Olsen was a clinical associate in the dermatology branch at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the late 1970s, where he was an active participant on the medical team that completed validation and safety studies and, in 1981, gained FDA approval for Isotretinoin (Accutane)—the “blockbuster” medication that dramatically alters the progression of inflammatory and nodulocystic/scarring acne.
Before leaving Washington, D.C., Olsen was the recipient of the Osborne Fellowship in Dermatopathology and completed two years of research and training in skin pathology at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.
In 1980, he joined the Yale Medical Faculty, where he was an assistant professor of dermatology and pathology while also serving as attending physician at the Yale New Haven Hospital and the Fair Haven Community Free Clinic. During his four years at Yale, Olsen gained an appreciation for the talents, creativity, and drive of various Yale faculty involved in basic research. Working with these bench researchers, Olsen gained an awareness that many experiments fail, yet the determination of these individuals to regroup, modify, and move forward was inspirational. He was hopeful that someday he would be in a position to support the efforts of basic biological research with these scientists not encumbered by grant and/or salary demands. The Olsen Chair in Evolutionary Biology at Indiana University was a dream come true.
In 1984, Olsen founded Dermatopathology Laboratory of Central States (DLCS) in Dayton: a regional and national skin pathology laboratory that has gained a reputation for excellence in skin pathology interpretations, clinical research, and various innovations. The laboratory interprets over 150,000 cases a year among seven full-time dermatopathologists. Since 2010, DLCS has created and developed Clearpath, a proprietary digital viewer and software system with artificial intelligence capabilities.
In the 1990s and extending to 2005, Olsen was also involved in many political and legislative efforts in the House of Medicine. He was on the board of directors of the American Academy of Dermatology and led his organization in establishing critical policies such as “consultant of choice” and the elimination of gatekeepers for the benefit of patients everywhere. In 1992, Olsen founded the Midwestern Congress of Dermatologic Associations, a grassroots Midwestern sociopolitical organization that influenced colleagues to become involved in the ever-changing political and socioeconomic landscape of medicine. For these efforts and more, Olsen has received four Presidential Citations from the American Academy of Dermatology and, in 2004, was the recipient of the Clark W. Finnerud Award, honoring his demonstrated blends of clinical practice in writing and teaching dermatology and serving as a mentor and role model.
Currently, Olsen and his wife Mary are committed to finishing several philanthropic efforts at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the University of Dayton, and other community-based activities. A good friend and colleague told Olsen many years ago, “If you are hesitant about giving, don’t hesitate but rather give and give more and more often.”