I am thrilled to be sharing my very first blog as a student ambassador! Ever since my undergraduate days, I have had big dreams to pursue a career in occupational therapy, especially at USC. I am thankful to have supportive family and friends who inspired me to strive and achieve these dreams, no matter how big or unreachable they may have seemed in the moment. Now that I am on the right path to pursue these dreams, there is not a day that goes by without reflecting on the reasons why I choose and love OT.
These words are simple, yet so powerful. I choose occupational therapy because I realized that what I was doing and feeling during one moment was something I wanted for a lifetime.
During my undergraduate days, I focused my senior research thesis on aquatic therapy intervention, which took place at an outpatient pediatrics clinic. It was here where I received my first hands-on experience with working with children with special needs to teach them water safety skills. Prior to this opportunity, I had little knowledge about how prevalent drowning really was, especially in the pediatric population. I still remember the moment where I met one of the kiddos during one of my first weeks. He was terrified to jump in the water, or even swim across the pool without a float noodle. After working with him for several weeks and providing him with fun activities to learn water safety skills, he faced his fear. I saw him take a huge leap of faith, with him trusting me to take a jump in the pool. He landed in my arms, with a huge smile and endless laughter of the huge splash he had made.
It was through this opportunity where I learned the role of an occupational therapist and how he or she facilitates experiences that are meaningful and fun, while also teaching and instilling the skills they need to live life! After this experience, I knew that I had no choice but to choose occupational therapy because I loved the feeling of making a difference by facilitating learning and growth in these children.
Occupational therapy is a health profession that continues to evolve and focuses on the meaningful occupations or activities that take place in our everyday lives. With this field, I find excitement in the idea that there are endless, unique opportunities and places to practice occupational therapy and help others participate in doing the things they love, especially helping them love what they do. Above all, I truly feel that USC’s occupational therapy program is preparing me to become the occupational therapist I want to be and to value the power of occupation in a patient’s development and in healing. Welcome to my blog! I look forward to sharing this upcoming year with you! Fight on!
P.S Here our some fun pictures of my first year in the program!
For my first blog post, I wanted to share my story of how I found OT. I always find it so interesting to hear other people’s stories of how they discovered OT, and I hope that some of you can relate to my experience.
During my junior year at UCLA, I felt a little uncertain about what I would do after graduation with a degree in International Development Studies. Sure, I loved learning about other countries and cultures, but I wasn’t sure about how I could translate that passion into a career. However, I had a lot of experience working with children and adolescents throughout high school and college, and knew that was something I was good at. So with the advice of some close friends, I decided to apply for an Americorps program called Teach for America, where they recruit recent college grads to teach in underserved, low-income communities around the US. Fueled by my passions of working with children and social justice, I felt like this was the best career move for me. So within a week of my undergrad graduation, I packed up my whole life and moved across the country to Brooklyn, NY to be a 3rd grade Special Education teacher. Sidenote: This also happens to be where I met my fiancé/future husband.
My first two years of teaching were the most challenging years of my life, compounded by feelings of homesickness and constant questioning of whether teaching was the right career for me. Then one day, I vividly remember seeing a woman (who I had never seen before) with a stockpile of hula hoops and giant stability balls working with a student in the hallway. This student, who was previously crying and throwing tantrums every day in class, now had the biggest smile on his face and was appropriately communicating with the woman. I was intrigued, and asked my co-teacher who she was. She aptly replied, “Oh her? She’s an occupational therapist.”
That night I went home and Google searched everything I could find on occupational therapy. I couldn’t believe that this was my first time hearing about OT — everything I was reading felt like it was a perfect fit for me, combining my passion for helping people and opportunities to be creative. I kept this research in the back of my mind for the next year, before ultimately deciding to move back to San Francisco to continue teaching closer to home. Despite the change of setting, I still had the feeling that a change of career was what I needed. As a special education teacher, often working closely with occupational therapists, I was able to see the transformative power of OT in my students’ lives. One student had severe difficulties with emotional regulation, and after his OT sessions, he would come back with the biggest smile on his face. Over time, he was better able to articulate his feelings using the “Zones of Regulation,” and use healthy coping strategies (i.e. drawing, using lotion) to replace unhealthy coping strategies (i.e. tantrums). Witnessing these positive changes, I realized that I was much more passionate about helping kids with their socio-emotional skills than their math skills. After volunteering at an outpatient pediatric clinic, and many conversations with occupational therapists, friends and family, I decided to fully commit to applying to OT school. I only had a year to complete all my prerequisites, but I knew the struggle would be worth it to start a new career I was truly passionate about.
And now this brings me here to USC. After a year in the program, I can honestly say this is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I feel so grateful to have found a profession that allows me to make close connections with people and provide them with the skills and tools to empower themselves to create positive change in their own lives.
Thanks for visiting my blog, and I’m excited to share the rest of my experiences with you all this year!
For my first blog post, I wanted to share with you how I discovered occupational therapy! Believe it or not, I made the decision to become an occupational therapist back when I was in high school. Throughout my high school career, I volunteered at a local community hospital to explore various health professions. I knew I wanted to enter a field where I could help others, but like many high schoolers, I wasn’t exactly sure of what I wanted to do. As I volunteered, I saw the value in all the health professions, yet it was occupational therapy that really piqued my interest. I saw the difficulty some other health professions had in engaging clients in healing, yet with the occupational therapists, it seemed so effortless. It was amazing to see how they were able to engage clients in therapy through the use of meaningful activity — something that seemed so obvious in healing, yet not always practiced within other health professions. After my introduction to occupation therapy through my volunteer experience, I began to learn more about the profession through my cousin, who is an occupational therapist, and volunteering at clinics. As I learned more about the profession, I began to admire how occupational therapy embodies a holistic approach. How occupational therapists see the whole person, and not just his or her illness, deeply resonated with me and inspired me to pursue this profession at an early age.
