Student Ambassador Blog
Jul 9, 2018, by Bethany
As an undergraduate Occupational Therapy student at USC, in every conversation, I inevitably get asked three questions in this specific order: What’s your major? Ooh, what’s Occupational Therapy? How did you know you wanted to be an OT?
Well, after my brief fifteen second description of how an occupation is any meaningful activity that takes up your time (whether it be brushing your teeth, swimming, or walking the dog), and how Occupational Therapists are focused on an individual as a whole becoming independent in the occupations they’re passionate about, I then tackle the last question: How did I manage to stumble upon such an incredible field?
I was born (fun fact: on October 6th, the same day USC was founded) and raised in Southern California by two parents who were physicians. Through their stories of incredible relationships and conversations with patients, for example how my mom gets to care for three generations of the same family, I decided at a young age that I wanted to serve and help people in a similar way. I wanted to build those bonds with people and be able to see them grow and change over time. But I also wanted the chance to be creative, to maybe continue to pursue my passion in music, or to explore other activities. And one day, one of my parents’ friends walked in the door, talking about how she had just referred one of her patients to an OT, and she said, “Oh! Bethany should check it out!” And so I did. I was able to shadow an OT on a house visit, as well as a hand OT for a day, and I fell in love with what they did.
I fell in love with the way they broke apart different activities and analyzed different aspects, how they used sensory integration tactics for the house visits (everything from macaroni boxes to hanging out in a hammock), how they used shuffling cards and practicing with putty to bring back range of motion in a thumb, and most of all how they looked at the whole individual to help them get back to what was most important to them. Instead of focusing on the question “What’s the matter with you?” the OTs seemed to turn to “What matters to you?” I’ve found the perfect blend of being creative and being compassionate. I’m excited to see where OT takes me in the future, how it will use my own passions to help people follow theirs.
May 11, 2018, by Kaitlyn
Channeling my inner Elle Woods, I first off want to squeal and tell my fellow class of 2018, “We did it!!!”
These past two years have been such a whirlwind, and I’ve had so many highlights that I know I’ll remember for a long time. I’ve stood in front of and presented to the largest crowds I’ve ever spoken to (upwards of 200+ individuals at a time), attended 5 conferences under scholarship across numerous cities and states, went on a Eurotrip with some of my best friends in the program, lived across the Pacific Ocean for three months (the longest I’ve ever been away from home, my friends, and my family), and learned about what it means to be the best occupational therapist I can be. Interspersed in these bigger events, life bestowed upon me lessons about myself, people, and life in general. I’ve learned and grown so much not only as an aspiring OT, but also as a person.
Looking back on my experience in graduate school, these are a few things I would tell (and remind) myself. If you’re thinking about going to OT school as well, it may be helpful for you too:
- Relax and do your best. You will be fine. | Work hard and do your best obviously, but don’t stress out too much about it. That 1 point you got off a test or assignment will not matter 20 years from now.
- The power of influence (both good and bad) | You will meet so many people who you both will inspire and be inspired by. For the people you are inspired by, choose wisely. For the people you inspire, make sure you not only say what you mean, but live it out too. People are always watching, and what you do trumps what you say every time.
- Remember your core values and live accordingly. | You will make a core values checklist during your first semester in the program. Look at it often. Are you living in a fashion that is congruent with what you believe?
- Get to know the people around you and create meaningful relationships with them. | Again, you will meet so many different people. Get to know your peers, colleagues, friends, mentors, clinical instructors, and so on, on a deeper and more meaningful level. This life is about creating meaningful relationships.
- Walk through doors that open up for you and take opportunities that fall into your lap. | Trust me, it will happen and it might even be a little scary. Everything happens for a reason!
- Always remember the big picture. | You are in school because you want to positively change people’s lives and help them live life to its fullest. This is always the goal.
- Remember to take care of yourself, have fun, and live your best life! | True: school is going to take up a huge chunk of your life. Also true: remember to live YOUR life too.
I recognize there is absolutely no way I could have gone through graduate school alone. I am so thankful for Kimberly Kho and the Admissions team for providing guidance and support professionally and personally, my amazing Student Ambassador team (Ali, Erika, Caroline, Linah, and Bryan) for being the best group of people I could’ve ever asked to work with and for making what we do that much more fun and rewarding, the OTAC Student Delegate council for connecting me with OT throughout the entire state of California, OTSC Executive Board for being such an inspiring group of leaders, crazy Cohort C for being the most fun classmates to go through the program with, the Division’s faculty for always going above and beyond what is expected inside and outside of the classroom, and of course, my incredible and loving family and friends for helping me up through the lowest days and for walking alongside me during the happiest ones.
