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 | Caroline

Caroline

Australian Externship Reflections

, by Caroline

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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.

The USC Chan Australia team at Griffith OT!

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!

Presenting to the Griffith students and faculty!

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 smile.

The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. We spent a day touring their village, which included a cultural performance.

We also spent a day touring Hobbiton, which was used as the set for the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies!

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!

Sydney Harbour bridge.

The coolest pool, right next to Bondi Beach!

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!).

I could have spent all afternoon lounging with these kangaroos!

The Kangaroos were SO soft!

Meet Yorkie the Koala - he’s a popular fella.

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.

Caroline

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!!

Caroline

OT House Pros and Cons

, by Caroline

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This blog is dedicated to a building that I spend a lot of time in: The OT House. Although I don’t actually live in the OT House (I live in an apartment in Pasadena), most of my friends do, so it’s become a second home for me. Linah offered some advice about finding housing in LA and Kaitlyn wrote about Currie Hall, a graduate student housing option on the Health Sciences campus, so here’s one more housing perspective. The OT House (officially named Centennial Apartments) is a graduate student apartment located near the USC University Park Campus. Each unit is a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment with a kitchen, living room, and balcony. The building has a communal outdoor patio with lounge chairs and a grill. A gym is located in the basement with cardio equipment (2 treadmills, 2 ellipticals) as well as two benches with free weights. There is a communal lounge on the first floor with a large TV and table space to study with a group. Washers and dryers are available on every floor.

I polled a few friends (shout out to Brooke, Heather, Hanna, Emily, and Brett!)  to get some Pros and Cons about living in the OT House, so here we go:

Pros:

1. Location
The OT House is a short walk to USC’s University Park Campus – easy access to the libraries and fun events on campus. The Village, a new complex with a Trader Joes, Target, restaurants, and a gym is also a short walk away. Additionally, the OT house is centrally located in Los Angeles, a short drive to downtown and 30 minutes away from the beach!

2. Great for Students without a Car
There is an inter-campus tram that picks students up right in front of the OT House in the morning and drops students off on the Health Science campus, where all of our classes take place. It’s a quick 30 minute ride - no need to have a car or deal with navigating traffic to get to school in the morning! The OT house is also within the Campus Cruiser boundaries; from 7PM-2AM students can take a free Lyft ride to anywhere else within the boundary. There are a couple of metro stops near the OT House, which students can use to commute to Fieldwork if they don’t have a car.

3. Safety
The building is very secure! You have to swipe into the building entrance AND swipe into the elevator. Only residents of the building are able to enter. A key is required to enter each floor using the stairs, and doors are locked with a key. In the event of an emergency, campus security is a quick phone call away.

4. Community
Living with fellow OT students is a great way to make friends and study partners! There is a Resident Advisor who plans various events for the building (most recently, trivia), and there is an OT Faculty Advisor, currently Dr. Kim Lenington, who lives at the OT house (with her very cute dog, Barney) and is available to spend time with and support students living at the OT House. I’m an “honorary” member of the OT House Facebook group, and I’ve attended a lot of fun gatherings at the OT House: 4th of July barbeque, superbowl party, holiday gift exchange, a wine and cheese sampling soiree, and so much more! Additionally, Engage is a weekly community outreach program hosted at the OT House. It’s a fun way to connect with and mentor children and young adults in the community, with games, activities, and dinner.

5. General Apartment Setup
The OT House is FULLY furnished: table and chairs in the dining area; couch, chair, and tables in the living room; bed, desk, and storage drawers in the bedroom (and sizable closets); fridge/freezer, oven, stove, and dishwasher in the kitchen (no microwave provided). For anyone moving to LA to start the program, this makes the move significantly easier – no furniture shopping or movers to deal with! Though the bathroom is shared, there are 2 sinks and the toilet and shower are in separate rooms, making it an easy set-up for a shared bathroom. The apartment has A/C, and you can control your own air in each of the bedrooms – negates the awkward thermostat debates with your roommate.

6. Cost and Housing Timeline
The 2018-2019 monthly rate per person will be $1,235, which is pretty competitive for Los Angeles. The housing contract lines up with the USC academic year – student can live there August-May and can do a summer contract May-August. This summer option is nice, as some students will choose to live in the OT House their first summer in the program, meet some friends, settle in and learn the LA area a little better, and then move to a different housing location for the fall. For students interested in doing Level II Fieldwork out of area during the summer, they don’t have to deal with paying for rent in two places or finding someone to sublet while they’re away. 

