentimes this department, the emergency preparedness work fits within either facilities or security and a lot of them are very security focused, which obviously takes on that more institutional feel for a response as opposed to bringing in that clinical application on how we want to respond to disasters and really keeping that health care focus in our patient experience and our family experience up front in our responses.

Jennifer Moss: Because that’s key I mean, it's a caring environment. I mean, we're getting care at a hospital. So you would want that caring nature to continue and be a continuum through all the practices in which you encounter, I would imagine.

Julie Bulson: Absolutely.

Jennifer Moss: Emergency preparedness. So in our segments, Julie, we always talk about how women navigate through their challenges. You know what's been one of your biggest challenges would you say because emergency preparedness is in your broader business assurance? Those are pretty big things to tackle. So I can't imagine that you've gone through all this without facing some challenges.

Julie Bulson: Yeah, probably one of the biggest challenges that I can think of right off the top of my head is early in my career when health care emergency preparedness really was not an entity, so to speak.

It was very early on in that professional development of health care emergency preparedness trying to fit in to some of the meetings and trying to collaborate with some of the county and city emergency managers. You know, throughout the region that we covered most of that environment is very structured and it's not very healthcare focused and it was at that point primarily men filled those positions and so it's really, you know, working through some of those challenges and helping them to understand from a county and a city perspective, how healthcare fits into their emergency preparedness plans and why it's important to focus on healthcare really helping them understand healthcare. If the hospitals can't take the patients that they're dealing with at the scene, then they really have two situations on their hands and so I think, you know, a lot of working through some of those challenges was just having those very frank conversations with them, being comfortable and being able to have those conversations, being curious about what they were saying and really how they thought healthcare fit in and then helping them to understand the criticality of the collaboration that really needed to occur between the structured county city emergency management and the health care emergency preparedness and how we could really work together to bring a stronger response into our communities.

Jennifer Moss: And I would imagine you facilitated or were instrumental in helping them understand the connection.

Julie Bulson: Yeah, definitely that was part of the goal and having those conversations and it wasn't certainly just one meeting. It was being at all of the meetings and speaking my voice through those meetings in a confident way. I mean I had been working in the environment for a while within health care and I definitely knew what I was talking about, but really helping them understand that impact and how it might impact them.

Jennifer Moss: Absolutely and while we're on that so, one of my questions also is, you know, when you talked about having, you know, being comfortable, having your voice heard in those meetings, what has it taken for you to find your voice to sort of get comfortable in your own skin so that you can take that message to the meetings and then and have your message heard?

Julie Bulson: I think that a lot of that was really gained through experience and expertise. Just knowing really what I wanted to say and being confident in the message that I wanted to portray and then sitting down to have that conversation and the more conversations you have uncomfortable as they may be at the beginning, the more confidence you gain throughout your career and it's really just being able to be comfortable in what you have to say and be comfortable in asking the right questions and really if you approach it from a curiosity perspective, you know, even if one of the executive leaders at spectrum health were to push back on something, you know, for me to be able to say, you know, “I'm curious as to why your coming from that direction? Can you help me understand?” it really presents it in a light of its non-confrontational. It's really helped me understand, you know where we're coming from and where we're going and I think that being able to have those conversations over and over again has really helped me to become more confident in who I am and be able to have those conversations.

Jennifer Moss: Absolutely. So I mentioned you like to mentor others and as you do so, what leadership traits do you like to see perhaps in those who are on this journey with and those that you mentor?

Julie Bulson:  So I think that there's a couple that are really critical from a leadership perspective and one of them is transparency, one of them is being a good communicator and being willing to collaborate. So I really see myself as a servant leader. That's kind of how I portray myself. I really I'm there for my team. I'm there to build up my team and to help them succeed and if I do that, if I work myself out of a job that I've been a good leader and really as I mentor new students whether they're at the master's level or at the doctor a level. It's helping them to understand first of all where they want to go to be able to better understand what leadership skills are going to need in that role but, to help them communicate as good as they can. They need to be a good communicator if they're going to be in a leadership role and part of learning that skill is observing as many meetings as I can get them into at all levels within the organization and just have them sit in the back corner and listen to the conversation, listen to how it takes place. I think that that's probably the best way for them to learn some of those communications skills.

