Story by: Rebecca Hall on March 20, 2019
Michelle Julien, M.D., is everything you’d expect a surgeon to be — smart, articulate, caring and passionate about her work. She’s also friendly, warm, approachable and casual.
And, she’s funny.
You know that little brown emoji with the friendly eyes and big smile that looks strangely similar to a pile of poop? Dr. Julien’s office is filled with them —‑ poop emoji pillow, coffee mug, prints, even poop emojis on a stick.
The thing is — this is a fitting office theme for Dr. Julien, a colon and rectal surgeon with Norton Surgical Specialists.
“I treat everything from hemorrhoids, fissures and fecal incontinence, to pelvic floor issues, Crohn’s disease and colon, rectal and anal cancers,” Dr. Julien said. “I always try to start out with a joke when I meet with patients. It’s uncomfortable coming to see the colorectal doctor so I try to make it a little easier.
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Originally, Dr. Julien planned to be a veterinarian —she loves animals — but she changed course when a professor suggested she would be better off treating people. She tried forensic medicine for a little while in college, then she thought she would be a heart surgeon. She found that she felt most at home during her colorectal rotation in medical school.
“It was a good lesson that what you think you want to do doesn’t necessarily end up being what you do,” Dr. Julien said. “I had some great mentors who were so skilled and compassionate with patients. We shared similar personalities. The more I watched them, the more I found myself wanting to be like them.”
During her fellowship training in colorectal surgery, Dr. Julien discovered how prevalent some women’s conditions were, and she realized there weren’t enough women in the field of colorectal surgery.
“Women — and men — suffer through conditions when they don’t have to,” Dr. Julien said. “With specialty training you get to spend more time with patients and their families. My goal is to make them comfortable enough to open up about their symptoms, especially when symptoms are embarrassing and hard to talk about. I don’t look at the clock and I don’t rush my patients. I listen.
“What motivates me every day is the fact that I can save someone’s life or change their life. Saving a life through a screening colonoscopy means the world to me. Also, I want to make my patients’ lives better by treating them holistically when I can. I want to give my patients options and put them back in control of their choices and their lives.”
Dr. Julien’s openness and closeness with her patients and their families has, at times, resulted in an unexpected surprise.
Remember Dr. Julien’s love for animals? She has two cats — Riley and Brooklyn — and two dogs — Buckley and Moose. Moose is a 15-month-old German shepherd who Dr. Julien got from a patient.
“I performed an emergency surgery for a woman who had rectal cancer,” Dr. Julien said. “I don’t remember how the conversation started, but I told her husband how much I loved animals. He told me they bred German shepherds. When they came back for their post-op visit, they brought a German shepherd puppy with them. That’s how I got Moose.”
Her work takes up much of her time, but Dr. Julien does have a life outside the operating room. She enjoys the outdoors, trying new food and visiting wineries and distilleries. She also appreciates a good medical drama — “Grey’s Anatomy,” “House” and “Chicago Med” are her favorites — and she admits that Bravo network reality shows like “Real Housewives” are her guilty pleasure.
When Dr. Julien is not in the office, her patients are often still on her mind.
“I think my patients would be surprised to know how often I think about them outside of seeing them at the office or in the hospital,” Dr. Julien said. “I think about cases over and over again. I want to make sure I gave them all the information. I want to make sure I helped them understand their options.”
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