In Practice: Robert O. Olsen, M.D.

Portrait of Robert O. Olsen, M.D.

As part of an ongoing series, Providence profiles Robert O. Olsen, M.D., a psychiatrist with Providence Portland Medical Center Emergency Department and Providence Behavioral Health.

Clinical focus
Emergency department at Providence Portland Medical Center; PPMC’s psychiatric consult liaison service; PPMC and Providence ElderPlace outpatients

Past lives
University of Texas Southwestern Medical School; five-year residency, general surgery, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center; psychiatry residency, University of New Mexico; private practice in Albuquerque

What aspect of a patient’s mental health do physicians tend to overlook?
"Mental health issues are long in the making, and rarely are there any quick fixes. Psychologic evolution takes time and patience. Just because a patient is not getting better 'fast enough' is not a reason to consider the treatment (or the doctor’s relationship with the patient) a failure."

What’s the secret to helping a patient comply with treatment?
"Building rapport takes time. Many clinicians, especially those starting out, seem to undervalue that medicine is both a science and an art.

"I approach patients how I would want to be treated. I value a consistent and knowledgeable message; being heard; having my provider be on time, and following through when things are promised. I make every effort to practice with these expectations in mind.

"From a provider perspective, I think it is wise (and mature) to be comfortable saying, 'I don’t know.' In my practice, I do all I can to foster personal responsibility in the patients with whom I work, thus allowing them to make better choices over time. This takes the pressure off when patients decide to continue to sabotage their own health. Also, choosing a doctor is like making a friend: You are not going to like everyone you meet."

How is age a factor in communicating with patients?
"Older patients tend to do what their doctor says. Folks in their 30s to 60s react well with a collaborative approach. ('We are in this together to help you make healthy decisions.') Patients in their 20s or younger tend to 'know it all,' so being up to date with what is on the Internet is important."

Why did you change specialties?
"General surgery was all about the rush and quick fixes. The hours were terrible and it seemed like I was always on call. This was not going to change after residency. After awhile my adrenal glands had had enough. I also realized there were other things in my life that needed fostering. Going from the realm of immediate gratification to the polar opposite was a tough road, but fostering change that extends over a lifetime, to me, is more profound."

Besides the obvious, how does psychiatry differ from other medical specialties?
"Psychiatrists have the unique opportunity to get to know why people do things. There is a lot of controversy in the field, but walking with people on their individual journeys, providing knowledge, direction and a virtual shoulder to cry on, is vital. We all need this kind of help at times."

How do you keep yourself sane?
"I beat the drum of good sleep hygiene, and try to live by the words I speak. The key to life is to be present, talk kindly to yourself, get some exercise, eat sensibly, and let the people you care about know that you do. It is all about progress, not perfection."

If you weren’t a doctor, what would you be?
"I always thought it would be cool to be a drummer in a rock band. That would feed my desire for creativity and my love of music."

As a resource for your patients, download Dr. Olsen’s behavioral health guide, “Tips for Healthy Living.”

See more physician profiles.