Occupational Therapy OT

| 29 February 2024

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OTD Student Makes Her Entrepreneurial Mark and Empowers Caregivers

Mariah Mendez-ot-usahs

Meet Mariah Mendez, a Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) student at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) in San Marcos. Mendez’s pioneering passion is not only changing lives but also winning accolades.

A winning entrepreneurial spirit

In November 2023, Mendez clinched the top spot in the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) San Diego Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA). The invitation-only competition is for students who own and operate a business while attending college or university. Mendez presented LEAH, her mobile application designed to support remote caregivers.

She also competed in 2022 and placed second in the regional GSEA. In February 2024, she moves to the next round: the EO U.S. National GSEA Competition.

Mendez recognizes that the EO competition provides an opportunity to connect the community to her mission. The most recent event’s audience included high school students in entrepreneurship programs, partners, sponsors and family and friends. “It was the first time my family observed my presentation and learned about how much time I invest in figuring out HIPAA laws, go-to-market strategies and more,” Mendez says.

She says the process has heightened her networking and business knowledge. “The EO group is filled with advisors eager to assist in a student’s entrepreneurship endeavors.”

A network of like-minded mentors

Through her participation in EO GSEA, Mendez has honed her entrepreneurial skills and gained valuable mentorship opportunities. She has engaged with fellow innovators who are helping her navigate the challenges of business ownership.

Mendez says she enjoys meeting other teams and learning about their products, services or concepts. “You’re among many passionate people from across the U.S. and can feel the energy in the room,” she says.

The EO prize package includes five awards – each item is a donation from someone who can offer guidance in an area of expertise – including technology, healthcare, marketing and law. “I recently had dinner with two attorneys, Charles B. Witham and Tayler Marshall, partners at Witham Mahoney & Abbott, LLP, who allowed me to ask honest questions without feeling inferior,” she says. “It’s rewarding to win insight from someone.”

Mariah Mendez-ot-usahs-app

An innovative app for caregivers

Mendez’s journey into entrepreneurship began during the pandemic when she moved back home and witnessed firsthand the challenges her mother faced while caring for her grandmother.

“I recognized that there must be other individuals like my mom, with kids, a full-time job and a busy life, who also have parents who need assistance,” Mendez says.

She explains that she would be content if only her family used the app, but she’s grateful it can reach others.

Motivated by her desire to alleviate the stress experienced by caregivers, Mendez founded LEAH, a mobile application that helps to facilitate senior medication management. LEAH aims to reassure caregivers that their seniors are taking their medications properly. It also encourages seniors to regain autonomy and live as independently as possible.

Through LEAH, caregivers can log medication intake, schedule appointments and communicate effectively with healthcare providers, fostering a collaborative and cohesive approach to care.

A dedication to occupational therapy

As a kinesiology undergraduate student at San Diego State University (SDSU), Mendez knew she wanted to help others and discovered occupational therapy (OT) as a path to pursue her dual interests: dance and pediatric care.

What sets Mendez apart, beyond her business success, is her commitment to OT. She sees occupational therapists (OTs) as natural innovators, constantly seeking ways to improve the quality of life for their clients.

“OTs are constantly evaluating how techniques and products can enhance an individual’s quality of life. We look at everything as an adaptive tool and have to be creative,” she says.

Mendez explains that OT is more than direct patient care – it’s everywhere and a part of everything you do. “I love the versatility that OT offers – I can help patients through movement, dance, games and so much more,” she says.

An education to inspire entrepreneurship

Mendez’s graduate education at USAHS has equipped her with an understanding of complex care dynamics, further fueling her commitment to improving the lives of others.

She explains that her doctoral capstone project has helped her learn the importance of inclusive language.

“Caregivers don’t always realize they are caregivers, so OTs can educate and find ways to support them.”

Overall, she’s appreciative of how her education has powered her business. “USAHS allowed me to explore and build upon an existing project,” she says.

Mendez’s journey exemplifies how OTs can play a pivotal role in driving innovation and addressing unmet needs within the healthcare industry.

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Looking ahead to future aspirations

Mendez expects to graduate from USAHS in the Spring of 2024. She plans to launch LEAH publicly on the app store in early 2024 and dedicate herself to marketing and advocacy efforts. She hopes to raise awareness about the unique role of caregivers and promote inclusivity in language and support services.

Mendez dreams of a role in pediatric care, where she can continue to make a difference in the lives of children and families. “I’d also love to teach and hope to leverage what I’ve learned to inspire others,” Mendez says.

As she prepares to embark on the next chapter of her journey, Mendez remains committed to inspiring future generations of entrepreneurs and occupational therapists. Her story is a testament to the transformative power of innovation, compassion and determination in creating positive change in the world.

Learn more and find LEAH on Instagram @Leahcare.app.


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