Julie Assis serves as Chief Deputy City Solicitor in the HIPAA & Privacy Law Unit and is the HIPAA Privacy Officer for the City of Philadelphia, a recent promotion as of April 2019. Julie guides the City of Philadelphia in balancing privacy with other public interests such as improving health and social services for the most vulnerable residents of Philadelphia. Her undergraduate degree from Penn Nursing was instrumental in crafting her pragmatic style and innovative approach to solving legal obstacles.

“When I entered the second-degree program, I had been working as a health lawyer for many years,” Julie says. “I had written plenty of hospital policies, but I wanted to experience healthcare from another angle. One of my family members has a chronic healthcare condition, and from my perspective—both as a lawyer and as part of the support system for my family—there was always a disconnect between the care patients receive directly from staff and what administrators think it should be. After repeatedly getting the run-around while requesting medical records, despite being a privacy lawyer and knowing that we had a right to those records, I realized that policies only work when all members of the organization are willing to carry them out.”

“I was pre-med when I started college initially,” she continues. “And, even though I enjoy my role as a health care advisor and administrator, I always wanted to work with patients face-to-face and thought nursing would give me the holistic and wide-ranging experience in healthcare that I was looking for.”

As a nursing student, Julie was drawn to the neonatal intensive care unit, where she worked for a short time after graduating from Penn Nursing with her BSN degree. The experience of being a bedside nurse after having worked in law for almost a decade gave Julie a unique perspective:

“The act of being in those tense, life and death situations made me appreciate the quick thinking required of healthcare providers. Nurses have to make many micro decisions confidently and quickly, without hesitation or equivocation. I am a ‘systems thinker’ and enjoy finding ways to improve efficiency. My natural inclination to consider every angle does not translate well when a baby is coding in the NICU.”

Julie returned to a career in law with a clearer view of healthcare and a different appreciation of her strengths. “My experience as a nurse has significantly improved my ability to make a decision and move forward even when I am not 100 percent sure of every detail,” Julie notes. “It has also helped me provide legal advice that is more practical and direct, since I can now put myself in the shoes of the person who is on the front lines of carrying out the project.”

“I’m really pleased with the direction my career has gone, thanks to my Penn Nursing education and my experiences working as a nurse,” Julie says.  “My role as privacy advisor to the City of Philadelphia is immensely satisfying to me,” she says, “I work on projects that essentially help healthcare and social services providers for the City launch initiatives and use their information to better serve their clients. I’ve been able to advocate for the privacy of our most vulnerable citizens, helping our social service agencies—such as those that serve the City’s population of people experiencing homelessness or struggling with addiction—find ways to use data to expand services while still protecting the individual privacy rights and dignity of the data subjects.”

Julie says, “There is a heightened interest in privacy right now, nationally and globally. Part of my work involves networking with privacy officers from other government agencies making policy decisions about how to best use data to solve social services and public health challenges. As my role grows, I can see myself becoming more involved in national policy discussions around healthcare and privacy, and it’s a very exciting time to be in the government sector. Penn Nursing gave me the ability to see healthcare policy through different eyes.”

Random fact: Julie spent most of her childhood outside of the United States—as a young child in Europe, then in West Africa through middle and high school. She says, “I have lived in so many different cultures that I learned early on that American cultural norms are just one of many options.”