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Life as a locum

Interview with psychiatrist Ole Kristian Kleivenes


The work history of Ole Kristian Kleivenes is quite unique. He knows of only one colleague with a similar background as himself. He refers to his long-standing career in the pharmaceutical industry combined with three years as patient on the bench of a psychoanalyst.

It is not a given that one gets wiser with age, nor with experience, but there is much to indicate that Ole Kristian Kleivenes has integrated both work and life experience.

- Experiencing depression, myself, making the choice to seek treatment and spending time on the therapy bench three times a week over time, was a soul-stirring experience, he says.

Working as a consultant is relatively new for Ole Kristian Kleivenes, although he has been a psychiatrist for many years. Since 2016, he has been at Sørlandet Hospital and in Vestfold, before moving to Blakstad Hospital in September 2020. Prior to that, he worked for 13 years at the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. Already during specialization, he was recruited into the company, which at the time invested heavily in Zyprexa and several other CNS products. In the beginning, Ole Kristian worked as clinical research physician with an interest in molecular biology, but after five years as a researcher, it was other tasks in the company that piqued his interest. He became manager and in 2008 medical director for the Scandinavian part of the company. In 2011, he joined the company's venture in the African countries south of the Sahara and moved with the whole family to Johannesburg.

Looking back, he believes that much of the motivation for entering the pharmaceutical industry was that family life was made easier with only one psychiatrist on duty. Ole Kristian´s wife is also a psychiatrist. During the three years in southern Africa, Ole Kristian worked with the authorities trying to limit corruption related to pharmaceuticals. He also worked to increase understanding of disease and treatment of, among other things, diabetes. After three years in the job, and with a well-qualified local successor in place, Ole Kristian and his family moved on to Australia.

After two years in Australia, the family returned to Norway. Ole Kristian quit his job at Eli Lilly without having a position waiting for him at home. He imagined having a few months off, but after two weeks he was approached by “Legeformidling AS”, a company that mediates medical specialists to hospitals and institutions in Norway. He loves working as a clinician again.

"In all communication, there is one tool available - yourself. In mentoring young doctors, you must put your whole self into it if you are to succeed".

In the assignments Ole Kristian has taken on, the opportunity to supervise young doctors is central.

- Supervising is close to my heart, he says. - Employee development, whether in the pharmaceutical industry or in the clinic, gives me great pleasure.

He finds meaning and motivation in working to make those who comes after him to be better than himself.

- This is the only way we can improve our services, he believes, and is tired of men in their 50s and 60s who are most concerned with preserving themselves and protecting their positions. - It is the young people who are the future, he says.

Especially when supervising young women, Ole Kristian like to ask the question "Will you become a leader?” Although many are hesitant or unsure, he has several examples of doctors he has mentored later taking on leadership roles. He is proud of them but doesn't want to take the credit.

- Maybe I have contributed to starting a process, he wonders.

His own four daughters are challenged and supported in the same way. He does not like the fact that the number of female managers is very low compared to the proportion of women doctors and psychiatrists and sees change as a mission.

- Older men like me must stop preserving themselves, he emphasizes. - Women are less ambitious and less narcissistic than men and need to be stimulated to take on leadership roles.

Ole Kristian generally does not see problems, but opportunities. He believes there is always a potential for personal growth. He firmly believes that everyone must work continuously to learn and grow beyond their initial expectations. He spends a lot of time challenging young doctors to think differently and to believe in themselves and their possibilities.

He acknowledges challenges in mental healthcare but will not be restricted by them. Although there are scarce resources in emergency psychiatry, Ole Kristian chooses to take overcrowded psychiatric wards and pressure with great calmness.

- Blakstad Hospital has received patients more than 120 years before I came, he laughs, - and will continue to do so after mye time. Things tend to work out.

Ole Kristian wants to ensure maximal output of the resources available.

- The 13 beds on my ward cost NOK 1,200 a day. How to get the most health out of that money? he asks. He believes the answer is better conversations, care and collaboration with all stakeholders involved.

- The patients need to feel they are getting help, he says, - they don't do that by doctors filling in MADRS, V-RISK 10 and loads of other forms and checklists. Ole Kristian refers to a survey in Australia which showed that the best thing that can be said about the use of suicide assessment forms is that it is not harmful.

- The system is an obstacle to warmth and care, and people in crisis need to know that they are welcome. It is interpersonal relationships that matter the most. Doctors must focus on developing their abilities to create good relationships! he says.

Ole Kristian Kleivenes: "Hospitals looking for locums are in crisis, either caused by organizational problems or lack of recruitment, or both." Image by Wix.
Ole Kristian Kleivenes: "Hospitals looking for locums are in crisis, either caused by organizational problems or lack of recruitment, or both." Image by Wix.

Whether it is in meetings with patients and relatives, in lectures for the Australian Parliament together with the Minister of Health or in one-to-one supervision with young doctors, Ole Kristian believes that what is needed to be successful is that you are conscientious about who you are talking to. Your message must be targeted for the individual and should be like a thoughtful gift.

- A gift is not something you give because you think it is nice, but because you have thought about what the recipient wants, he says eagerly. - This is also the case with the dissemination of messages. In addition, as a mediator, you must have enough energy to reach out to everybody in the room. In all communication, there is one tool available - yourself. In mentoring young doctors, you must put your whole self into it if you are to succeed.

Ole Kristian has always been fond of communication. He likes to tell stories and has always thought that he would become something in the field of communication. History teacher was his plan from the beginning. But then he became a doctor. There has, however been a lot of teaching and communication in his work, ranging from mentoring individuals to giving speeches at large international meetings. If Ole Kristian is to give advice to others who want to work with communication, it is to be well prepared and take the opportunity to practice when it arises.

The enthusiastic psychiatrist wants to talk more about emergency psychiatry. It is in clinical work he thrives best and experiences the greatest degree of meaning.

- We meet very troubled people, he says, - and if we can't make everyone well, we can certainly help making people feel better.

He recommends psychiatry as a field of work for doctors.

- It is a subject that requires a great deal of versatility, he says. - Psychiatrists must obtain information at several levels and put everything together in a holistic understanding of how to contribute to recovery.

An appeal to young colleagues is also that it is important to create room for a life outside of work as well. - I have hobbies, a cottage, and a garden, he says. - I think it is important to relax. In that sense, psychiatry is the perfect specialty. There are often reasonable duty arrangements that can be combined with family life. And not least, the job opportunities are many.

Ole Kristian Kleivenes has chosen to work as a locum instead of being an employee. When asked about this, his answers are well thought through.

- We are all driven by our internal preferences, consciously or subconsciously, he says. - I am extrovert and driven by challenges, development, and the possibility to acquire new skills. I am easily bored and exposure to routine work will lead to procrastination. Working as a locum will constantly expose me to changing environments, new people, and challenges I have never met before. Hospitals looking for locums are in crisis, either caused by organizational problems or lack of recruitment, or both. Problems solving in unchartered territories is my competency. This is what I do. So far, it has taken me from Norway to South Africa, Australia and back again.

He adds:

- All locums are different, as other employees. Doctors are different, as other people. Some are searching for stability, others not. I am not driven by a regular income, my upcoming pension plan, or a quiet life in the suburbs. If so, I would have stayed behind at the Northern Beaches in Sydney. □


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