“My dad had been an old-time family doctor in a town of 500 as the only doctor, so I grew up with that,” she said about her chosen career. Olsen earned her medical degree from the University of South Dakota in 1979.
She and her husband, Roger, had been married for five years when she finished her family medicine residency in Sioux Falls, S.D. and they headed across country to Sequim to open a practice with a fellow student from Seattle, Dr. Chuck Sullivan. The trio operated Sequim Family Practice for the next 15 years.
She left the practice when it merged with Virginia Mason’s clinics and worked for the Jamestown Family Clinic for five years. The three reunited five years ago as Sequim Medical Associates, a concierge-type practice.
Olsen, who will put away her stethoscope on Oct. 1, said, “I decided I wanted to stop when I was happy and healthy. I’m not burned out — one thing that’s making it hard to retire (at 60) is because I love what I’m doing, especially the last five years.”
She said the thing that stands out most to her over three decades has been making house calls — she still does — and seeing how her patients function in their homes. “The best thing that I’m realizing now is I’ve had relationships over 30 years with (many of the same) people. I used to think that 60 year olds were old but now they are my 90-year-old patients.”
If Olsen has anything to complain about, it’s the administrative frustrations in dealing with insurance coverage issues, a lack of access to care and the bureaucracy of getting medications to people that’s often “a nightmare.”
Olsen said she’s enjoyed medicine much more since being in the concierge-style practice. Concierge medicine (also known as direct care) is a relationship between a patient and a primary care physician in which the patient pays an annual fee or retainer. In exchange for the retainer, doctors provide enhanced care. The business model is touted as “medicine like it used to be.” The benefits to both patient and doctor are the luxury of longer patient visits.
“I think more than anything patients thank me for taking the time to listen and I have the opportunity to really listen,” Olsen said. “It’s like it was at the very beginning — doctors had more time, but with (insurance) reimbursements the whole medical system got to be driven by patient volumes. It’s too difficult not having enough time. If a patient has 15 problems, 15 medications and you’ve got 15 minutes, it’s pretty hard to do.”
Asked what she’s proudest of, Olsen demurred. “I wouldn’t say proudest but the most gratifying thing is I feel I made some difference in helping people navigate through tough times.”
One thing she won’t be retiring from is as a volunteer provider with the Dungeness Health & Wellness Clinic. With her friend, nurse Mary Griffith, they, with other volunteers, got Sequim’s free clinic off the ground in 2001.
While her husband continues working, Olsen said, “I’ll go outside in the backyard and play. I like to hike and walk. I hope I’ll get a lot more time to read because I love reading. Everybody tells me I won’t have any trouble figuring out what to do.”
Since announcing her pending retirement, Olsen said, “It’s been really tough because everybody’s rushing in to have one last visit. I feel more gratitude than anything. I’ll miss the relationships with people — losing those relationships is going to be hard. Retiring is going to be tough — but fun.”