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 | Erika

Erika

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!

Erika

My Encounter with Cookies and Kinship at CHP

, by Erika

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Every day, hundreds of USC faculty, staff, OT students, PT students, and Pharmacy students, wander the halls, offices, and patios of the Center for the Health Professions Building (CHP). It’s the hub where we, as OT students, spend most of our time in the program. It houses our classrooms, labs, auditoriums, outdoor patios, and other spaces that facilitate our learning.

We have one particular room at CHP that most students unofficially call “the microwave room.” Between 12-12:20p, you will find 8 or so microwaves buzzing as hungry OT and PT students nuke their lunches. There are also communal tables in this room where you could eat your lunch, study, or catch up with friends. This is where I had a beautiful unexpected encounter with Sharon*.

I was about to take a bite of my green beans and meatless ground beef stir fry (don’t be hatin’ on my veg game) leftovers when I hear a voice: “That smells AMAZING!” I look over and I see a sweet woman with the gentlest smile munching on her apple. I thank her and humbly tell her that it tastes as good as it smells and we get to talking. I find out she works in a research office on the 2nd floor of the building. Somehow, we arrive on the topic of cookies and she asks me if I like them.

“HELL YES.”

She asks me what kind.

“Chocolate chip.”

She asks me if I like nuts.

“No way.”

She says I remind her of her son who likes his cookies just the way I do and asks if I’ll be on campus on Friday.

“Yes!”

Without hesitation, she says she’s going to bake me a batch and bring them on Friday. My eyes get huge and my heart warm. I tell her that I have a big batch of my green beans and meatless ground beef dish and that if she’s open to it, I’ll bring her a lil lunch in exchange. She says that would be amazing.

Friday rolls around and I walk up to her office in CHP. She’s delighted to see me and we do our lil exchange. The cookies look perfect in every way - moist, chewy, made with love. I ask her if I can taste one now and she says of course! I take a bite and immediate let out a “Hoooooly that’s good.” She smiles sweetly at me and says, “I like you. How do I keep you in my pocket all day?”

This beautiful encounter left me with such gratitude and joy. Knowing that humans like Sharon exist who choose to connect with others not just out of politeness but out of genuine curiosity and kinship inspires me to implement these qualities in my practice as an OT.

Sharon’s kindness reminds me of a book I read over the winter break called “Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship” by Gregory Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention program in the world. He speaks about our deep interconnectedness as humans despite our varying backgrounds, experiences, ethnicities, etc and that once we realize that we share in kinship with strangers and loved ones alike, we can start to truly love. Here is a powerful interview with Greg Boyle if you are interested in learning more:

Priest Responds To Gang Members’ ‘Lethal Absence Of Hope’ With Jobs, And Love

As I left Sharon’s office, I told her I’d be back to return her tupperware.

In true Sharon fashion with her perpetually giving heart, she yelled back at me, “Not unless you want it refilled!”

*All names mentioned in this blogpost are pseudonyms.

Erika

I Can’t Sleep! What Do I Do?!

, by Erika

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You ever have a night where no matter how hard you try, you can’t sleep? A few weeks ago, I had one of those nights. My head was spinning a million miles an hour and any time I tried to relax, breathe, or picture myself on a tranquil beach, my mind just zoomed elsewhere and spun a million miles an hour at the next place it ended up! It was complete, and utter, torture.

Each night, whether it’s spawned from stress, depression, anxiety, diet, or physical conditions, millions of people struggle to stay asleep or fall asleep in America. MILLIONS! After my one interminable night, I can’t even imagine how people experience this as a nightly occurrence and somehow function the next day.

So of course, as an OT student would, I took account of my sleep hygiene for that evening. From assessing my memory of the day/night, it went like this:

9:00a - 5:00p: Last day of fieldwork! It was an incredibly busy day seeing patients, saying goodbye to patients, coworkers and CIs. While it was busy, it was full of adrenaline. I came out of fieldwork feeling very energetic!
6:00p: Went home, changed for yoga, drank some iced green tea.
7:15p: Yoga Class
8:30p: Visited a friend and had dinner.
10:30p: Watched an episode of “Stranger Things” S2 with my roommates.
12:00a: In bed, on my phone before bed (like a good Millennial).
4:00a: Tossing and turning in bed, completely awake.
6:30a: Finally fell asleep.
7:30a: Alarm clock rings! -__-

After learning about sleep hygiene and points of consideration that can affect sleep in our OT534: Health Promotion and Wellness class, there are a few things I would have done differently in order to potentially gain restful sleep.