Thank you again USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. What a journey it’s been, and I can’t wait to see where life takes me next.
May 4, 2018, by Caroline
I can’t believe I’m really saying this, but I’m officially done with ALL of my classes in the Entry-Level Master’s Program! I want to take this final blog post to reflect on the past two years in the program, and to share what’s coming up next for me! Warning: this one gets a little sentimental.
Over the past 2 years:
I’ve taken (and passed!) 22 classes. That’s included countless exams and the 4 P’s (papers, posters, presentations, and projects). Those classes have included so many opportunities for group work, which have encouraged me to see multiple perspectives, enhanced my communication skills, and have given me the chance to get to know so many of my classmates on a deeper level. Each class covered a different topic; I’ve learned about specific practice immersion areas, research methods, program development, leadership, therapeutic use of self, and so much more! I used this Spring semester to take elective courses to dive into pediatrics, the practice area I’m most interested in. Altogether the curriculum has prepared me to be a general practitioner, ready to work as an OT in any practice area.
In those 22 classes, I’ve been instructed by 26 outstanding faculty members, who each brought their own unique experiences and perspectives to the classroom and the course material. Seriously, the USC Chan faculty members are passionate, experienced, and understanding – they’ve truly made this learning experience a positive one. They’ve challenged my clinical reasoning and they’ve supported my development to becoming an entry-level practitioner.
I’ve learned and studied with 136 classmates. These students have come from so many unique backgrounds and will end up working in a wide range of different practice areas. The passion, drive, and enthusiasm in my class has been so impressive, but it has always felt like such a supportive group!
I was inducted into Pi Theta Epsilon, the National Honor Society for Occupational Therapy.
I completed 4 fieldwork placements (3 Level I and 1 Level II). Each placement was in a uniquely different practice area: an acute hospital setting, an outpatient forensic mental health setting, a community-based center for older adults, and school-based pediatrics. In each setting, I got to connect with real clients and work through the OT process with them to help them achieve their goals. It was in these environments where I felt the most challenged, but also the most rewarded; getting an A on an exam feels great, but actually helping a client feels WAY better! One more Level II Fieldwork to go this summer!
I’ve dedicated 350+ hours of work in this role as a Student Ambassador. I’ve had the honor of representing the Chan Division over the last year and half and sharing my experiences as a student in this program through this blog, but also by conducting tours and information sessions for prospective students on campus, presentations to pre-OT clubs at universities in Southern California, and tabling at health fairs. Serving as a Student Ambassador has been one of the highlights of my experience in the program, because of the opportunities and experiences it has given me, but also because of the people it’s brought me closer to. This position has allowed me to get to know my 5 amazing coworkers: Ali, Bryan, Erika, Kaitlyn, and Linah, none of whom I knew very well before starting in this role!
I’ve also been so lucky to get to know my supervisors who oversee admissions, recruitment and events for the Division: Kim Kho, Liz Carley, Erin McIntyre, Amber Bennett, and Bianca Ojeda. It’s truly been a pleasure to work with and learn from these women!
These two years haven’t been ONLY class and work, however! OT students definitely understand the importance of lifestyle balance
I spent 2 weeks in Australia for my leadership externship, where I learned about occupational therapy education and practice at Griffith University and their affiliate clinical sites.
I’ve supported the Trojans at 11 home football games and tailgates, including 2 homecoming tailgates! Fight On!
I’ve spent countless hours at the OT House not only studying, but also spending time with friends and talking about topics other than OT (No Homework Saturdays!!).
There’s definitely been time for a few parties, too!
Finally, I’ve made 7 incredible, lifelong friends in this program: Emily, Niamh, Dani, Brett, Brooke, Hanna, and Heather. I moved from North Carolina to Los Angeles to start this program. I was 21, had just graduated from college, and I was starting grad school in a new city where I didn’t know anyone – it was a scary transition! That feeling went away much quicker than I’d anticipated. I’m so lucky to have found a place in the group of friends that I did. These two years would not have been the same without the laughs, the support, the debriefs, the study sessions, the outings, and the dance parties.
In a few days, I’ll be graduating from the Entry-Level Master’s program, but there are 3 additional things I have to do before I can call myself a registered occupational therapist: (1) Take the Comprehensive Exam; (2) Complete my final 12-week Level II Fieldwork experience; and (3) Take and pass the National Board Certification in Occupational Therapy exam.
