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


A Day in the Life of a USC Entry-Level Master’s Student

, by Erika

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Hi all!

Inspired by the Day in the Life of a Chan Student feature on the Division’s website, I thought I’d provide you with a breakdown of what a day may look like for me as a 2nd year Entry-Level Master’s student. My schedule is a little different everyday based on work hours as a student ambassador, my Level I fieldwork placement, and having Fridays off, but here is what a typical day may look like if I had a full day of classes. This is also similar to what a 1st years day would look like since they have the same 2 blocks of time carved out for classes.

A Day in the Life

7:20 - Alarm goes off! Snooze.

7:30 - Wake up! Get ready, make breakfast, pack lunch.

8:15 - Out the door!

8:35 - Look for parking around HSC.
Note: It’s LA! Parking will always be an issue. As a student, you do have the option of purchasing a parking pass on campus. If you choose to opt out of that option, you’ll have to do a bit of a morning hunt like I do to find free parking in the local neighborhood. I would say that after the first few weeks, you’ll get really good at figuring out the best places to park - not to mention know the street cleaning signs by heart! This option also allows for nice morning and afternoon walks to and from your car!

9:00-12:00 - Class
Note: Typically we will get (2) 15 minute breaks to stretch, reset, take a walk. During 1 of the breaks, you’ll probably see me at Eric Cohen Student Health Center getting free coffee, tea, or hot chocolate offered to all USC students!

12:00-1:00 - Lunch
Note: Many times, faculty, student orgs, or the health center may schedule meetings during lunch on various topics: Doctorate or PhD info sessions, Mentor/Mentee lunches, mindfulness classes, yoga on the lawn, etc. If I’m not at one of these, you may see me eating with friends on the patio or practicing transfers with them in the ADL lab.

1:00-4:00 - Class
Note: Afternoon classes can be tough so the free coffee break may happen at this point of the day. Good thing is, since our professors are OTs, they are very attuned to reading when the students are having attention difficulties or hitting an afternoon wall. They’ll break things up, encourage us to stand, take walks, or if we’re in the pediatrics classroom, swing on the swings for some self-regulation!

4:00 and on - Open!
Note: After class, what I do really varies depending on the day. I may have to work in the Student Ambassador office. I may have a meeting for Student Run Clinic. Perhaps I’ll hit up a yoga class, go to Barbara’s at the Brewery with a few friends for a beer, or visit my niece and nephew to play and have dinner! Either way, I find weekday afternoons as opportunities to decompress and chill after a full day of class.

11:30 - #sleepgoals

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, feel free to write in the comments!


Standardized Patients: the Good, the Bad, and Becoming the Hulk

, by Erika

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One of the best opportunities our program offers is the chance to practice transfers with standardized patients in our Adult Rehab immersion.

What’s a standardized patient?

It’s a person carefully recruited and trained to take on the characteristics of a real patient providing students with the opportunity to learn skills in a simulated clinical environment. Neat, right?

So far in my adult rehab immersion, we’ve practiced with standardized patients “recovering from hip replacements, back injuries, and stroke.” We’ve learned how to transfer them from laying in bed to sitting then to a wheelchair or walker! From there, we’ve also practiced how to mobilize and transfer these patients to the shower, tub, and toilet.

It’s been ADLmania!!!

Our Adult Rehab lab was designed to simulate common practice locations where we would actually conduct transfers and treatment sessions. On one side, we have an exact replica of what a hospital room looks like at Keck Medical center - from the beds to the toilet and shower. On the other side, we have a standard bedroom with access to a tub and toilet. Lastly, we have a fully functioning kitchen where we can practice various occupations like meal prepping, washing dishes, and cooking. What’s better than practicing real life occupations in a real life setting?

Hospital Room, USC ADL Lab

Bedroom, USC ADL Lab

Bathroom, ADL Lab

Readers, can I just say, the first time I practiced with standardized patients, I. Was. Terrified.

“I have NO clue what I’m doing. Are they going to be nice? Are they going to be painfully dramatic? Am I going to drop someone and break their hip a second time?”

My stream of consciousness spiraled into the dark depths of the unknown but of course, with all new experiences, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.

Sure, I think all of us students will admit that the first time, there was a lot of “uhhhhh….”s, big perplexed eyes, and unnecessary overexplanations of the protocol running through our heads and out our mouths. After that though, you realize that the standardized patients aren’t there to give you a hard time or to give Oscar-worthy dramatic performances but are there for you and your learning experience. While at times, they were committed to simulating pain (which was intimidating at first), they were incredibly kind and open to providing feedback on why they felt pain or felt discomfort. They were gracious in giving us as many opportunities to try again to make sure we get a specific transfer or handling right.

