On July 29, an earthquake hit near Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, Calif. Twelve seconds later, Chief Executive Barry Wolfman, who was out of town, received a text message from Assistant Administrator Julie Sprengel. It read: Hey boss, Im on it. Dont worry. Wolfman says the fact that Sprengel is always wired up to technology is convenient. But the real reassurance comes from the fact that she is a smart, intuitive leader. You get a sense of confidence and a sense of comfort knowing you have staff like that, he says.
Sprengel, 37, says that while her path to hospital administration hasnt been typical or slow, shes proud of her career and also cognizant of the challenges of being younger than most of those in her position.
Sprengel worked for nine years as a nurse, spending many of those years at bedsides in the emergency room. As she was promoted up the line in nursing, she realized the traits of a good nurse dont necessarily make a good manager, and she became focused on learning more about business as she rose to director of emergency services and other administrative nursing positions.
I took a deliberate path and decided to get my graduate degree not in nursing but in business, Sprengel says. With support from her superiors, she found opportunities to shine, and was quickly noticed by those at the top.
In 2005, she joined the Seattle-based Providence Health & Services system as regional value-management director. There she lowered costs by standardizing products over several hospitals and evaluating new products for cost-effectiveness. From 2006 to 2008, she served as director of patient-care support services, where she managed labor disputes and oversaw staffing and budgets at 377-bed Providence St. Joseph Medical Center.
As assistant administrator at St. Joseph, she is in charge of directing surgical and cardiovascular services, and continuum of care, which includes case management, social services, home health, occupational health and urgent care.
Sprengel says that at a conference for Providence administrators, the keynote speakers asked everyone born after 1970 to stand up. There were maybe six of us standing in the room, she says. For me it was great to stand up and be one of the younger ones. I dont think its been negative in any way. Once people see your knowledge and your expertise, any mistrust goes away.
Sprengel says her quick rise actually helped her build rapport with hospital employees and represent them better. It wasnt that long ago that I was on the floor and at the bedside, she says. I can bring the perspective of what its like to be the nurse or the employee.