Cons:

1. Wear and Tear
The OT house is not a new building. If you’re looking for a super sleek and modern apartment, this is not it – it’s got some character though (in fact, some of our professors lived in the OT house when they were in the Master’s program…looking at you, Dr. Rafeedie!). To be clear, the OT House is not gross or falling apart, it’s just not a new building! If maintenance problems do come up, like a fire alarm battery that needs replacing or a toilet that needs unclogging, maintenance acts quickly and thoroughly. One of my friends living at the OT House even called maintenance for help when she saw a spider in her room (maintenance was very nice about it, and she’s working on her fear of spiders. We’re supporting her through it smile)

2. Hidden Fees
The OT House has secure parking beneath and behind it, but it’s not free. Students living at the OT House pay $75/month for parking. There are washer/dryer units on each floor of the building, but those aren’t free either: the washer is $1.50 per load and the dryer is $1 per load.

3. Printing and Package Pickup
There is not a communal printer in the OT House; the closest one is in Sierra, another apartment building, which is a 5 minute walk away. Students get 50 pages of printing free per year. Packages deliveries are also sent to Sierra, which is not open late at night. Timing package pick up around the class schedule has been a complaint from my friends who live at the OT House. 

4. The Shuttle Route
When taking the inter-campus shuttle back home at the end of the day, the route changes a little bit. It does not drop students back off right in front of the OT House. The closest stop in the afternoon is a 15-minute walk away from the OT House. Sure, I could spin it and say it incorporates a little activity into your day and allows you to hang out with friends and debrief the school day, but let’s be real. Sometimes at the end of the day, you just want to plop onto the couch, watch some TV, and not talk to anyone, and this added time to the commute delays that.

I’ve made a lot of great memories in the OT House, so I’m definitely partial to it, but there’s a lot to consider when deciding where to live. You can find more information about the OT House on our website and on the USC housing website. Hopefully this helps those of you thinking about the transition to LA!

 

Caroline

Getting into the Swing of Spring!

, by Caroline

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Spring semester is officially here! I’m definitely still getting back into the swing of classes and schoolwork after a long winter break. I had exactly a month off – and I definitely used it! Ali made the point that this may be the last long school break we’ll have, so I’m glad that I filled it with so many meaningful occupations! I was able to visit a friend from college in Nashville, TN (the country music fan in me was over the moon), spend Christmas with my family back home in North Carolina, and then finished it off with a family vacation in Hawaii filled with hiking, snorkeling, and sight-seeing.  Check out a couple of pictures from Hawaii - my family and I hiked Manoa Falls in Honolulu; I also enjoyed relaxing by the beach, and I even tried Standup Paddleboarding for the first time!

My family and I hiked Manoa Falls in Honolulu.

I spent some time relaxing by the beach, and I even tried Standup Paddleboarding for the first time!

Although leaving the beautiful beaches of Hawaii was tough, I’m excited to be back at school for this final semester in the Master’s program. Up until now, all of my courses were selected for me, as I worked my way through the Entry-Level Master’s Program curriculum. This semester, however, is unique because I got to select elective courses to fill my schedule. There are two required courses: OT540: Leadership Capstone and OT545: Advanced Seminar in Occupational Science that all second year students take in the spring.

The rest of my schedule is filled with the electives of my choosing! I see myself going into Pediatrics, so I chose elective courses related to Pediatric practice. I’m taking OT 564: Sensory Integration and OT 565: Sensory Integration Interventions, which count for part of the educational coursework to become certified in Sensory Integration. It’s unique that I’m able to start working towards this certification as part of my Master’s Curriculum, so I’m really grateful for this opportunity. I also get to learn from Dr. Erna Blanche, who studied Sensory Integration under Dr. A. Jean Ayres (who is basically an OT celebrity because she developed Sensory Integration Theory). In OT 567: Contemporary Issues: Occupational Therapy in Early Intervention, I get to learn about OT for children birth-3 years old, with an emphasis on the importance of family-centered and culturally-relevant practice. Finally, I’m taking OT 575: Dysphagia Across the Lifespan: Pediatrics Through Geriatrics. This class is all about swallowing disorders – I already got to look into my classmates’ throats to look for certain anatomical landmarks on day 1, so you could say it’s going well.

Because second years are all taking elective courses, we’re no longer divided up by cohort. Everyone is mixed up into different combinations, based on the classes we chose for ourselves. I definitely miss the familiarity and comfort of the 45ish students in my cohort, but I also value hearing opinions from different classmates.

It’s already shaping up to be a busy and eventful semester, but I’m just trying to take in as much as I can and enjoy these final few months (both in class and outside of class) with my classmates and friends before we all move on to the next step in our OT careers!


I celebrated the start of the semester with brunch with friends, surrounded by LA rooftop views.


I took advantage of the long weekend to hike Runyon Canyon, with a great view of the Downtown LA Skyline.

Looking forward to more fun LA outings throughout the semester - gotta fill my No-Homework-Saturdays somehow, right wink

Caroline

How hard is graduate school?