I’m staying at USC to get my Doctoral degree (OTD); the program is 1 year and begins in August. I am pursuing the Advanced Clinical Practice track of the OTD, and I will be completing my residency at the USC University Center of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. I’m looking forward to spending the upcoming year developing my clinical expertise in the clinical practice area of pediatric mental health!
I’ve wanted to be an Occupational Therapist since the 8th grade, and it’s surreal that I’m so close to accomplishing this dream! I’m so thankful for the learning experience I’ve had these past two years, and I’m looking forward to one more year at USC to gain advanced skills in OT! Thanks to my family, friends, fellow Student Ambassadors, and classmates for the support these two years. And, finally, thanks to the readers – best of luck as you pursue your OT goals!!
May 4, 2018, by Ali
As of 9:30AM today I completed my last final of my Master of Arts Degree in Occupational Therapy. This realization just hit me and the nostalgia is real. Although I will be continuing on with the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy to complete me Doctorate of Occupational Therapy with The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens implementing inclusive programming for guests! I am so excited for this next chapter, but right now I want to take a moment to reflect on some of the great moments of this semester that got me to this point.
As Caroline, Erika, and Kaitlyn mentioned in their blogs over the last months this semester we were given the chance to create our own leadership experience to build our professionalism, communication, and overall understanding of occupational setting in a new setting. A classmate and I continued the work we began in OT 537: Occupation-Centered Programs for the Community. We worked with The Painted Turtle, which is an organization that provides year round camp based programming to children with serious medical conditions. Over the externship I was able to observe new leadership styles in a non-clinical based setting that does not currently have an occupational therapy on staff. We were able to use our occupational lens in a new setting. This opportunity was formative in my decision to complete my residency at The Huntington because I was able to solidify my passion for inclusive programming and the value OT has in community settings.
2)The American Occupational Therapy Association Annual Conference
In April I was able to attend my first national occupational therapy conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. I had no idea how much I was going to enjoy the conference and the opportunity to attend presentations given by researchers and leaders in the field that I have been reading about for the last five years. The chance to network with occupational therapists all over the country across so many practice settings was inspiring as I go out into the profession. I know there are endless possibilities in how to create my own practice. I was impressed and honored to be an occupational therapy student entering the profession with so many passionate and hard-working leaders. I am excited to start my residency and hopefully become one of the leaders someday!
3) Comprehensive Exam
Although I have officially finished my finals, I still have the comprehensive exam left! This is an exam that is a compilation of content from the following seven courses: OT 515 Advanced Neuroscience, OT 518 Quantitative Research for Evidence-Based Practice, OT 525 Qualitative Research for Evidence-Based Practice, OT 534 Health Promotion & Wellness, OT 538 Current Issues in Practice: Adulthood and Aging, OT 540 Leadership Capstone, and OT 545 Advanced Seminar in Occupational Science. Although this is a daunting exam, it is also a very meaningful way to complete the program. As this is an opportunity to look back at the foundational courses that have built my occupational lens. I am confident that upon completion of this exam I will have the tools I need to complete my final fieldwork and pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.
I have appreciated this last semester of classes because I was able to take courses that I have a particular interest in learning more about. In addition to gaining a unique view into the theory and intervention of sensory integration I was also able to hone different styles of therapeutic communication. Not only were these courses full of interesting content, but also the opportunity to take classes with students from other cohorts and have professors for the first time. I loved that this semester was different from all the others and allowed me to meet new people and learn new concepts.
Finally, as this is my last blog post, I wanted to take a moment to thank you all for reading and emailing us such thoughtful questions. I am grateful for the opportunity to meet and speak with so many of you as you learned about OT! Fight On!
Apr 17, 2018, by Caroline
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I was given the opportunity to travel to Australia for my two week Leadership Externship. What an experience it was! We were hosted by Griffith University’s OT Program on the Gold Coast of Australia, known for its beaches and surfing competitions.
At Griffith, we were able to sit in on first, second, and third year classes, which was a cool experience, both to meet the students and faculty and to see what their curriculum is like! In Australia, the education required to become an OT is a 4 year Bachelor’s degree, whereas in the US it’s a Master’s Degree. The program there emphasizes the Canadian Model of Occupational Performance and Engagement as the lens through which they view evaluation, treatment, and client interaction. I was not very familiar with this model beforehand, but it was a very occupation-centered approach to OT, which I appreciated learning more about! In comparison, our program at USC introduces a number of different models, which we can choose to utilize when we feel they fit the clinical situation. The classes were very interactive and full of discussion and team-based activities, which reminded me of our classes at USC.