Transferring a standardized patient who has a T8 spinal cord injury from bed to wheelchair

Working on long sitting dressing with standardized patients with spinal cord injuries

At the end of the day, that’s what makes the opportunity of practicing with standardized patients valuable - it gives us the opportunity to spiral into our own fears then build ourselves back up with the support and feedback of our professors and standardized patients to reveal our own capabilities and strengths - all within a safe learning environment!

I want to close with some advice I was given while working with a standardized patient named Mel*. After I had transferred him, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “You have to commit. If you don’t commit, I won’t commit.” I’m not sure if this was a reflection of his practices as a method actor, but it completely changed how I transferred after that point. I became more confident. You know when Bruce Banner becomes the Hulk? It was like that without all the rage. Mel’s words transformed my identity from being a timid inexperienced OT student to a potentially strong, capable, and committed OT practitioner. Thanks Mel.

*All names mentioned in this blogpost are pseudonyms.


New to LA? No Worries!

, by Erika

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Every LA native has their list of go-tos to take people when they visit but they also have their smaller, more intimate list of what a friend of mine calls, “secret squirrel spots.” These are places that are just a little more special. For me, they are places that have grown my eyes a little bigger, made my heart a little softer, or tickled my tastebuds like never before. I hope that by sharing these with you all, you will find them as beautiful, meaningful, and as memorable as I have. Whether you’re new to LA or not, go, explore, and be merry!

SuihoEn Japanese Garden — Van Nuys

SuihoEn Japanese Garden, Van Nuys

An oasis in the middle of the city! It’s one of my favorite hidden places in LA and it’s only $5 to enter. As you venture through the garden, you’ll find a tea house. I’d recommend bringing some hot tea in a thermos and a friend and have yourself a little tea party overlooking the koi pond.

El Matador State Beach — Malibu

El Matador State Beach, Malibu

Being in LA, you have an entire coast of beaches to choose from! After venturing from the valley to the OC, I still reserve a special place in my heart for El Matador State Beach up by Malibu. There are rock formations there that transfer you to another planet. Climb them, crawl through them and find little crabs, or find a little cave to take a nap in!

LASA — Chinatown

LASA, Chinatown

What’s LA without good eats and what’s an LA experience without supporting local chefs? I knew these two brothers, Chad and Chase, from high school and seeing them blow up on the LA food scene featuring food I grew up with brings tears to my eyes. Born and bred in aroma-filled Filipino homes, they’ll provide you with an innovative yet authentic taste of Filipino cuisine.

The Great Wall of LA Mural — North Hollywood

The Great Wall of Los Angeles, North Hollywood

The Great Wall of Los Angeles, North Hollywood

After hearing about it for years, I only visited this gem about a year ago and regret not visiting sooner. This was a community project done by more than 400 community youth, their families, artists, oral historians, ethnologists, and scholars depicting the history of Los Angeles from 20,000 B.C. all the way up to the 1960s. It’s a half-mile long and a great way to spend the afternoon learning about the city you’ve found yourself in! Be sure to pop this into your phone ( to guide you through your historical and visually stimulating experience.

If you end up visiting any of these spots, leave a comment and let me know how you liked them!


No OT to shadow? No worries!

, by Erika

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To those of you who are currently in or still need to complete the mental health immersion, this blog post is for you. Many of you have concerns about not having an OT to shadow during your level I due to the limited number of mental health facilities that have OTs available. That’s a fair concern, I had the same one! Fear not, I’m here to say that I had a great experience in my level I even without an OT to shadow. It took a bit of a perspective shift but once I was able to allow the experience to reveal itself naturally, what I ended up gaining exceeded any expectations and fears I had going in.

During my first fieldwork placement during my first year, I was placed at Verdugo Hills Hospital’s geriatric psychiatric unit called Stepping Stones. I had the opportunity to observe both inpatient and outpatient settings which was quite a privilege. As with most mental health settings, there was no OT to shadow. Therefore, I was placed under the supervision of two recreational therapists and an art therapist in the inpatient unit as well as two social workers in the outpatient unit.

Here is what made my mental health experience so valuable even without an OT to shadow:

1. I learned what professions are already well established in mental health, what they do, and how OT can provide additional value. Before this fieldwork, I didn’t know much about mental health. I just assumed that if someone had mental health issues, they’d see a psychologist. Through this fieldwork, I had the opportunity to observe interventions done by recreational therapists, an art therapist, and social workers and how they played their parts in assisting patients across the progress of their illness. I learned that in art therapy, you would choose mediums (markers vs. paints vs. colored pencils) according to the patients’ cognitive levels and abilities as well as the psychological significance of certain colors! I learned that social workers have the authority to diagnose and observed how they engaged clients in group talk therapy. Best of all, I was able to execute OT sensory and cognitive interventions and inform the other professions on what value we could bring to what they were already doing. It was a beautiful exchange of thought across professions and a shared passion of service to this population. 

