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 |

Kaitlyn

Making Our Mark in Denmark: My Leadership Externship Experience

, by Kaitlyn · 1 comment

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Denmark has been one of my top places to visit for the past few years now, as I knew that they were consistently ranked one of the happiest countries (if not the happiest) in the world. I was particularly interested in their efforts in eco sustainability, health care system, biking culture, and “hygge”. Thus, when I was offered to go to Denmark for my leadership externship for two weeks in collaboration with USC Global Initiatives and Southern Denmark University, I knew that 1) I had to go and 2) it was meant to be (duh!).

Views over Copenhagen

During the two weeks, our schedule was jam-packed with presentations, activities, and cultural exchanges! In the first week, my team and I presented to Metropolitan University College, Southern Denmark University, and University College Lillebaelt on how education and healthcare systems function in America, what USC’s OT program looks like specifically, and some of the research being conducted at USC. As much as we were the ones providing information to Denmark’s school departments, students, and faculty, they also provided an abundant amount of information about themselves, their research, and their culture in return.

During the second week, we visited Hammel Neurorehabilitation and attended an Ergo Symposium hosted at Southern Denmark University, where Dr. Renee Taylor, one of the authors of a textbook we use in the program, was a speaker! In that same week, we had the amazing opportunity to shadow occupational therapists at Odense University Hospital in various departments (i.e. hand therapy, pediatrics, TBI, trauma, oncology, etc.). While shadowing at Odense University Hospital, it was evident to me that the free healthcare system adopted by Denmark affects the way OTs practice there.

Visiting Nyhavn!

Throughout the two weeks, we were completely immersed in Danish culture and ways of living, and I can honestly say that it has changed my perspective on life. Here are just a few of the things I learned along the way:

- The importance of work-life balance |  In Denmark, employees receive 6 week paid vacations (which does not include sick days) and 1 year paid maternity leave. Speaking of sick days, it is actually looked down upon if you go into work sick (if you’re sick, you’re sick… Don’t be selfish and contaminate the work environment, they say!). Overall, the Danish really embody the idea that when you leave work, you actually leave work and live your life.
- The importance of saying what you mean and meaning what you say | Here in America, it is so common for me to say to almost everyone, “Hi! How are you?” In Denmark, however, this customary greeting does not equivalently translate. We were told that you do not ask someone, “How are you?,” unless you are prepared to get an actual answer about how they are doing. In short, people in Denmark do not say things unless they mean it. For example, they will not offer to do something they do not want to do, and will not sugarcoat things or beat around the bush. 
- The importance of humility | In the working world of America, we like to rack up all of the accomplishments we can so that we can put them on our resume. This is something we have to do in order to be a competitive applicant. Interestingly enough, they do not do that in Denmark. For the Danish,  it is actually looked down upon if you try to upstage the people around you and/or try to make yourself stand out and look better. Showing off how much money you have, how great your career is, etc. are big no-no’s in Denmark! This idea relates to Denmark’s emphasis on equality (see: below bullet point).
- The importance of equality | The emphasis on equality is reflected in so many ways in Denmark. For example, education is completely free (as a university student you also get a monthly stipend), and so is healthcare (it doesn’t matter if you’re homeless or if you’re the richest person in Denmark, as both will get the same level of care).
- The importance of trust | They trust everyone in Denmark. On one particular day, we walked by a restaurant and there was a peaceful child sleeping in a stroller outside without the parents! It is probably safe to say that would not happen here in America, but it’s refreshing to know that there is so much inherent trust within the people in Denmark.

Walking along the infamous rainbow panoramic skywalk at ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum

Taken altogether, this experience has been a highlight in my time here as a USC OT student. I’ve always loved traveling, and this trip was confirmation why. The world is so big, and there is always more to explore. It is so incredibly easy to simply go through the day-to-day motions and be stuck in the bubble of Los Angeles, but traveling always grounds me and forces me to expand my ways of thinking. There is more to life than the life lived here in LA.

Mange tak (many thanks) to Dr. Danny Park, Benedict of the Global Initiatives Team, the kindhearted students and Dr. Jeanette Christensen of Southern Denmark University, and my wonderful team of 7 for a life-changing international experience.

Linah

After Graduation: Now What?

, by Linah

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Start practicing or further your degree?

NBCOT, OTED, OPT, HIJKLMNOP..
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!

Ali

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!

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!!

Kaitlyn

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.

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