Family Values: Sister and Brother Dream of Opening OT Practice

By Elizabeth Salaam

Daisy Rios, OTD ’22, and Jonathan Rios Navarro, OTD ’24, are a package deal. They always have been and, according to their future plans, they always will be. The sister and brother are 28 and 24 years old, respectively. Both are enrolled in Samuel Merritt University’s Doctor of Occupational Therapy program, and they plan to one day open an OT practice together in the East Bay. 

“We come from a very traditional Mexican family,” Jonathan says. “One of the biggest values we learn is that family is as important as the individual.”

The idea of the family as a collective is a part of what brought the Rios Navarro siblings to SMU. Raised in Concord by immigrant parents who have limited education, Daisy and Jonathan recall seeing their dad sick on his knees by the door on his way to work.

“He didn’t have insurance or paid sick days, so he couldn’t take the day off,” Daisy recalls, tearing up briefly.

“It’s emotions like this that drive us,” Jonathan says.

Daisy and Jonathan are the first members of their family to graduate from high school. They were also the first to attend and graduate from college. And now, they’re on the brink of becoming the first doctors in their family. But they haven’t come this far for the prestige. Serving minority and lower-income communities was always part of the plan in their pursuit of higher education. After graduating from California State University, Sacramento with a Bachelor of Science in gerontology, Daisy chose SMU to pursue her doctoral degree because it seemed like a perfect fit. Not only does SMU offer an excellent doctoral program in occupational therapy, but more than 70% of the University’s students come from diverse backgrounds. The campus is 30 minutes from where she and her brother grew up and plan to practice, and it also embraces and promotes her core values.

“I saw on the SMU website that they’re serious about serving the community, and I really wanted to go to a school that emphasized that,” she says.

One of the most satisfying experiences Daisy has had during her time at SMU (and one she can’t wait for Jonathan to have) is participating in the geriatric and pediatric labs where community members sign up for free or low-cost treatment by faculty-supervised students. Working directly with people who need the services inspires and fuels her vision for the nonprofit, community-centered practice she plans to open with her brother in the future.

Rewire your brain to go beyond, “Get the A’s”

Jonathan had also browsed the SMU website, but Daisy’s experience on campus influenced him even more. She sold him on the diverse population, the compassionate professors, and the friendly, supportive classroom culture. After receiving his Bachelor of Science in kinesiology from Sacramento State, Jonathan joined the OT program in fall 2021. The diversity put him at ease right away—but it also stimulated his intellect.

“The OT program brought in people who are not just diverse in terms of their culture and ethnic background but also in terms of their mindset and what they bring to the table,” he says. “I’ve learned so much from so many different people in such a short amount of time.”

And then there are the professors. Jonathan mentions a favorite anatomy professor who keeps things light-hearted during the cadaver lab and a favorite research professor who makes even potentially uninteresting work engaging and fun. Daisy agrees, adding that overall there’s a feeling of genuine care from professors.

“In high school and college, it was all about ‘Get the A’s. Get the A’s. Study hard. Give up life. Focus. Get the A’s,’” she says. “But coming into this program, they want to rewire our brains to say, ‘You made it. We want to make sure you learn the material, but it’s also just as important to make sure you take care of yourself and your wellbeing.’”

This message struck a chord with both Daisy and Jonathan, particularly after watching their parents work so hard without rest for so many years. It’s also a message they plan to pass on to their patients. But graduation comes first. Jonathan will walk with the class of 2024. Daisy graduates this May.

“I’ve always told my parents that it’s not just going to be me walking on that stage,” she says. “It’s also them, my brother, my grandparents, my aunts, because they’ve all played a role in me being able to be here.”

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