CSUDH Occupational Therapy (OT) alumni Hiram Corona Martinez and Vanessa Yanez long dreamed of running their own practice – and in June 2021, their plans came to fruition with their Bravo Therapy & Independent Living Center in San Antonio, Tex. The married couple’s practice quickly become a success due to their patient-first focus on quality care.
During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the couple began to recognize certain patterns in health care that they wanted to change and do differently, explains Yanez. “We saw a real lack of diversity in health care administration and management. Many of them didn’t understand our culture, even though a lot of the patients and clients that we were seeing were Latinx or of Hispanic descent.”
“We wanted to build something that was culturally sensitive and focused just on quality care,” she adds. “Something that was really ingrained in me as an OT student from Dominguez Hills is quality. Focus on giving your best, on bringing in the latest research for your clients. That’s something we really wanted to create together.”
The couple’s practice has been building a network of therapists from various disciplines in the San Antonio metropolitan area. They work in a variety of spaces, from school clinics to in-home visits to remote telehealth. “That’s one of the pillars of our profession,” says Martinez. “We want to work in as natural an environment as possible. Whatever works best for our clients, wherever they are most comfortable, that’s where we provide the services.”
The couple, whose marriage predates their careers in OT, found their way to the discipline in their own unique ways. For Yanez, her interest in OT stems from being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 19. The Southern California native worked with occupational therapists throughout her treatment and recovery, and was impressed enough by their dedication and skills to pursue her own OT career.
Texas-raised Martinez had been struggling to get a job in finance due to the 2008 financial crisis when his wife convinced him to give OT a try. “My journey began by volunteering at a local pediatric clinic in California. I saw how occupational therapists work with autistic children, and fell in love with it right away.”
Both Yanez and Martinez chose CSUDH’s OT program because of its sterling reputation among those in the field. “I was looking into different schools and the one that a lot of employers were really talking about, saying that the students come out really prepared, was Dominguez Hills,” recalls Yanez. “It was an easy decision for me to go to CSUDH, because I heard such amazing things about the professors and the quality of students.”
Martinez agrees. “In the occupational therapy field, there’s the knowledge that alumni from CSUDH are very strong candidates, much more so than graduates from other local universities. They’re usually very prepared.”
The couple gives credit for the program’s success to its professors and leadership. “They are very knowledgeable, and have many years in practice,” says Yanez. “You can tell their level of dedication to students. They take their time to meet with them and are really accessible. A lot of the instructors at CSUDH were really like mentors.
“They were really open to guide us, and there was a lot of hands-on learning. Other programs are more theoretical, which is also important, but it’s vital to also have a clinical aspect of it. That’s something that they’ve nailed in the CSUDH OT program.”
CSUDH’s program strives to stay at the cutting edge of the discipline, which Martinez says also contributes to alumni success. “The CSUDH OT program is very dynamic, it’s not static. Every year they ask for feedback from the students, and they modify the program based on that feedback – so it’s a program that stays up to date. It’s very much in contact with the pulse of the industry.”
After several years working in Southern California, the couple moved to Texas to enable Yanez to enroll in a PhD program, and to be closer to Martinez’s family. They got jobs working in the OT departments of different companies, but when COVID-19 hit, “It changed everything,” says Yanez.
In addition to a lack of diversity in the field, the couple was troubled by the “push towards productivity” they saw in their workplaces and across the health care industry. “A lot of clinics and hospitals are now being run by investors,” says Yanez. “For them, the end result is all about money, which means seeing more and more patients.”
“When more and more clients are being shoved onto your schedule, you can kind of lose the human aspect of what you’re doing,” says Martinez. “We wanted to step away from that approach and focus on the basics – 100 percent client care, making sure that they’re taken care of, making sure our therapists are not overworked and are able to maintain that balance.”
In their San Antonio practice, Yanez specializes in oncology (cancer care), which has been her OT focus throughout her education and career – thanks to the inspiration of the therapists who worked with her during her own cancer battle. Martinez, meanwhile, works in pediatric care with a focus on autistic children.
Their practice has been a success, providing access to treatment for a wide range of community members. “There’s a very big need for OT services in this area,” says Yanez. “Opening our private practice is a case of the right time and the right place. We’re glad we’re able to help meet the needs of the community.”
Martinez and Yanez credit CSUDH with giving their OT careers the best possible start. “I don’t think people realize the quality of the professors that we have at CSUDH,” says Martinez. “They’re world class, honestly. In our field, students coming out of Dominguez Hills are highly sought after – they have their clinical skills ready to go.”
Yanez agrees. “CSUDH professors are always so available and so willing to share their knowledge with their students, so we can learn from their experiences and move the profession forward. Dominguez Hills is just doing an incredible job of that.”