In addition to sitting in on some of the classes at Griffith, we also had the opportunity to see a number of different clinical sites in the area. Here, we gained an appreciation for their universal healthcare system and some of the unique programs they were able to put in place.
We visited Galleon Gardens, a residential older adult facility. One thing that stood out out to me there was the incredible attention to detail in their newly-renovated memory care wing. Each resident’s door had a different design to help them recognize it as their own. The floor panels ran the same direction throughout the wing to prevent residents from getting “stuck” or confused by the floor. Cabinets for the nursing staff had hidden latches so residents wouldn’t see handles and try to open them. An OT had been consulted when designing the space, so not only was it beautiful and homey, but it was purposeful. The other standout at Galleon Gardens was the work they’re doing with texture-modified foods for residents with modified diets. The staff uses molds to make the pureed foods look like their original form, making the food more appealing to eat; it’s unlike anything I’d ever seen before! Check out this article to learn more about and see some pictures of the incredible texture-modified foods at Galleon Gardens.
We spent a couple mornings at Gold Coast University Hospital (GCUH), meeting with staff, touring the floors, and observing fourth-year students in their placements there. We also spent a day at Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital (LCCH) in Brisbane. Both of these hospitals were quite new, so the facilities and design were incredible - both had really state of the art rehabilitation spaces. At GCUH, they had a simulated grocery store, kitchen, and apartment called the LIFE Space as well as a car (put on the roof by crane!) for patients to safely practice activities they’d be doing when they returned home. LCCH had a beautiful outdoor space with a wheelchair-accesible swing and rock climbing wall (great for kids who are able to get outside!) as well as some cool treatment rooms. My favorite was one of the craft rooms, which was designed so that kids could get as messy as they wanted and could paint the floor, walls, and ceiling; the staff could just hose off the entire room and the water drained out through the floor!
Finally, we got to visit a couple of mental health sites in the area. Headspace was an outpatient mental health site for adolescents and young adults. The space had a cool feel to it and the staff dressed really casually, so it felt like a very inviting space for the population that it served. We also visited with the Homeless Health Outreach Team, and learned about the work they’re doing in the community. In Australia, OT seems to have a larger presence in mental health than it does in the US at the moment. OT has its roots in mental health, and we’re definitely working on increasing our presence in mental health in the US. Seeing how well they’re doing it in Australia served as a great example for what we’re working towards here!
Not only did we learn from all of the students, faculty, and practitioners we met during our visit, but we also got to share what we know with the folks at Griffith. We gave a presentation that covered OT practice and education in the US (and how it differs from Australia), some highlights about our programs at USC, and
we also gave some advice to students going out on their first long placement (as we’ve already completed our first 12 week Level II Fieldwork placements). We also covered the Summer Occupational Therapy Immersion program run by Global Initiatives here at USC Chan. Some of the students we met at Griffith will be coming out here this summer for the SOTI program, so I’m looking forward to reconnecting with them and showing them around LA!
The two weeks of externship are conveniently scheduled right next to spring break, so I was able to spend that week traveling in New Zealand and Australia. I spent the first three days of spring break in New Zealand, which had the most beautiful green rolling hills (and lots of sheep!). I even drove on the opposite side of the road for one day, which was quite the mental exercise .
I spent the second half of spring break in Sydney, Australia, where we saw the Sydney Harbour Bridge, toured the Opera house, and did the coastal walk from Coogee to Bondi Beach. With the beaches, the big city, and so much going on, Sydney actually reminded me a lot of LA!
The two weeks of externship were jam-packed with classes and site visits, but we also made time to do some sight-seeing! On the Gold Coast, we had some time to lounge by the beach, but my favorite excursion was to the Currumbin Wildlife Center, where we got to pet kangaroos, hold koalas, and see other wildlife unique to Australia (definitely checked off a couple bucket list items there!).
Overall, this experience made me think about OT in new and different ways. The healthcare and education systems in Australia are quite different from the systems in the US. Despite those differences, occupational therapy as a profession was quite similar, which was very cool to see! I’m so grateful this opportunity was part of my OT education, as it encouraged me to think more globally about my future profession. It was really incredible to hear about my classmates’ diverse experiences when we all got back together, which reminded me that there are OTs doing incredible work across the world! Make sure to check out Kaitlyn’s blog post about her experience in Denmark and Erika’s blog post about her externship in Ireland.