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Sarah Lyon Wins Eighth Annual Jim Hinojosa Distinguished Alumni Award


Congratulations to the recipient of the eighth annual Jim Hinojosa Distinguished Alumni Award, Sarah Lyon, MS,OTR/L.

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We are pleased to announce the recipient of the 2024 Jim Hinojosa Alumni Award, Sarah Lyon. The award, named in honor of the late Dr. Jim Hinojosa’s immense impact on the NYU Steinhardt Department of Occupational Therapy and the entire OT field, recognizes outstanding NYU OT alumni making significant contributions to the profession.

After graduating from NYU OT in 2011 and beginning her clinical career, Sarah discovered the need for new and innovative ways to get emerging evidence into practice. While working in acute care and inpatient psych, Sarah began dabbling in a side project, OT Potential, to help OTs better connect with one another and stay informed about the latest OT best practices. Today, The OT Potential Club has members from more than 40 countries. 

We recently talked to Sarah about her career, her time at NYU, and her advice for future OTs. Please read on for the full interview.


Congratulations! What does receiving this award mean to you? 

Just reading this makes my eyes well with tears! 

At NYU, I was the student who always raised my hand first in class…usually to ask a question. That probably sounds super annoying, but I always felt so cheered-on and supported by my classmates. I suppose it all worked out, because as a podcast course host, it’s now my full-time job to ask questions! And, in our increasingly connected world, I somehow feel an even stronger link to NYU OT than I did as a new grad. It is the honor of a lifetime to be able to continue leading conversations about best practices with OTs—from NYU and beyond! 


What inspired you to pursue occupational therapy as a profession?

I was called into the field by some of my Nebraska OT connections: Kim Eberly, Monika Lukasiewicz, and Lindsay Miller. But when it came time to choose a school, I only applied to one: NYU OT. I remember reading “about” pages for OT programs across the country—but something about the innovation, community focus, and holistic nature of NYU OT told me: this is the one! 


Tell us about your current activities in the field of OT – how has your career been developing post-graduation?

I started writing about occupational therapy right after graduation, and I launched OT Potential in 2011. The platform has grown in many ways since then, and it has been my full-time job for about 6 years now. 

The premise is simple: OT Potential reviews new research and invites expert guests onto our podcast to discuss the practical implications of each study. The OT Potential Podcast courses are free to access, but to earn CEU credits and discuss the research in our member forums, you have to sign up for an official membership. Our members get a lot of other great features and benefits, including an assessment search tool, specialty-specific documentation examples, and inclusion in our public-facing OT Directory.


Can you tell us more about the origins of the OT Directory, and about the response so far?

For as long as I’ve been part of this profession, there has been an ongoing conversation around OT’s “visibility” problem. Not everyone knows who we are and what we do—even within the healthcare community at large. That lack of general understanding has held us back in a lot of ways, especially when it comes to regulatory action and policymaking at both the state and national levels.

OT Potential is, at its heart, a community—and I have always believed there’s strength in numbers. So, I wanted to provide a platform where OT professionals could connect with one another and unite over shared interests, whether that’s through living and practicing in the same state or specializing in the same niche. I also wanted to make those people more visible to folks who are searching online for information about OT, or even looking for a therapist for themselves or a loved one.

That’s what the OT Directory is all about. OT Potential members can create a personal profile to help them connect virtually with fellow OTs, advocates, and clients. It’s a fantastic networking tool with a variety of applications, and I think we’re just scratching the surface of all the ways it could be leveraged. The response so far has been amazing. People seem genuinely excited about creating their own profile and connecting with fellow OT Potential Club members. 


Were there any specific challenges during the project that you had to overcome? What has the experience taught you? 

I think the biggest challenge that comes with entrepreneurship (similar to a career in OT) is being open-handed with your own ideas. I mentioned some of our current features above, but for every idea that has worked out, there has also been a dead end. Sometimes you pour your heart into a feature—or you think you’ve come up with a terrific new concept—but it just isn’t what the business needs at that particular moment. 

I think this ties in closely to working in a clinical capacity. It’s so easy for us to get attached to our own assumptions, or to the way we want things to be. But, at the end of the day, we have to let our clients drive the care we provide. This means your destination is often unexpected, but that is the joy of the journey. 


How did your own time at NYU Steinhardt prepare you for your career?

As a gal from rural Nebraska, being at NYU Steinhardt was truly life changing. It made me feel brave and confident to take on new challenges. I think this is because I was surrounded by so many trailblazers and fellow OTs who have gone on to make a tremendous impact on our profession. 

I joined NYU because of the innovation, community focus, and holistic nature of the program. And somehow, even years after graduation, those qualities that originally drew me to the program continue to permeate my life in many ways. I thought I was signing up for a 2.5-year program. But, the experience has been so much more than that. It has become part of my identity. 


What advice do you have for OTs and other service providers beginning their careers?

First, don’t be afraid to ask questions—even if you feel like you’re being super annoying! 

Curiosity has been instrumental to my professional path. If you notice an opportunity for improvement, ask how you can help make that happen—and then take the initiative to actually do it. You’ll be surprised what you can achieve just by having the courage to take that first step.

For those interested in starting a business, think about what model would best serve all parties—and keep that as your North Star through all stages of development. Put yourself out there to learn from, and grow alongside, your fellow OTs and entrepreneurs. And most importantly, cherish every friend and connection you make along the way! 

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