1. Avoid caffeine after 3p. I truly believe the iced green tea was a main culprit in keeping me awake till the whee hours of the morning. It was only half a glass! So lethal!

2. Wind down. While Stranger Things S2 is SO HARD NOT TO BINGE, it wasn’t the best way to wind down before bed. Episode 4 made my energy and excitement rise up to my eyebrows that it took time for my heart, brain, and body to relax. For the future, knowing that STS2 is hella thrilling, perhaps I will make it a point to start watching it earlier in the night and avoid watching it right before bed!

3. Reduce phone activity before bed. As many people know, blue light (from your phone or laptop) stimulates your body similarly to it’s response to daylight and thus, can wake your body up more then prepare it for sleep. Therefore, it’s encouraged to either adjust your phone settings to night time mode and make sure to reduce the amount of phone time prior to going to sleep.

4. Don’t lie in bed awake. A good rule of thumb is that if you are awake in bed for more than 15-20 minutes, get up and do something. Refrain from highly stimulating activities like television or looking at your phone and try reading a boring book or magazine. Alternative activities can include stretching, breathing, or even utilizing a relaxation app like “Sleep Pillow Sounds” or “Sleep Time”.

Erika

Keeping that Thanksgiving Train Going - Choo Choooooo!

, by Erika

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Jumping off of Ali’s lovely post on what she is thankful for this Thanksgiving season, I have equally been reflecting upon the last semester and the various opportunities and encounters I have experienced. While this list is by no means a complete list of what I am grateful for this season, I thought that I would limit this post to a couple things that come to mind:

1. I’m thankful for my group members!  I am taking two courses this semester that rely heavily on team based work- OT501: Adult Physical Rehabilitation and OT537: Occupation-Centered Programs for the Community. For both courses, our groups are set from the beginning and we work very closely throughout the entire semester. As most people know, team dynamics can typically be a gamble, but after 14 weeks together, I can honestly say, I won the JACKPOT. In both groups, every single person is inherently unique, willing to contribute, have supportive and kind hearts (surprise surprise, they’ve all chosen to pursue OT), and can laugh and joke like no one’s business. The best part of it all is that I didn’t know most of them that well going into the semester but they feel like family coming out. I am truly grateful for these beautiful people and for having the opportunity to get to know each of them better individually. They’ve brought me so much joy! Love you fams.

2. I’m thankful for Adult Rehab! Like many incoming students to this program, I came in having a “good understanding” of what/where I wanted to practice. I was set on working in mental health. While that focus has not entirely shifted, I will say my interest has broadened now that I’ve learned more about occupational therapy, the various practice areas and populations they serve, as well as learning more about yourself and how I can best serve as an OT. I’m more than half way through my semester in Adult Rehab and I have to say, I never expected to be so curious and engaged in the subject matter. I had never been a physical or biological sciences enthusiast so all this content was a bit intimidating and foreign to me but with every week, my eyes have gotten bigger and my ears have perked up higher. Additionally, I was assigned to a really great Level I fieldwork placement at a Skilled Nursing Facility. My fieldwork educator was committed to ensuring that everything I was learning in the classroom, as long as it was available, I had the opportunity to see it in practice. With that said, I am grateful that every day in this program has the power to surprise you, debunk any assumptions you have going into the program, and potentially shine a light on a part of yourself or interests that you may have not ever considered.

Wishing you all a great Thanksgiving!

 

Erika

USC’s Student Run Clinic: Providing Care to the Underserved in Skid Row

, by Erika

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One of my top 3 enriching experiences in this program didn’t take place in the classroom and wasn’t at fieldwork. It was in a men’s shelter located in the middle of Los Angeles’ Skid Row. It was here where I met Ben*, a man who was living at the shelter that came to see us at the Student Run Clinic because he was complaining about itchiness on the bottom of his feet.

