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Interview with Lina Martinsson, Head of Psykiatri Sydväst, SLSO


Psykiatri Sydväst (PSV) is a clinic located at Karolinska University Hospital, Huddinge twenty kilometers south of the center of Stockholm city. PSV is highly thought of and attracts both young and senior psychiatrists. In research, PSV is by far the most productive clinic in Sweden. Their clinical guidelines are followed by many and PSV sets the leading standards when it comes to new treatments, among them internet psychiatry

Being curious how a clinic like this goes from one clarity to another, year after year, I decided to interview Lina Martinsson, who since 2019 is the head. We meet for a talk on a Friday afternoon. Lina (yes, in Sweden we do use first names) has scheduled the afternoon for this talk. Earlier this week she has organized a national conference about personality disorders. She is happy and content about this.

Lina, how come you decided to take this job?

Well, it came as a bit of a surprise that I got it. The former head of clinic had the position for thirteen years, and his predecessor for just as many. When it was communicated that he would quit, I hoped to see a female psychiatrist with research experience leading the clinic – and a person who really wanted to lead the development of the clinic even further … And suddenly it came to me – maybe this job was for meant for me?

Getting this position was indeed a great honor, which I am very happy about. I was first a bit surprised. How come I was chosen? After all, I did not have lot of experience of major leading roles before.

How did you take on this big task?

My first challenge was to deal with my new team, and we spent over a year, even with the help from consultants, to ensure that everyone was in their right position, and that we by then were working tightly together, in the same direction.

The Covid-19 pandemic was also a big challenge during my first year. But thanks to this, I kept some good habits that were invented during the crisis. For example, first thing Monday morning every week, I meet all managers bosses and leaders in my organization, from all levels, to discuss current matters. I believe it is important that a person in this position listens and understands what goes on in order to set the correct priorities for the organization.

In Sweden, most head of clinics are not doctors like yourself. What is your opinion about this?

Regardless of background, almost all decisions must be made with an understanding of clinical consequences. I believe that health care organizations can benefit from a management with deep knowledge of the system and experience from the floor.

Lina Martinsson, Head of Psykiatri Sydväst, SLSO, located at Karolinska University Hospital, Huddinge. Images by Peder Björling.

How do you work on keeping a balance between private a personal life?

Oh, this is much easier in this position compared to when I had a first line position. Then, I had responsibility for everything. I was responsible for two hundred bipolar patients, working in both inpatient and outpatient settings. I did structural plans for the unit, fixed schedules, dealt with staff issues, worked with communication from above and below, etc.

In my current position, I achieve a high level of administrative support, helping me to focus on the leadership itself. Therefore, this job is not as stressful as I thought that it might be.

I understand you still see patients. How is that possible?

I believe that most doctors want to continue with some clinical work, although taking on new assignments. I still take calls. Hopefully, within a year or two, I hope to work more frequently. For me, seeing patients is so gratifying, and important in order to keep track with reality.

What is a good leader to you? By the way, do you have any good role models?

First of all, you must be kind and friendly with people. This is not the same as not being clear in your communication, which I find of utmost importance. We are a medical service and must in all decisions put the safety of the patients and health first.

The importance of being transparent can never be underlined enough. In order to create commitment among coworkers, they need to understand the current situations and why decisions need to be made. For example, my strategic communicator assists me and my team in writing a weekly letter to all the staff and a letter to the leaders of the clinic. The information should always arrive at the same time, week after week.

Lina Martinsson with some of the members of her management team, braining in the park. Images by Yanan Li.

According to my opinion, good leadership is about setting the conditions to others so they can work and make a difference. I like to think of the leader as a musical conductor, who enables the creation of beautiful music. The conductor sets limits. She lifts musicians who need to be heard more and tunes down others who at the moment should play more silent. But all in the same tempo, facing the final chords at the end.

Of course, I have some role models. One of them is my friend and colleague Mats. I have learnt so much from his way of leading through devotion to science and the good of the patients. His energy never seems to end. I am also inspired by the former SVT chairman Eva Hamilton, who was so engaged and brave in her appearance. Once, I had the joy to sit and talk with her for an evening. Jan Eliasson (former Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations) is also a person I respect highly. Among many others.

What has been the greatest challenges to you?

Different things, no doubt. Even when supported by many, this role may be quite lonely. The role itself is alone. You are always in the attention of others, and you must always live up to the expectations of the position. Saying the right thing at the right time, always behaving correctly.

How do you think psychiatry will develop in years to come?

Clinical work no doubt needs to become more stringent in planning and carrying out the care. Society must realize that psychiatry cannot, and should not, try to treat everything related to mental suffering. I believe that, with a higher degree of subspecializing, care should be given in more structured settings. Psychiatry must become more available for more people, but also set reasonable goals and boundaries. □


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