By Sydney Tancowny
Born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Dr Odell Olson knew he wanted to be a rural doctor since the sixth grade. He began his post-secondary education at Camrose Lutheran College in 1965 and graduated in 1966, going on to receive his Bachelor of Science (’70) and Medical Degree (‘72) from the University of Alberta.
As rural physicians can see anything from child deliveries to car accident victims to general check-ups in a day, Odell decided to intern at Edmonton General Hospital to gain a broad medical experience. Following this internship, Odell commenced his 38-year medical career in Clearwater, BC where the hospital had 10 beds and two doctors, including himself. He recalls that on his very first day of work, his new colleague left for vacation, leaving Odell to look after the hospital on his own. “You just figure it out. I like to say it was character building,” said Olson, laughing. He later commented that whenever he wanted a vacation, he would need to leave town, too. “If you’re in town, you’re working. 95 hours a week isn’t unusual for a rural physician—you’re always on call.”
Odell later moved back to Alberta where he worked as a General Practitioner Anesthesiologist in Daysland, AB. Following a governmental health reform in the ‘90s, half of the Daysland hospital closed and Odell found himself driving into Camrose a few days of the week to take shifts at St. Mary’s Hospital before moving his practice to Camrose in 1996. An advocate for quality rural healthcare and rural health education, Odell began working half-time as the Vice-President of Medical Services in 1997 and transitioned to full-time after leaving clinical practice in 2007. Odell later took up the position of Senior Medical Director, Community and Rural for Alberta Health Services—a role he held until his retirement in 2011.
During his career, Odell served on many medical boards and committees. He is a former board member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta Sub-Committee on Rural Hospital Privileges and former Chair of both the Alberta Rural Physician Action Plan Coordinating Committee and the Medical Facility Assessment Committee.
In his retirement, Odell’s passion and dedication to rural health care remain. When he isn’t sitting on a board for health benefits in Edmonton and chairing the Governing Board for The Bethany Group, he can be found teaching lectures on stroke and heart attack in Augustana’s nursing program and volunteering for Neighbour Aid to drive Camrosians to speciality medical appointments in Edmonton.
In his nomination letter for the award, former colleague, Trevor Theman wrote, “I have nothing but high praise and gratitude for Dr Olson. He has stepped up to many key roles in Alberta’s health system. He has served admirably in all, and is, in my view, very deserving of this prestigious award.”
As a past recipient of the Certificate for Meritorious Service from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta, Odell Olson has proven himself as both a true servant-leader and a respected individual in his field. The University of Alberta, Augustana Campus is proud to honour Dr Odell Olson as our 2017 Distinguished Alumni.
Dr Odell Olson, along with his family, attended the 2018 Community Awards Banquet to personally accept this award.
The Distinguished Alumni Award is presented to an alumnus in recognition of outstanding achievement in their vocation.