, by Caroline

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Prospective students frequently ask: how hard is graduate school? What might I be getting myself into? Will I ever do anything other than study? Let’s jump in!

How many days per week do you have class?
The Entry-Level Masters program is full-time; I take up to 18 credit hours per semester, which means I spend 18 hours in the classroom each week. This is usually broken into 6 hours of class, 3 days per week. Most of the time, classes are 9AM-12PM and 1PM-4PM, with a break at noon for lunch. Professors also give us a break in the middle of class to get up, move around, and snack! Additionally, I have Level I fieldwork experiences one day per week. Total, that’s 4 full days per week devoted to schoolwork, with weekends and one weekday off.

For more information, check out our course sequence.

What are graduate school classes like?
Each course is organized differently, but I’ll describe some of the common course designs.

Some courses (OT 538: Current Issues in Practice: Adulthood and Aging or OT 534: Health Promotion and Wellness, for example) are held in a large lecture hall that fits my whole class. These courses are primarily lecture, with some group work mixed in. Often, we will have guest lecturers come in to speak about a particular area of expertise or lived experience, which is cool!

Other thread courses (OT 523: Communication Skills for Effective Practice or OT 518: Quantitative Research for Evidence-Based Practice, for example) are smaller, just with my cohort of about 45 students. These courses include time for lecture and instruction, but also time to work on group activities and semester-long projects.

The 3 practice immersion courses (OT 501: Adult Physical Rehabilitation, OT 502: Mental Health, and OT 503: Pediatrics) are unique in a few ways. Instead of meeting only once per week like the other courses, these courses meet 3 times per week, each time for 3 hours. Twice per week I have lecture for my immersion course with my cohort of about 45 students. I also have lab once per week, which is with just half of my cohort – about 22 students. The immersion courses utilize principles of team-based learning. Instead of sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture for 3 hours straight, a lot of time spent in class is active and interactive. I’m frequently working in groups and teams of classmates on case studies, application activities, discussions, and hands-on learning experiences. This means that my professors expect me to come to class having read the assigned textbook and articles, ready to ask questions about them and then apply what I’ve learned.

For more information, check out our course descriptions.

What about homework, projects, and exams?
Similarly, each course syllabus is structured differently. All courses require textbook and/or article readings each week. Some courses have weekly quizzes on the readings (sometimes taken individually, often taken with a group). Many courses have a midterm exam and a final exam (sometimes cumulative, sometimes not). A few of my classes have had large semester-long group projects, research papers, or presentations. Participation and professionalism are always a component of my final grades, so I always make sure I am in class, prepared for class, and ready to participate!

So…how hard is it all?

I’ve truly found graduate school to be quite manageable. When I think about what’s expected of me in the program, 3 things stand out:

1. Support
First, the program and the people in it are incredibly supportive; it’s far from a competitive environment. I share notes with my classmates and divide up study guide preparations with friends to make exam prep more manageable. I want my friends and classmates to be the best OTs they can be, so why wouldn’t we help each other out? Faculty and staff have been so relatable and understanding and always make themselves available to answer questions! They understand everything we have on our plates, and they never give us more than we can handle.

2. Knowing Myself
Second, it’s important to know yourself and how you work. I’ve learned that I work best under pressure. I like to juggle a lot of different things and stay busy, so when I do have time set aside to get work done, I know that I will be productive and efficient. I also very much value balance, and know that I won’t feel happy if I spend all of my time on schoolwork. I have a “No Homework Saturday” rule that I have not broken throughout my entire graduate school experience (I’m quite proud of this). I reserve Saturdays to get out of my apartment, explore LA, and spend time with friends. “No Homework Saturday” has become a mantra among my friends in the program, serving as a reminder that it’s OK to take a break even when the work is piling up. Everyone is different, however, so it’s important to figure out your style so that you can manage your time and responsibilities!

3. Passion for what I’m learning
Third, and finally, I’m in this program because I am pursuing my passion to become an Occupational Therapist. The curriculum and expectations of me in the program are designed to prepare me to be the best OT than I can be. As a result, I see the value in the courses I take, the assignments I’m turning in, and the pages of reading I complete. The time I spend on schoolwork is not time wasted. Sure, I sometimes have long hours studying, but I feel motivated to study, and not only because I want to do well in school or pass my national boards exam. I also understand that what I’m learning now is information I will continue to be tested on when practicing in the real world for the duration of my career as an OT. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed by school, I try and zoom out to see the big picture! It’s hard work, but will definitely be worth it!

In short, graduate school is challenging, but it should be! I’m learning so many new skills, theories, and ways of thinking that I constantly feel like my mind is stretching, but not to the point of feeling overwhelmed. It’s the right amount of challenge, and I always have time for my “No Homework Saturday” smile

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