I had the pleasure of talking to Rafael E. Salazar II, MHS, OTR/L who is the CEO & President of Rehab U Practice Solutions, and training and consulting company that helps private clinics and healthcare organizations improve patient engagement and experience, marketing and positioning, and business development. He is a graduate of the Augusta University Department of Occupational Therapy (formerly the Medical College of Georgia). He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) and on the State Licensing Board in Georgia. He also works as part of a team of consultants on a large project for Georgia’s Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), transitioning individuals out of state hospitals to community residences.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you get to be where you are right now?
A licensed Occupational Therapist practicing in the State of Georgia, Rafael is a graduate of the Augusta University (formerly MCG) Department of Occupational Therapy class of 2012. Rafael has worked in a variety of settings focusing on the adult population to include skilled nursing, long term care, subacute rehabilitation, acute care, and outpatient specialty care. Rafael has served on the Georgia State Board of Occupational Therapy as a Licensed board member and has taught as an adjunct faculty instructor at Augusta University in the Graduate OT Program. Rafael previously served at his local VA Hospital in the outpatient specialty clinic as clinic lead and treated patients from specialty services such as orthopedics, plastic surgery, neurology, rheumatology, emergency care, and primary care. He also coordinated clinical education for his OT department. After leaving the VA, he embarked on a journey as a clinical consultant, assisting Georgia Department of Behavioral health & Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) in transitioning individuals from state-run institutions into community residences. At that time, he also started Rehab U Practice Solutions, a training and consulting firm with a mission to change the way therapists and clinicians do business. He has been active and involved as a leader in the Occupational Therapy and rehabilitation fields, being asked to volunteer as a subject matter expert with the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) for item development and enhancement for the national certification examination, as well as being appointed to the Clinical Simulation Committee for NBCOT. In August of 2018, Rafael was elected to the Board of Directors for NBCOT.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How did this quality help you overcome obstacles on the path of becoming an influential and inspiring leader?
I am an extrovert by nature. I’ve always enjoyed speaking with people, hearing their stories, and learning from their experiences. This is probably one of the single greatest skills or traits that helped me to overcome speedbumps and hurdles on my professional road. It allowed me to be more relaxed in certain situations; comfortable around different groups of people. One of my colleagues has referred to me as a “connector” (I guess in reference to Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point”). The fact that I have built relationships with many people across multiple disciplines and professions —combined with a genuine desire to help people— has led me to make introductions, put other people in contact with each other, and allowed me to pull from the wealth of experience and expertise from my network.
What does it mean to be mentally-strong in the hyper-competitive world of running a business or an organization?
I think the three words that would answer that questions would be: cultivating mental resiliency. Our current economic environment is wildly competitive, not just from domestic competitors, but from global players (thank you, world wide web). In order to be “mentally strong”, you need to develop an attitude and mindset of resiliency. That means, in your mind, you know that nothing can stop you. It doesn’t matter what obstacle gets put in your way, you’re going to find a way to overcome it, because that’s what you do. You’re a winner, and you’re going to find a way to win. It also means that you look at every situation not as something out of your control, but something you can change, do, or learn that will help you on your path. I personally say to myself, “You’re here, in this situation, because of the choices you made. If you don’t like where you’re at, what choices do you need to make to change it?” It’s very empowering, to begin to look at your situations as something you have control over versus something that is happening to you.
A lot of people in the business would feel as if talking about mental health makes them appear weak. How do you feel about showing mental strength and setting an example of what it takes to have strong mental stamina to succeed?
I think, especially in the last few years, that the stigma around mental health issues has gradually begun to decrease. There are still those, especially in executive suites, who operate under the older norms of “tough it out”. But for the most part, people and organizations are really beginning to see the benefits of taking care of employees’ mental health as well as their physical health. I personally think that it shows greater leadership to be open with your team members about mental health, burnout, and developing strong mental stamina. I’ve been blessed over the years to have worked for and with great leaders who have not only encouraged those around them to take care of themselves mentally, but also been open about their routines to develop mental strength and stamina.
Is there a particular person, a book, or place of wisdom that has inspired you to become a successful and mentally-strong leader?
My father was the first person who ever told me about becoming a mentally strong and successful leader. I remember being young (in middle school, probably), and him telling me about things he had learned working for his father back in Costa Rica, while they built a multi-million-dollar business and then lost it all. He often talked about what he learned watching my grandfather handle that loss. Even at that young age, it set me on the path to learn everything I could about cultivating mental resilience and a winning attitude. Then there are books, like “Leaders Eat Last”, “Peak Performance”, “The Richest Man In Babylon”, and “Leading From Purpose” —among others— that have pushed me farther down the road to mental resilience.
Can you give us 5 tips on maintaining strong mental health stamina to succeed in the modern business world? Tell us a little about why each point matters.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’d only like to stress the importance of cultivating that winner’s attitude I talked about earlier. Your outlook on life —your internal monologue— has the ability to make or break you. You should do everything you can to make sure that your “self-talk” is uplifting, empowering, and positive.
Can an imbalance in private life cause a mentally-strong leader to deviate away from the path of success? Why? How to alleviate this problem?
Work-life balance has been big in the new lately. I’d say that an imbalance can definitely zap your creative and professional energy. Our brains have a set amount of energy to focus every day. If we spend too much time focusing on one aspect of our lives over the other, it will detract from the area we are not focused on. The best way to alleviate this problem, or avoid it all together, is to spend some time (either alone or with your partner) defining and prioritizing your goals, both professionally and personally. The way you get successful is only 3 steps: 1) find out what you want 2) figure out how much it costs, and 3) pay it. The same is true for work-life balance.
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