University of Southern California
University of Southern California
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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Student Ambassador Blog


After Graduation: Now What?

, by Linah

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Start practicing or further your degree?

As many already know, the NBCOT is the national board exam for occupational therapy. In other words, in order to get licensed as an occupational therapist in the US, passing this test is a requirement. Luckily, USC Chan Division prepares its students well for it by requiring them to sit for the comprehensive exam at the end of the master’s degree. During this exam all the information related to OT is tested, and this serves as an adequate rehearsal for the NBCOT. The method works evident by how USC has maintained a passing rate among students as high as 99%! This option is not limited to US citizens. International students can take advantage of the OPT (Optional Practical Training) year that their F-1 student visa allows, get licensed, and practice OT in the US, too. 

In order for an international student to sit for the NBCOT, they would need to go through OTED first. The Occupational Therapist Eligibility Determination (OTED®) process requires a few documents that are better brought from back home. Documents like detailed syllabi for each course studied during undergrad, official transcripts, a letter from the undergrad’s program director acknowledging the student’s attendance, and more. The full list of requirements can be found here. All I am saying is, if you’re an international student planning to take advantage of your OPT then better start early (even before starting your post-professional masters) to collect all the required documents. Many of which would be much easier to attain while you’re still in your home country.

OTD vs PhD
Here’s the breakdown: an OTD is generally 2 years long, clinical based, and prepares students to be faculty members and clinicians. It mainly focuses on preparing students to be leaders for the profession. It is a doctoral level degree recognized in the US, however it is yet to be recognized as so in other countries where this degree does not exist yet. It is a great option for those who plan to work in faculty positions that allow clinical practice. The OTD prepares students to be administrative leaders and helps them specialize in emerging clinical fields in OT.

The PhD on the other hand lasts about 4 to 5 years on average, research based, and prepares students to be researchers in the field. This PhD program in USC is literally the first ever PhD in occupational science, and it is fully funded. This means it does not require a tuition, and offers a monthly stipend to its candidates.

Thankfully, being a master’s student in USC offers numerous opportunities to explore one’s interests. This includes visiting clinical sites, volunteering in research labs, and even sitting down with some respectable names in occupational science research who just happen to be part of our faculty!


OT Generalist!

, by Ali

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Hello! The other student ambassadors and I have been receiving a lot of questions about “concentrating” or “specializing” in certain setting within the field of occupational therapy. The wonderful part of graduate coursework to becoming an occupational therapist is that you gain knowledge and skills to treat every population. You will graduate from the program as a “generalist,” which means you know a little bit of everything. Throughout the program students are able to explore three separate settings through their level I fieldworks in pediatrics, mental health, and adult rehabilitation. Then students will choose two of these settings to be placed in for their level two fieldworks.

If you take a look at the course sequence and the course descriptions you can see that the Entry Level Master’s program exposes you to various setting and provides you with a strong base for your first job!

One way the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy is special is the ability to choose electives your final semester of coursework. Although all students from our program will graduate “generalists” this freedom to choose classes that allow you to delve into certain areas, populations, or skills gives us the chance to specialize and learn more about topics we have a particular interest in! See Caroline’s post to learn more about what this final semester could look like!


Externship Excitement

, by Caroline

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In a couple of days, I’ll be leaving for a two week stay in Australia – and it’s part of a class assignment! The leadership externship is part of OT 540: Leadership Capstone, which all second year students take during the spring semester. The leadership externship is a two-week, student-driven experience designed to build leadership, communication, and professionalism skills, and further explore topics covered in OT 540.

The vision of the Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy states: “Our vision is to be one of the world’s leading academic programs in occupational science and occupational therapy—and to develop expert, compassionate leaders who improve the health and well-being of individuals and society.” Not only does USC teach us how to be occupational therapists, it also teaches us how to be leaders in the field of occupational therapy, and the leadership externship helps get us there.

I think it’s incredible that the faculty is willing to give second year students a break from classes in the middle of the semester in order to accommodate this unique learning experience.

Students can design their externship to fit their interests and career goals. I have classmates who will be shadowing university and hospital directors and administrators, working with advocacy or cultural groups, and volunteering for a special interest group. Other students choose to take the AMPS (Assessment of Motor and Process Skills) certification class, which adds a tool to their evaluation toolbox as an entry-level practitioner out in the field. On average, 1/3 of the class chooses to plan an international externship experience to learn more about OT in the global context. I have friends preparing to travel to Ghana, South Korea, Denmark, Japan, Peru, Ireland, and more – how awesome is that?!  The Global Initiatives Office, headed by Dr. Danny Park, has connections with a number of OT programs across the world, and provides a lot of support and resources to students interested in planning an international externship experience.

The opportunity to travel and learn more about OT internationally is unique and was one of the reasons I chose to study at USC. This is an opportunity I’ve been looking forward to since starting in the program, so I’m really excited that it’s finally here! I’ll be spending two weeks at Griffith University in the Gold Coast of Australia, along with 5 other classmates. While there, I hope to learn more about their OT curriculum and Occupational Science, visit various clinical sites in the area, make presentations to the students, faculty, and practitioners, and build lasting professional relationships.