Hold up, what is Student Run Clinic?

Student Run Clinic is a student run organization that provides comprehensive healthcare to the homeless, chronically ill, and underserved populations in Skid Row. We work in an interprofessional team alongside students from USC’s Medicine, Physician Assistant, and Pharmacy programs operating two clinics monthly - one at John Welles CH (JWCH), a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) one Saturday morning a month as well as a mobile clinic that operates out of a men’s shelter on one Tuesday evening a month.

Gotcha, back to Ben.

Ben came to see us on a Tuesday evening in which we set up shop in the men’s shelter he was staying at. As part of the clinic protocol and as the OT student, I was the first to greet Ben and introduce him to what he was going to experience throughout the course of the night. I then gathered his social history - asking him questions about life before living in the shelter, how he occupies his time during the day, if he has plans for what’s next, who his support system is, what his current employment status or past employment history is, etc. We got to talking and because clinic was running a little slow, I had time to chat him up more than usual.

Ben was a biking barber. He spent his days making money cutting hair biking across Downtown Los Angeles and was proud of it. A couple weeks before I met him, he had traveled to a bike race in Northern California and during that time, his landlord rented out the apartment he was living in without telling him leaving him homeless when he came back to Los Angeles. Thus, his current situation of living in the shelter. Despite these setbacks, Ben was upbeat in demeanor - honoring the hustle, doing what he can do to work as much as he can, confident and capable. I really enjoyed meeting him. I asked all my curious questions about being a biking barber and he asked me about being a student. ::knock knock knock:: My time was up.

After I left the room, I briefly summarized what I learned to the team (2 med students, 1 pharm student, and 1 PA student). It was there turn now to go in and ask their questions specific to their specialties. Med and PA took Ben’s vitals and administered the physical exam on his feet. Pharmacy inquired about any current medications he was taking, whether he was satisfied with those medications, if the medications affect the itchiness on his foot, etc. :: knock knock knock:: Their time was up.

While Ben was speaking with the other students, I was busy consulting our faculty preceptor, Dr. Pitts about everything I learned about him to work through the case. She helped me clinically reason through the case and ensure we have all the information we need to inform the team on a potential treatment recommendation. At the time when I met Ben, Dr. Pitts proctored both clinics but now Dr. McIntyre has taken over mobile clinic and Dr. Pitts focuses on Saturday clinics at JWCH. If there’s anything I can be grateful for in volunteering and serving on SRC board, it’s the unwavering guidance and experience of our faculty mentors.

Once all the other students returned from speaking with Ben, we engaged in “the Huddle” - the point in the night where we share all the information we learned about the patient and as a team, create a problems list and potential treatment plan accordingly. Once this was agreed upon, our attending physician, Dr. G, came in to hear us present all of our findings. As an educator and mentor, Dr. G provided us with feedback, constructive criticism on where we may have had some holes in our questioning or evidence, and a cohesive understanding of any next steps.

While Ben was a rather simple case of determining whether he had dry skin or a fungal infection, the experience was so much more than that.

1. I was able to listen to Ben’s story firsthand and gain a tiny ounce of understanding of his experience living in Skid Row.

2. I thought critically in an OT lens and assessed his living conditions, daily occupations, and motivation to inform us about his foot and skin condition and his ability to follow through on treatment.

3. I was able to make new friends in other professions, delve into each others healthcare lens, and understand how each profession contributes to a primary care model.

4. Lastly, I was able to advocate for Ben in providing the other health care professionals insight into Ben as a human outside of being a patient.

Being a part of Student Run Clinic has been a true privilege and one I would never pass up for anything in this program. It’s an experience that is unlike any other and if you’re currently a student in any of USC’s programs (Medicine, Physician Assistant, Pharmacy, or Occupational Therapy), I would encourage you to volunteer. You won’t regret it.

*All names mentioned in this blogpost are pseudonyms.

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