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Swimming Against the Current – Occupational Therapy Student Volunteer Spotlight


Throughout my twenties, I worked a series of lucrative but unsatisfying advertising and sales jobs.

I was paid well and enjoyed the challenge, but I felt like my work didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

Over time I realized I didn’t feel like I was making a worthy contribution to the world.

Around that time, I was talking to my friend who worked as an occupational therapist (OT).

Like most people, I had no idea what an OT was.

When I learned that it was a profession in which I could use my knowledge of health and wellness, along with my creativity to help others, I was intrigued. Returning to school at the age of 30, I completed my associate’s degree and became a certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA).

For six years I worked with children as a COTA in schools, clinics, and homes. However, the redundant nature of the cases and the tightly structured routine was difficult.

After only six years, I was approaching burnout.

I took time off to have children and stay home with them, all the while considering how I would re-approach my career in a more meaningful way.

I didn’t want to just go back to work without a larger purpose. After my youngest child started preschool, I decided to get my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees simultaneously.

The goal was to empower myself so I could open up the possibilities of what my work in OT could be. I wanted to have the autonomy to contribute on a larger scale.

Whether that meant opening my own practice or working for an organization with a wide goal, I wasn’t quite sure.

I had the passion to make it happen but not the direction. When I got my first Level II Fieldwork placement at Afya, I felt like I had discovered a door into something bigger.

Afya’s mission is toward a greater cause, but within that cause, they are helping individuals meet their own potential through occupational activity while also giving them an opportunity to help others.

Danielle Butin, the founder of Afya and an OT, and Kara O’Donnell and Dmitry Libman, the OT and PT at Roosevelt High School who work with Afya, opened my eyes to a new way of approaching my work as an OT.

They showed me the variety of ways one could contribute, and how creativity can be utilized to go beyond traditional OT. The key is to be empowered to think differently among a stream of people who are used to doing things a certain way.

You have to swim against the current and be creative if you want to make a difference in an impactful way. At Afya, I am learning that my desire to be altruistic within my profession can be met by helping others be altruistic. Ideally, this will help me contribute to a cycle of altruism in the future that can hopefully expand beyond my small corner of the world.

– Lydia Sternfeld, OT Student