University of Southern California
Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
Redesigning Lives Globally
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What is Occupational Science?

How daily activities affect our health and well-being

Occupational Science is the science of everyday living.  An academic discipline, it focuses on the benefits of productive, social and physical activity (called “occupations”) in people’s everyday lives. It is devoted to learning how engagement in occupation can address global health concerns of the 21st century by promoting health, well-being and quality of life across the lifespan.

Inspired by one of occupational therapy’s most visionary leaders, Elizabeth J. Yerxa, the faculty at USC’s then Department of Occupational Therapy founded the world’s first department and degree program in occupational science in 1989. Occupational science was established to provide the profession of occupational therapy with its own scientific and research base for informing clinical practices. Soon, professionals in education, counseling and administrators of social services, as well as occupational therapists themselves, sought the Doctor of Philosophy degree in Occupational Science.

Today, more than 60 scholars have graduated from USC’s occupational science Ph.D. program, with most holding leadership positions at distinguished research universities around the world. These scholars are shaping the future of the profession by infusing the clinical arena with cutting-edge research and science-driven interventions. Further indicating the worldwide strength of the discipline, the Journal of Occupational Science has been published for nearly two decades, and there are 20 academic programs in occupational science throughout the world. Since 2003, our Division has attracted over $8 million in extramural (mostly NIH) funding to support research programs in areas such as rehabilitation science, autism, spinal cord injury, healthy aging and health disparities.

Occupational science has developed dynamic interdisciplinary links with other disciplines including anthropology, sociology, psychology, neuroscience, physiology, preventive medicine, biomedical engineering, rehabilitation science, gerontology and public health. Each of these disciplines contributes a unique perspective to our understanding of the underlying and diverse forces that shape human occupation and consequently affect a person’s or population’s overall health.