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 | Jessica P

Jessica P

From Patient to Practitioner

, by Jessica P

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Growing up as a competitive figure skater, I was no stranger to frequent emergency room visits. From broken bones to run over fingers, I had it all. For me going to different orthopedic doctors and physical therapy was as much part of my weekly routine as going to school or practice. I think this is where my love of the healthcare fields grew. I knew firsthand how much different injuries impacted my own engagement in one of my favorite occupations, figure skating.

My senior year of high school, while training to compete for Team USA, I suffered an injury while practicing lifts with my teammates. I was devastated that my competitive career had to come to an end and I felt like there was a hole in my life where the sport I had dedicated my life to once was. Luckily, I was able to find ways to stay involved with the sport as I left for college. I joined the USC Ice Girls and cheered on the USC men’s ice hockey team at weekly games. I even learned how to use hockey skates for the first time in my life, which is no easy feat for a former figure skater! I felt that this experience really helped me understand some of the transitions in roles that my patients also go through when they can no longer engage in their meaningful occupations in the same way that they once did. But still, when I would meet a lot of my patients I would think to myself “I can’t even imagine what they are going through.”

And it was true, until this past year. After a complication from a routine surgery in January, I spent the first week of my spring semester in Keck Hospital of USC. This experience completely changed how I look at and approach a lot of my patients, especially when working in an inpatient setting. I finally felt I could understand what it was like to be in this unfamiliar environment, in a bed that’s not your own, and machines beeping at all hours of the night. All I kept thinking was, I want to get back to class. My biggest role at that time was that as a student and because I wasn’t able to participate in that, I didn’t know what else to do.

My interactions with my own healthcare team taught me lessons about what I liked from these providers and what I hope to provide to my patients. I think it renewed my therapeutic use of self, especially in taking an empathetic approach with everyone I encounter. While being a patient is not usually a fun experience, it was a valuable one.

Jessica P

OT’s Role in Lymphedema

, by Jessica P

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The semester is officially in full-swing and students here at USC Chan are immersing themselves in their Level I Fieldwork experiences. As part of our Level I Fieldwork, about halfway through the semester we have classes cancelled for the entire week and we get the opportunity to go to our fieldwork site for the whole week. This allows us to really see what it is like to be an OT in this practice setting. Last week, us second years had our full week and are now back on campus prepping for the second half of our semester.

As part of my adult physical rehabilitation practice immersion, my fieldwork this semester is at an outpatient oncology and lymphedema clinic at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center. If you are anything like me, you may be unfamiliar with what OT’s role in lymphedema is. My clinical instructor is a Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT), which is considered an advanced practice area within OT.

But wait…what even is lymphedema? When lymphedema occurs in oncology patients, it is called secondary lymphedema. This is when the lymph vessels aren’t able to adequately drain lymph fluid, usually from an arm or leg. Most of the patients that I see are breast cancer survivors who experience lymphedema of the arm or trunk. As part of their OT treatment, they come in for manual lymph drainage, which is a gentle massage guiding the lymph fluid towards areas where there are still good lymph nodes in the body.

OT’s also have a critical role in educating and training patients on lifelong management of this chronic condition. It is complex and multi-faceted so OT’s may utilize all different interventions such as kinesiotaping, low-level laser therapy, scar mobilization, cupping, and so much more.

One of the biggest things I learned throughout my full fieldwork week was how OT’s really play a role in enabling a patient to advocate for themselves. Many of our patients come to us after years of experiencing lymphedema. They haven’t received the treatment they need and have given up. We have the important role of being able to give them hope again, while utilizing an evidence-based practice and allowing them to engage in their meaningful occupations again!

Jessica P

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

, by Jessica P

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One of my favorite parts of the USC OT program is that our learning doesn’t just stop in the classroom. Whether it’s going out to a hospital for fieldwork or to skid row to volunteer at the USC Student-Run Clinic (SRC), there are endless opportunities to apply our OT knowledge. One of the amazing opportunities we have to get involved through our Adulthood and Aging course is the Interprofessional Geriatrics Curriculum (IPGC).

IPGC is a chance for us to work with students from different disciplines including physical therapy, medicine, physician’s assistant, pharmacy, social work, and psychology. We get divided into teams and then paired with an older adult living in a low-income community housing complex.

This image shows students at IPGC

IPGC students meeting with their resident. Photo credit: Claire Norman, MSJ (courtesy of the Keck School of Medicine of USC)

Throughout the semester we spend a few Friday afternoons at the community housing complex where we get brief lectures on topics related to our visit, such as oral health, cognition, fall prevention, and psychosocial issues. After our lecture, we meet with our older adult to learn more about them and apply what we learned during our lecture.
This past Friday, I had my first IPGC visit where we started out the afternoon with a lecture on medication management and nutrition in older adults. Professors from pharmacy and medicine gave us resources, such as the Beers list, to utilize in our future practice.