2. I was able to get exposed to all mental health settings through the experiences of my peers and in turn, reduce stigma that I personally associated with mental health. Since there are few OTs to shadow, mental health is the only immersion in which weekly fieldwork debriefs are set up with peers and a faculty member during class time. I think that most of my classmates would agree that this served as being one of the most helpful resources. We were placed with the same group all semester in which each member was placed in a different mental health setting so we got firsthand experiences of what each setting entailed. What a way to learn! It provided an open platform to not only share in each other’s concerns and successes but gave us a deeper lens into the mental health community. These debriefs equipped us with awareness and compassion, and in turn, helped debunk any stigmas that we initially came into the course with.

3. USC faculty support is top notch. Even with the lack of OT in my settings, there was never a time that I didn’t feel supported by USC faculty. With such breadth of experience, you are bound to find a faculty member that has practiced in the setting you’ve been placed in (inpatient, outpatient, full service partnership, wellness center, clubhouse, etc.). I was able to reach out to faculty members and pick their brains about possible interventions to try out, success stories, horror stories, etc. just to feel a bit more comfortable in understanding OTs role in my specific setting. This experience opened doors to forming relationships with faculty who I now see as mentors that I feel comfortable reaching out to for guidance throughout school and my future career.

4. Developing my therapeutic use of self. Even without an OT, this fieldwork placement was a great opportunity to observe the variance in how my supervisors, as therapists, utilized their own therapeutic uses of self. Everyone has their own gifts, ways of communicating, and backgrounds that contribute to how they practice and work with clients. It was fascinating to see how one recreational therapist Carl*, who I called the Zen master, would engage patients vs. another, Yuko*, who was bubbly and charismatic. They were so different and yet, their concern and care for every patient was expressed and equally well received. This made me really reflect on the fact that there is no one way to be a successful therapist. I began to observe my own therapeutic use of self and develop my own style of practice utilizing my own authentic experiences and gifts.

I know this post was a bit of a big boy but thank you for reading. Hopefully, I’ve been able to alleviate some fears or at least provide a change in perspective on what else you could look forward to during your level I mental health fieldwork placement. At the end of the day, with all your fears, questions, or concerns, know that there is faculty close by, peers going through the same thing, and new and interesting perspectives that lie untapped with your supervising mental health professionals that might provide more insight into your own value and practice with this population. Level I placements are meant solely as a means to observe so OPEN YOUR EYES – you may be surprised by what you end up learning.

*All names mentioned in this blogpost are pseudonyms.


OT, you are everything I never knew I always wanted

, by Erika

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Hello Friends!

Erika here, reporting for my first blog post. Welcome and thanks for reading!

Let me tell you how I discovered OT [cue Drake’s “One Dance”].  Occupational therapy is a second career for me. After graduating undergrad from USC in 2008 in communication, I packed my bags and moved to Brooklyn. Without much focus or intention, I found a job in advertising and worked on accounts that include P&G and Disney. I quickly learned that I had a passion for learning about human behavior. I enjoyed sinking my teeth into consumer data and developing human insights on what motivates people to take action. While learning about why people purchased Swiffers or bought tickets to watch Disney movies was thrilling for the first few years, I knew advertising was merely a stepping stone for whatever was next.

Throughout my seven years in the industry, I would periodically meet up with old friends at SC tailgates or reunions who worked as occupational therapists and I was dumbfounded by the stories they told me about their work. How did one of them work in a hospital with clients with spinal cord injuries, another work with children in a sensory clinic, and yet another work with a client at their home coping with depression? I couldn’t understand the common factor but as I investigated more, I quickly learned that it was actually very simple: meaningful occupation is what unites us as humans. Whether it’s dressing oneself independently to a child being equipped with the means to play safely with peers to being able to play your favorite song on your trumpet again, meaningful activities are what motivates people to take action and live healthier and more fulfilling lives. Talk about human insights! My mind was blown.

With that said, equipped with my love for learning about human behavior, and this time around, with full focus and intention, I’m back in school for my Master’s in OT at USC. I am one year into the program and I can honestly say that I can’t see myself doing anything else. I’ve found a profession that requires me to see and value every client as a distinct and unique individual, challenges me to think creatively, and empowers people to live happier lives in the process. OT, “you are everything I never knew I always wanted” (as quoted from 1997’s romcom hit, “Fools Rush In”).

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