After receiving my bachelor’s degree from San Jose State University, it was time to apply for my master’s in occupational therapy. USC had always been a dream school of mine since my family are die-hard Trojans. USC has one of the top occupational therapy programs in the country, so when I was deciding where to complete my master’s degree, USC was a no-brainer. My first year has been nothing short of amazing and I can’t wait to share my journey of becoming an occupational therapist with you through my blog.
For this first blog post, we all wanted to share our stories about how we discovered and decided to pursue occupational therapy. Here it goes!
I’ve always had a passion for children. When I was in eighth grade, I decided I wanted to teach preschool because I knew I wanted to work with young children and I did not want a desk job. As such, in high school I began volunteering to work with children in various capacities. What I looked forward to most was being a counselor at a summer camp for children with special needs where I got the opportunity to be paired one-on-one with a camper. I became passionate about working with children with disabilities and that’s when my mother suggested I look into occupational therapy. At the naïve and stubborn age of 16, I said no — I was set on becoming a preschool teacher.
Fast forward a few years to my last semester at USC where I took OT 250, Introduction to Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, with Dr. Kate Crowley. It was in this class that I learned more about the holistic and broad nature of the profession and began to think that maybe my mom’s initial suggestion wasn’t so terrible. However, I was still fixated on becoming a preschool teacher. The more time I spent teaching in a typical preschool classroom, the more I missed working with children who have disabilities and the one-on-one nature of the camp I was a part of. I slowly began to think that my mom had the right idea after all.
I began volunteering at a pediatric clinic and in a school district where I had the opportunity to observe the amazing work they were doing each day in an intimate setting. I was excited by the idea to foster relationships with my clients that could span years and help them achieve their individual goals. I knew I had found my calling when I saw the impact that these OTs had and how excited both the children and the therapists were to come in every day. I was hooked.
Since becoming an occupational therapy student, I’ve enjoyed furthering my knowledge about pediatric OT, but I have also had the pleasure of learning more about the other practice areas. My eyes have been opened to a new world and I am excited to see where my career takes me!
Before entering USC as a freshman, I wanted a plan. I was crossing the country from a one-square-mile suburban town in New York, where I knew more than I wanted to about everyone who lived there. Naturally, coming to a university full of 34,000 new students was both thrilling and terrifying. Sure, I looked forward to meeting new friends and making new connections, but I was also afraid of becoming lost in a sea of undeclared majors.
Ever since I was in kindergarten myself, I believed I wanted to be an elementary school teacher. The job seemed perfect: I love kids, I love school, I love helping others. On one fateful day, I ran into my kindergarten teacher fifteen years after she taught me how to finger paint. I excitedly told her about my future career plans, waiting to see her eyes light up and tell me how proud she was.
“Don’t do it,” was her curt response instead.
“What do you mean? You were my favorite teacher, the one who inspired me to teach,” I countered.
At the time, I was a bit upset by my role model crushing my well-developed plans, and ultimately I would not let one naysayer get in the way of my own agenda, but her response made me think. It made me think that I was choosing a career based more on mere exposure rather than full consideration of all my options. Sure, I love kids, school, and helping others, but teachers are not the only people that love those things; teaching was just the only profession I knew about that fit the description.
In the midst of college applications, I searched for a bit of my own Lifestyle Redesign® (a branch of OT started right here at USC). I knew what I wanted in a career; I just didn’t know the name for it yet. But after considering other professions present in the school system, I remembered back to a room next to the gym in my old elementary school labeled ‘OT/PT.’ I knew what PT was, but OT warranted some extra research.
I don’t change my mind easily. I deliberate. So I read a description of OT online and immediately liked the sound of it, especially because it fit my requirements of loving kids, school, and helping others. But I wasn’t sold yet. I read many more articles and subsequently contacted numerous OT practices to volunteer for a more hands-on perspective. Ultimately, I presented my research to my parents, volunteered in a pediatric OT clinic during my senior year of high school, and met with the OT for my school district, all of which solidified my choice to become an occupational therapist.
I wanted to help others learn. At first, my mind understandably went straight to teacher. I still believe teaching is an incredibly powerful and respectable profession, but it was not the one for me. As an introvert, I am comforted by OT’s individual or small group treatment versus instructing a large class. As a science nerd, I relished the opportunity to take courses in anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, and kinesiology. As a health nut, I embraced the holistic wellness outlook of OT, which considers a person from all physical, psychological, and social aspects.
Jessica Kensky, the 2016 keynote speaker at the American Occupational Therapy Association conference, described occupational therapy as the place “where science, creativity, and compassion collide.” If there were ever a collision I would want to be in, it would be between those three aspects. OT has everything I want, and reciprocally, I offer knowledge, creativity, and compassion—a perfect fit. Throughout my career search, I discovered that a multitude of jobs exist, many more than people may know about. Though I had to explore a bit for my ultimate choice, I found it. Possibly more importantly, I realized the value of keeping my mind open to change. Intentions can alter, ideas can spark, people can change—and it is okay if not everything goes according to plan.