After our lecture, we broke up into our teams and met our older adult who we will be working throughout the rest of the semester. We spent a lot of time building rapport with our resident and getting to know her story. My teammates and I discussed her various medications and different side-effects that may occur from those. As an OT student, my main role was teaching her how to utilize a pill box organizer and implement taking medications into her daily routines. We also discussed the importance of healthy, balanced meals and how this can influence the aging process.

The afternoon flew by so quickly that we were all sad to have our time come to an end. I felt as if we really got to know our resident and build rapport with her. After we met with our resident, our team debriefed on what went well for us as a team and identified strategies to improve on for next time. As occupational therapists, we often work in teams so learning how to navigate conflicts and communicate effectively is key and IPGC is the perfect place to begin practicing this.

This image shows students from various disciplines outside TELACU Pointe

IPGC students. Photo credit: Claire Norman, MSJ (courtesy of the Keck School of Medicine of USC)

Jessica P

Get Involved

, by Jessica P

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Here at USC in addition to our amazing coursework and electives, we have so many opportunities to get involved. Many of our students are involved in professional and volunteer-based organizations. Figuring out what organizations may interest you can sometimes be overwhelming, so here is a summary of the organizations our OT students are so passionate about:

DiversOT is a student organization that is aimed at increasing cultural awareness of OT students, faculty and staff through sharing culture, traditions and experiences of diverse groups within the Chan Division.

Engage is the OT House’s community outreach program which fosters relationships between USC graduate students and our surrounding community. OT students volunteer by designing and participating in recreational activities for at-risk elementary school children.

Integrative Health Association (IHA) aims to provide opportunities for students to learn about methods and evidence in Integrative Health, the integration of complementary, alternative and conventional healing methods.

Occupational Therapy and Science Council (OTSC) consists of every student in the Chan Division and has an executive board of members who work diligently to represent all interests of the student body. They create opportunities for our students to engage in philanthropic learning opportunities, to attend talks surround practice areas of interest for professional development, as well as create a sense of community amongst the Chan Division.

This image shows members of OTSC volunteering.

Members of OTSC volunteering

OTs for OuTreach builds and strengthens the sense of community for LGBTQ students and allies by providing opportunities for social engagement and professional development. OTs for OuTreach members volunteer through developing programs and implementing engaging activities for diverse, marginalized and underserved populations. This organization has previously worked with the USC LGBT Resource Center, the Los Angeles LGBT Youth Center, and the Los Angeles County Central Juvenile Hall.

Pi Theta Epsilon (PTE) is the national honor society for occupational therapy students and alumni. PTE at USC sponsors various events throughout the year to promote student scholarship, showcase student and faculty research and engage in interdisciplinary work.

The Pre-OT Club is open to all USC undergraduate students who are interested in learning more about the field of occupational therapy. The Pre-OT club hosts events such as visits to OT practice sites, opportunities to shadow practicing clinicians, networking opportunities, and advisement for the application process for the Entry-Level Master’s program.

This image shows members at a Pre-OT club meeting

Pre-OT Club members participating in a Q&A session with assistant director of admissions Amber Bennett

The USC Student-Run Clinic (SRC) delivers quality patient care to the underserved people of Los Angeles and enhances health professional education through an inter-professional, team-based approach to health care. Students from four professions (occupational therapy, medicine, pharmacy, and physician assistants) work together to assess, diagnose and optimize the patient’s health and lifestyle to suit their individualized needs.

This image shows students volunteering at the student run clinic

OT students at the Student Run Clinic

Jessica P

Preparing for Level I Fieldwork

, by Jessica P

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At USC, our Level I Fieldwork is tied in with the 3 different immersion courses: Adult Physical Rehabilitation, Mental Health, and Pediatrics.

But wait…what is fieldwork? As Caroline explained here before, our Level I Fieldwork is a site that students go to once a week throughout the semester and one full week about halfway through the semester. We get experience in 3 different practice areas at a variety of sites across the Los Angeles area.

Whether it is your first Level I Fieldwork or your third, starting Fieldwork at a new site can be exciting and nerve-wracking. Here are my tips for preparing for Level I Fieldwork:

1. Dress the part. On your first day, make sure you dress accordingly with the site’s dress code. Some sites may ask you wear scrubs and your white coat, while others may require business casual. I always error on the side of more formal because it is better to be more dressed up than down!

2. Come prepared. