This week’s spotlight is on Sarah Brzeszkiewicz, an occupational therapist who is now Clinical Advisor for Sensi.AI!
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What is your full name, title, and company name for your current, primary role?
Sarah Brzeszkiewicz, MS, OTR/L — Clinical Advisor for Sensi.AI
Where are you located?
Where did you go to OT school, and what year did you graduate?
Washington University in St. Louis — MSOT class of 2014.
What did you do when you first finished school, and for how long?
My first OT position was working for Shirley Ryan AbilityLab (at that time called the Rehab Institute of Chicago) in what was called a flex position. I traveled throughout the hospital network filling open needs in a variety of settings.
I saw patients in inpatient rehab, outpatient, day rehab, and specialty clinics. There were weeks where I’d traveled to a new location each day.
It was fast paced and hectic at times, but I learned a lot. I worked in that role for one year before transitioning into a permanent position in inpatient rehab.
In what setting(s) did you work, and what types of patients did you treat?
During my eight years of direct patient care, I primarily worked in neuro-rehabilitation, specializing in stroke and traumatic brain injury (TBI). I stayed at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab for nearly five years. During that time, I also worked intermittently as a clinical researcher on projects focused on stroke recovery.
In 2019, I moved to Austin, TX and worked at St. David’s Rehab, primarily on the stroke and TBI unit. I advanced to a lead OT position and served on multiple interdisciplinary committees.
What did you enjoy about your early roles? What didn’t you enjoy?
I enjoyed finding a patient population that I was passionate about, taking on leadership roles to help improve internal processes, and facilitating learning and knowledge sharing throughout the team.
I also enjoyed how inpatient rehab allowed for building strong connections with patients and their families. It was extremely fulfilling helping people who’ve gone through life-changing events find hope and joy again in the little things. They physicality of working in inpatient rehab was also an energy I liked.
As time went by, the physicality definitely started to wear on me. I remember specifically tweaking my back while trying to support a hemiplegic patient during a toilet transfer. Thankfully, I had a full recovery, but it was a big wake-up moment that my body may not be able to perform at that level forever. Working so closely with patients and their families began to take an emotional toll on me as well.
I did not like the limited opportunities for career growth and advancement. Rehab management or director roles were not of interest to me. Research and teaching also were not exactly what I wanted to pursue. I felt lost in terms of my professional growth and future.
Finally, I did not enjoy the sentiment I received from executive leadership within the wider hospital landscape. I often felt a disconnect between the pain points that we clinicians were facing and the response or lack of acknowledgement we’d receive when posing our concerns. This was further highlighted during COVID.
What else have you done since then, prior to your current role?
I started working as an admissions rater for my alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis’ OT program. I’ve continued to work in this capacity every admission cycle since 2020.
When and why did you decide to do something non-clinical?
When I moved to Austin, TX in 2019, I was hopeful that a new clinical environment would bring me more fulfillment, but I soon found that it did not.
I really started searching and diving into exploration of other career opportunities outside of clinical OT in 2020. I was experiencing peak burnout due to COVID, caring for a family member going through a medical event, and coming to terms with various social-political issues in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
What are you doing these days?
I currently work as a clinical advisor for the health-tech startup Sensi.AI. In this role, I consult with various stakeholders within the home care industry to support home care agencies in using audio-based artificial intelligence to optimize care service delivery for older adults and individuals with disabilities.
Are you still treating patients, or are you solely non-clinical?
I am solely non-clinical; however, my job heavily relies on my clinical knowledge. I work with home care agencies as opposed to the clients themselves.
How long have you been in your current role?
What do you wish you would’ve known before going into this clinical advisor role?
In startups, processes and procedures are an ever-evolving task, whereas in the hospital realm, those are baked into the natural order of things. It can be a challenge to shift your train of thought in that way.
Did you get any special certifications or training along the way to help you get into your current role?
How did you find your clinical advisor job? Did you apply or find it through a connection?
I found it through LinkedIn. The algorithm put it on my radar. I did not have any internal connections.
Did you do anything special to your resume and cover letter to land the clinical advisor job?
In general, when applying to roles outside of the healthcare landscape, I really de-clinicalized my resume.
I approached resume building anticipating that the reader had zero clinical background and would not understand typical clinical operations. Once I did that, I started seeing more traction when it came to interviews.
Having someone non-clinical pick apart my resume was extremely helpful. I had to revamp it a number of times.
What was the interview like for the clinical advisor role?
It was very different from a clinical interview. There were five rounds of interviewing and a project to complete. The entire process took nearly two months.
How have people reacted to you leaving patient care?
Lots of excitement and positive energy from all that know me. There was an understanding that this was the right next step for me, especially given my life phase.
I started my search in 2020 due to burnout. However, by the time I found the role at Sensi in 2022, I was about to become a new mother and looking for something with more flexibility.
What’s a typical day or week in the life like for you? What types of tasks and responsibilities fill your time?
My company is based overseas, and I work remotely. Most of my mornings involve internal meetings. Then, I have meetings with customers later in the day. Each day is different, and my time is flexible.
When I’m not in a meeting, I’m prepping for one or working on various side projects. Those projects are aimed at improving internal processes or supporting our customers.
While the main part of my job is consulting with our customers, I will also consult with our product and data teams to help them better understand the clinical lens and our customers’ needs.
What are some of the rewards of your role? What are the biggest challenges?
I like that I still have one foot in the clinical space even though I’m not directly working with patients. I primarily work with the home care agencies, so being detached from the care situation has really improved my emotional health.
Being 100% remote has also been wonderful. It was perfect timing for being a new mother and significantly reduced my stress. Hospital work is so rigid; I don’t know how I would’ve survived that first year as a new parent.
Finally, the analytical side of my brain has been reignited. Sensi.AI is all about using data to drive care decision making and care optimization. It’s nice being on the side of healthcare that is proactively trying to help people remain safe at home, as opposed to being in rehab where the catastrophic event has already happened.
Being in a whole new industry came with a steep learning curve. I’m constantly learning. Early on, I did so much research when it came to the tech industry, artificial intelligence, and the business world. My colleagues were very helpful in getting me up to speed. I still do take notes when an unfamiliar topic is discussed.
Another challenge is learning how to relax with my time. In the hospital, every second of your day is accounted for. Now that my day is more flexible, I find I’m still learning how to breathe and not criticize myself if I need to step away from the computer for a second. I’m still very productive; it just looks different.
How did your clinical background prepare you for this role? Which skills transferred?
Working in research (with engineers and research scientists) helped prepare me for working with non-clinical teams. One skill that transferred from direct patient care is the balance between personal responsibility and interdisciplinary team dynamic. That balance is very similar to working with cross-functional teams in the startup world.
Also, the OT model of eval-treat-discharge is very similar to what I do in my consultations with customers:
- Evaluate the situation
- Identify strategies to support their use of the product
- Outline methods to maintain their product engagement long term
Finally, my knowledge of the health field and care industry has been a great asset. It helps me connect with our customers and guide my company’s product and data teams.
Roughly speaking, how are the hours and pay compared to patient care?
I was able to find a role at a company that offered a very comparable salary, if not more.
During my job search, I found salary to be quite a tricky topic to navigate. Salary ranges were all over the place. It took me a bit to find a way to really leverage my skills to support the pay I felt was appropriate. I also didn’t know how much research I would have to do regarding salary comparisons.
What type of person do you think would do well in your role?
Someone who is very flexible and does not have a type A personality. Things are constantly evolving, so you have to be okay with procedures and processes being a constant work in progress.
Do you work remotely or onsite?
Does your organization hire PT, OT, or SLP professionals into non-clinical roles? If so, what type of roles?
Did you read any books, take any courses, or do anything special overall to get you where you are today?
Yes, two books I recommend are:
Ready to launch your own non-clinical career?
What is next for you? What are your high-level career aspirations?
Working in health tech is definitely a space I want to stay in. I still have a passion for stroke and TBI populations, so perhaps in the future I can merge these two paths.
What would you recommend to someone who is considering going into a role like yours? Do you have any special words of wisdom for the readers?
Start following companies that are of interest to you, so you can be notified early of any openings. Also, look at past roles to learn job titles that might be of interest to you.
What career advice would you give yourself that you wish you had during school?
I would tell myself that there are other options outside of research, teaching, and direct patient care.
What would you teach to today’s graduate students in your profession, if you had the opportunity?
I would teach them about opportunities for OTs to work in industry fields and within health tech specifically.
Do you have any special advice for others who want to follow in your footsteps?
I highly recommend having someone non-clinical give you feedback on your resume. Ideally, it would be someone who works in a similar industry to the one you’re looking to transition into.