Jennifer Moss: Sounds like you're very busy because you take the time to put in with the with the students. Years. Tell us, Julie, what on an easier note of questioning. What do you like to do in your spare time? If you have any because I know it sounds like you’re very, very busy, of course but, what are some of the things that you guys like to do?

Julie Bulson: Yes. So this past year there wasn't a whole lot of spare time but, in my spare time, Tim and I love to camp and so I'm forever taking him on just long weekends to get away from the house, get away from work. We typically stay in the state parks in Michigan. We just have amazing state parks in the state of Michigan and to be able to travel 30 minutes outside of Grand Rapids and see the lake. We are so blessed and I think that sometimes we take that for granted. So we love to camp, love to do yard work. I have a very big flower garden and we plant some vegetables and then I as crazy as it might seem, I love to can applesauce and fruits and vegetables and freeze and, you know, preserve any food that we can eat. I'm happy to preserve it.

Jennifer Moss: Some of your me time.

Julie Bulson: Yeah and even if we don't use all the food. I just I think I’ll give it away. I don't care.

Jennifer Moss: Absolutely and then getting back to the community again. So OK, here's my fun question. What makes you laugh?

Julie Bulson: So at work, just my peers and some the situations that we get ourselves into, you know, you just have to laugh. Right? Or you're going to cry.

Jennifer Moss: To keep you from crying.

Julie Bulson: Yeah, exactly and then in my personal life, you know, again Tim and I just have a great time  going out together and going to the restaurants around Grand Rapids, seeing some of our favorite wait staff that we have in some of those restaurants and having a good time with them.

Jennifer Moss: That would imply you guys are regulars somewhere.

Julie Bulson: Yeah regulars in quite a few. I think they’d be able to mention that and then I have 9 grandchildren so just to be able to spend time with them and laugh with them is great. Family is very important to me.

Jennifer Moss: Absolutely. That is wonderful. So, so much happening in the world we're living in today. People are often looking for a word of encouragement. Any by chance of any favorite sayings or mottos that you use to encourage yourself or others and/or others.

Julie Bulson: Yeah. My mom used to say this all the time, whether it was while I was growing up or whether I was struggling with my children and just frustrated. Her favorite saying was this “this too shall pass,” and I think, you know, for me especially over this last year. It's just it's been difficult with the pandemic and I know it's been difficult for everybody but, just to understand that this is a moment in time and it was a very long moment in time but, we are going to be able to get back to normal and we are going to be able to live a normal life again. It might look just a little bit different but, we'll be able to get out and have fun with our friends and we'll be able to get out and go to the symphony or go to the Broadway shows or go out to eat and visit with friends and I think just helping to remember that this moment in time as we look back on it, it will feel like a blink in the moment. It's been really long and painful and frustrating and anxiety provoking but, I believe that we will come out stronger on the other side.

Jennifer Moss: And as you said, it shall pass and so we move forward from there. Julie Bulson, thank you so much for joining us today. So nice to have you here. We appreciate you.

Julie Bulson: Thank you so much.

Jennifer Moss: And I also want to thank all of our listeners as well for joining us for this edition of Powerful Women, Let's Talk. I'm Jennifer Moss.


Produced by women about women. These powerful podcasts focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more Powerful Women, Let's Talk? Get additional interviews at WGVU.org or wherever you get your podcasts. Please rate and subscribe. Powerful Women, Let’s Talk is produced by WGVU at the Meijer Public Broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University. The views and opinions expressed on this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU, its underwriters or Grand Valley State University.


Jennifer is an award winning broadcast news journalist with more than two decades of professional television news experience including the nation's fifth largest news market. She's worked as both news reporter and news anchor for television and radio in markets from Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo all the way to San Francisco, California.
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