Lidia Ramirez recently received an Award of Excellence from the Florida Occupational Therapy Education Consortium for service to the field, including her commitment to providing Polk State Occupational Therapy Assistant students with clinical opportunities, especially during the pandemic when clinical education has been limited in the field.
As a proud alum of Polk State’s OTA Program, Ramirez says she is paying it forward by providing students with the opportunity to complete clinical hours at First Step Therapy, as she knows firsthand the importance of quality clinical experiences. When faced with the pandemic, many healthcare organizations halted clinicals due to the uncertainty of the public health emergency. Ramirez and her employer worked quickly to provide a safe space for students to continue their clinical education and remain on track to achieving their academic and career goals.
“When Professor [Annette] Bullard told me that I was nominated for this award, she said it was because of how much I have done through the pandemic, and it made me cry,” Ramirez said. “My job allowed me to give aspiring occupational therapy assistants the space to work and learn when space was limited, and it made me feel that even with the drawbacks of the pandemic, I was able to make a difference in people’s lives by helping them continue toward their dreams.”
Ramirez’s story has come full circle in more ways than one.
A native of Guatemala, she moved to the United States and was working in accounting when the recession of the early 2000s left Ramirez without a job. She took this as an opportunity to “reinvent” herself in a way that would fulfill a calling to help others.
“My job allowed me to give aspiring occupational therapy assistants the space to work and learn when space was limited, and it made me feel that even with the drawbacks of the pandemic, I was able to make a difference in people’s lives by helping them continue toward their dreams.”
“When I went to look for another accounting position, I was told I did not have the education to justify the salary I had been making. After 25 years of living in the states, I decided to go back to school and do something different – something where I could truly make a difference,” she said. “I chose occupational therapy because you’re a little bit of everything – you’re a social worker, you’re a teacher, and you have a rewarding, high-wage career.”
She was living in South Florida when she began researching OTA programs across the country.
“What attracted me to Polk State College was how detailed the information was presented when researching online, as well as the affordability and ability to complete the program in two years,” Ramirez explained. “Polk State’s OTA Program also diversifies students as occupational therapist assistants by introducing them to a variety of areas in the field, from pediatrics to working with adults, to developing educational programs.”
“The fact that it gives students diverse skillsets and doesn’t confine them to one thing drew me in because I discovered that you can do so many things.”
Ramirez also noted growing employment opportunities. The need for occupational therapy assistants and aides is predicted to grow 34 percent by 2030 – much faster than the average growth of other careers – with a median annual salary of $60,950, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Ramirez moved to Polk County to attend Polk State and noted how the College’s knowledgeable faculty and dedicated staff exceeded her expectations by providing her with not only a solid foundation for success in her career but also with the support and resources to overcome unprecedented challenges along the way.
“The support I received at Polk State – from my professors and through the Office of Disability and Counseling Services – was absolutely amazing and made me feel comfortable to keep going with my studies.”
“I was struggling, started looking for help, and was diagnosed with a learning disability while I was in the program. Because I was determined to become an occupational therapist, I knew this was not impossible to achieve, but I needed resources,” she explained. “The support I received at Polk State – from my professors and through the Office of Disability and Counseling Services – was absolutely amazing and made me feel comfortable to keep going with my studies.”
Ramirez graduated with her Associate in Science in Occupational Therapy Assistant.
She now serves as an occupational therapist and manager for the pediatric clinic at First Step Therapy in Winter Haven, where she oversees a staff of approximately 25 therapists and administrative personnel. The company, based in Kissimmee, also serves patients in Lakeland, Haines City, Davenport, and Frostproof.
“I have a motto. I say, ‘I get paid to play all day,’” Ramirez exclaimed.
She works with young patients to overcome challenges presented by physical and learning disabilities.
“Through playing, I am able to teach kids as well as their parents how to decrease anxiety, perform better socially, implement activities at home so that they can enjoy more hours in the day together, and perform daily activities in a way that isn’t impacted by their disabilities,” Ramirez said.
“Because of my learning disability, I relate a lot to my patients, and I am able to share my own experience with them,” she added about working with individuals with Autism, Down Syndrome, development delays, muscle dystrophy, and neurological disorders. “My favorite part of my job is seeing a little bit of progress every day in my patients.”
She also enjoys seeing progress in Polk State’s OTA students she works with. First Step Therapy has hired six graduates of the program who have excelled in their fieldwork at the clinic.
“Polk State’s OTA Program prepares students for the workforce, and I would not consider any other college to pursue my education further.”
“Polk State’s OTA Program prepares students for the workforce, and I would not consider any other college to pursue my education further,” Ramirez said hinting at a possible return to pursue a bachelor’s degree one day.
“There are no exact steps to graduation – it’s a journey. But Polk State makes that journey smooth,” she added. “The professors and the staff provide so much support and truly care about the students, and I am proud to now be part of that journey for students by partnering with the OTA Program to provide fieldwork opportunities.”
More information about Polk State’s OTA Program is available at www.polk.edu/OTA.