Dover native named Sussex Emergency Physician of the Year

Julie Cullen, DO, assistant medical director, Bayhealth Emergency and Trauma Center, Sussex Campus, receives the Sussex EMS Physician of the Year Award from Director of Sussex County Emergency Medical Services Robert Murray. (Submitted photo)

MILFORD — Julie Cullen, an assistant medical director at the Bayhealth Emergency and Trauma Center, Sussex Campus, couldn’t imagine herself doing anything else.

“I love emergency medicine,” Dr. Cullen said. “It is absolutely a personality fit for me. It is exciting, team-centered, fast-paced, with a variety of presentations, patients, diagnoses, treatments, and procedures.

“Plus, I thrive from trying to bond with patients and families even though our interaction may be of a brief duration.”

She said one of her goals with each patient encounter is to try to make a connection during likely one of the hardest days of the patient’s and family’s lives.

“I take great fulfillment in any interaction where I feel I have achieved a connection,” Dr. Cullen said.

Her skills and personal attributes is what helped her be named Sussex County Emergency Medical Services Physician of the Year.

“On numerous occasions, I have personally gone in to get follow-ups on patients and she will take the time to explain what they found and what the treatment plan is,” said Robert Murray, director of Sussex County Emergency Medical Services.

“She has a strong work ethic and is often seen second shift working hard,” he added. “She is easy to talk with and can act quickly with critical patients. She is always the first to answer questions and is never one to make you feel wrong for asking a question. She values the services provided by EMS.”

Dr. Cullen didn’t even know she was nominated for the award.

“I was surprised and honored,” Dr. Cullen said. “When I read the responses and explanations as to why I was chosen, I felt a deep sense of pride.”

Dr. Cullen said the award is given from a nomination process.

“As explained to me not only are the number of total nominations reviewed but the quality of the nominations,” Dr. Cullen said. “There are specific explanations given as to why it is felt that a particular physician should be recognized with the award. This made receiving the award even more meaningful.”

Born and raised in Dover, Dr. Cullen is happy to be serving her hometown. When she graduated from Dover High School, Dr. Cullen stayed local and earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Delaware in nursing and pre-med with a minor in psychology. By 2007, she moved to western Pennsylvania to work as an emergency department nurse while applying to medical school.

In a year, she relocated to Philadelphia to attend the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and trained at Philadelphia’s Albert Einstein Medical Center – Emergency Medicine.

“I always knew that I would have a career in medicine,” Dr. Cullen said. “My mother is a nurse, a nurse educator, and such a huge influence. I’ve been practicing at Bayhealth for four and a half years now. Everyone has their life struggles, and I try to remain humble and mindful of that.

“I am blessed to do what I do and love it. Often I refer back to my core values and personal mission statement which helps me to remain strong, purposeful and mindful. Keeping myself physically fit is key to a positive attitude. I also rely heavily on love and strength from family and friends.”

As an assistant medical director for the Bayhealth Sussex Campus’ emergency department in Milford, Dr. Cullen said her job is 80% clinical and 20% administrative.

“I work closely with our medical director and my mentor, Dr. Kelly Abbrescia, to improve, manage, lead and empower our group as a vital and integral part of the Bayhealth team. Dr. Abbrescia has been an enormous positive influence on me as I continue to learn and grow not only as an emergency medicine physician but as a physician leader as well.”

Dr. Cullen also uses her positive attitude to not only help her patients but to help her push through work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Working during this time has been very challenging,” Dr. Cullen said. “It has been exhausting both physically and mentally. The biggest change has been keeping up to date with research and literature as we continue to learn more about the disease process and treatment plans.”

“Keeping a positive mindset, and knowing time is needed to refill my own tank allows me to continue to care for patients during these extremely difficult times,” she added.

But she said working in her own backyard has been a full-circle moment.

“I take great pride in our hospital system and want to provide the best care possible,” Dr. Cullen said. “I hold myself to a high standard and expect the same from my colleagues. You want each patient to be treated as if it was your family member because, for me, it might be.”

Dr. Cullen said there is always room for improvement as a physician.

“For me, one of the keys is true active listening,” Dr. Cullen said. “I try to remain empathetic, unbiased, and honest. I am not afraid to manage expectations, educate, and show a kind, open heart. Personally, my husband has been battling leukemia for almost three years now, so I know what it is like as a family member and to be on the patient side of medicine.

“Perhaps our difficult experiences have helped me learn and grow as a physician. I understand the fear, questions, frustrations, and fatigue associated with illness. I want to comfort and help.”

Being awarded the 2019 Emergency Physician of the Year has only motivated Dr. Cullen to be the best physician she can be.

“It is an honor and I am humbled,” Dr. Cullen said. “I am thankful for the recognition. It motivates me even more. There is always room for progress, growth, and continued learning. I am doing what I was meant to do. It reinforces my passionate mindset.”

Arshon Howard is a freelance writer living in Dover.