Eventide Vice President of Clinical Services Katja Olson had hopes to become a pediatric oncology nurse, but a year into employment at Eventide Senior Living Communities, she knew she’d found her people.
Meet #DifferenceMaker Katja Olson
Fresh out of nursing school in 1996, Eventide Vice President of Clinical Services Katja Olson had her eyes set on becoming a pediatric oncology nurse.
But the universe had different plans for her health care career, one that directed her to the doors of Eventide where she’s worked for 26 years now.
“When you get out of nursing school, a lot of places expect you to have experience, and I didn’t have any in pediatrics,” Katja said. “A friend of my sister’s suggested I apply at Eventide because she knew I liked the idea of building community around the work I do.”
Because of Eventide’s focus on community, employees and residents at all of our locations, Katja quickly learned to love her career in senior living. After one year, she knew she had found her home.
“The staff and residents grabbed my heart. I’ve always worked with some pretty amazing coworkers, from dietary to housekeeping to other nurses. So I just never left!” Katja said.
Katja didn’t always have a leadership position at Eventide. In fact, she “rose up the ranks” over time, like many of our leaders do. It’s a testament to how we support our employees and want them to be successful in the ways they most value.
“I started as a charge nurse, then became an MDS coordinator,” Katja said. “Then when Sheyenne Crossings in West Fargo opened up, I was offered a director of nursing position. It was a great learning experience; one that showed me I love leading and mentoring other nurses.”
Later, with more management and leadership experience under her, Katja applied for the position of vice president of clinical services.
Minding her elders
Although Katja thought she’d be working with kids, over time she realized her heart had always been to work with senior citizens, thanks to frequent visits she took with her grandmother to a local nursing home.
“When I was a little kid I would go to the local nursing home with my grandma when she volunteered. She would play piano, usually hymns, and everyone would sing them in German,” Katja said. “I’m always thinking of her and it never falls from my mind that maybe this is what I was meant to do all along.”
Lots of things about senior living have changed since then, Katja says, but life enrichment and dietary staff have also changed with the times. “Everyone still loves sing-alongs, but now they also love happy hours,” she says. “I’m sure Bingo will never go away, but things like activity-enriching devices have truly transformed daily interactions for many of our community members.”
Living to lead
It’s been difficult at times for Katja to be mostly removed from hands-on care, but the tradeoff is powerful.
“I feel like I’m helping the next generation of nurses to be the best possible nurses they can be, or if they want to do other things with leadership, I get to help them with that, too,” Katja says.
She also says that Eventide’s focus on being progressive and adapting to the changing needs and desires of seniors is another part of what keeps her motivated as a leader.
“We want to be ahead of the curve on everything and we put our employees and residents first,” Katja says. “But I think the biggest thing is the people we employ and the people out on the site, they really, really care about the residents. It sounds cliché, but it’s not just a job. We want to be the best at what we do. We really care.”
Kindness and compassion
When asked who makes the ideal Eventide employee, Katja has a simple answer: they have to be kind and compassionate.
“Our best employees are driven by integrity and a desire to do a great job,” she says. “We really live by our ‘I Care Values’ of integrity, compassion, accountability, respect, excellence. I really do feel those are what drive the ideal employee.”
The cat’s meow
In her free time, Katja fosters many interesting hobbies, including fostering cats and volunteering at Cat’s Cradle in Fargo, a local feline shelter.
“On Thursday evenings I clean the shelter, give meds to cats that need it, I feed, water and just play with them,” Katja says. “I also foster momma cats and kittens, and get way too attached all the time. I was going to say it gets easier but that’s a lie!”
One of her favorite moments at Eventide was when Sheyenne Crossings Life Enrichment Director Becky Butenhoff called her up and asked if she could “borrow a cat.”
“We had a woman who was receiving rehab services who was really depressed and missed her cat,” Katja says. “The woman really wasn’t doing well, so Becky called me and asked if she could borrow a cat to see if we could brighten the day of the resident.”
Katja was fostering a young “mama cat” from the shelter and brought her over to the resident.
“She started crying with joy when she got to hold the cat. The next week, she made so much progress in therapy that she went home the following week,” Katja says.
Katja’s pollinator garden
Blooming where she’s planted
In more recent years, Katja has grown an interest in gardening, particularly pollinator gardens.
“Part of my backyard is a pollinator garden. This year I planted 40 perennials,” Katja, who grew up on a farm, says. “I want all the bees and butterflies to survive and make my backyard like it should be — a North Dakota prairie.”
Katja in Paris
Taking time to travel
And finally, Katja’s third interest (in no particular order, by the way) is traveling. Her favorites so far: Ireland, Norway, and Savannah, Georgia.
“Norway was a great one. I went there to find a moose but none ever showed up!” she says.
Better luck next time, Katja. In the meantime, thank you for being a #DifferenceMaker at Eventide and wherever you plant some seeds of leadership and community!
Eventide Senior Living Communities currently has many openings in a variety of career pathways. With competitive pay, education benefits and a diverse, inclusive work culture, check out what else we have to offer at https://eventide.org/careers.
You could be our next #DifferenceMaker!