Our one week spring break immediately follows the two weeks of externship, so a lot of students are capitalizing on this timing and stay abroad the extra week for personal travel. I’m using the extra week to visit Sydney, Australia and Auckland, New Zealand! It’s been a busy couple weeks planning for this three-week excursion (How many clinical sites can we find time to visit? How many Koalas can I hold?!), but I’m getting more and more excited as it gets closer. I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences and reflections on the blog after I return. Australia, here I come!!


OT in Oncology

, by Kaitlyn

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I have met a lot of amazing and inspiring people during my journey to becoming an occupational therapist. While I try to preach equality as much as I can, there is still one patient that remains one of my favorites to this day. In my freshman year of college, I volunteered at USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, where I met the woman who would spark my road to health care.

Without going into too much detail, she was the kind of woman who wore lipstick everyday even though symptoms and side effects of her diagnosis and treatment yielded a thinning (and nearly disappearance) of her lips. She told me countless stories about her life in her twenties and early thirties—all of places she had lived, all of the countries she had traveled to, and all of the men she had to date before she found her husband (this is my mini plug to say happy belated Valentine’s day!). She was such a light in my life at the time (and still is, to be quite honest) and my interactions with her and all of the other patients in that hospital are what solidified that working with patients in healthcare is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Golden hour outside City of Hope.

That was nearly 7 years ago (wow, how time seriously and flies!), and since then, oncology has always held a special place in my heart. As I continued OT school, I was so happy to discover that OT does play a role in cancer care as well. With that being said, a few weekends ago I attended the ‘OT in Oncology Symposium’ hosted by OTACand City of Hope. This is the first time they’ve held an event like this on this topic, so I knew that I could not pass up the opportunity.

At this event I learned about a multi-pronged approach to cancer-related fatigue, pediatric oncologic OT in acute care, a comprehensive approach to address cancer-related cognitive impairments, evaluation and treatment of of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy, psychosocial interventions across the continuum of cancer care, and even how to manage cancer as a chronic condition using a Lifestyle Redesign® approach (lectured by our very own, Dr. Camille Dieterle).

Symposiums are always fun with a friend! I went with Jen, a friend of mine who is also in the program.

Within these topics, I learned about how fatigue, as a result from cancer, can negatively affect cognition in patients’ everyday lives and how we, for example, can educate the client on how to take proper rest breaks throughout the day. I also learned about the importance of facilitating normalcy and encouraging toddlers with cancer to participate in play in order to yield a sense of autonomy and self, even in a setting like a children’s hospital. In addition, I learned different exercises (i.e. median nerve glides, overhead elbow active range of motion stretches, etc.) to incorporate into treatment sessions with patients to help reduce edema (swelling) and increase tissue circulation in the body. I learned a lot more but if I kept on going this blog post would be way too long! 

Outside City of Hope, there are trees you can attach written notes on. A lot of the notes had messages of hopes, wishes, and desires for loved ones.

One of the biggest takeaways I learned from this symposium is that in oncology care (and in any area, really), an extremely essential role for OTs is to present and instill hope in our patients.  Yes, as OTs we assess and work on patients’ instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), activities of daily living (ADLs), and range of motion (ROM), but an even more important role is that we aim to make our patients feel understood and really look at what roles are most impacted during this time in their lives. A role can be that of a mother who wants to be able to pick up her child, or it can even just be that of a woman who wants to be able to put lipstick on every day.


Sunday Brunch with My Mentor

, by Erika

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I know, I know, I sound like a broken record but I’m saying it again. The Division makes it a point to ensure that all students feel supported. One of the best ways they make this happen is through opportunities to form relationships with faculty. One the best ways they facilitate THAT is through the faculty mentor/student mentee program.

Every semester, all first and second year students are matched with faculty mentors. Typically, you are matched with your mentor according to the practice area you are interested in pursuing. As with many students, that can change with each semester so really, you’re given a great opportunity to have a mentor to reach out to as your interests shift. These practice areas can vary from your traditional adult rehab and pediatrics and mental health tracks to other non-traditional practice areas like academia, geriatrics, and research. It’s a great opportunity that the Division sets up to ensure that each student has direct access to a leader in OT that can provide guidance and support on whatever interest they may be pursuing.

This semester, I was paired with Dr. Don Gordon. He is an assistant professor of clinical OT in the Division and works in the inpatient unit at USC’s Keck Medical Center. He has also received his PhD in Occupational Science so as you can imagine, he has had a wealth of knowledge across the board - in clinical practice, academia, and research!

This past Sunday, he invited all his mentees to a brunch at his house! There were about 5 of us students that showed up and it was a really lovely experience. His wife Claire prepared the fluffiest pancakes any of us had ever tasted. We finally got to meet his son, Luke, who Dr. Gordon speaks so highly of during lectures. Unfortunately, his daughter Kyla was at a sleep over so we missed her but with all the stories Dr. Gordon and Claire shared about their kids, it was like she was there in spirit!

Brunch was really special. It was as informal as it was personal. It was one of those moments that felt like it lasted at most an hour but was actually 3 hours by the time we left! Time just flew. We discussed topics from our shared enjoyment of hiking and questions about what we’ve been learning in class to more philosophical conversations of whether motivational interviewing can be effective outside of therapeutic relationships. Whatever we wanted to discuss was able to be put on the table… next to the never ending stack of yummy pancakes.

I feel really lucky to have a mentor that has shown such dedication to forming a relationship and creating experiences with his students and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that sentiment. I hear there’s a hiking trip invitation coming our way soon from DG and I’m pretty stoked!

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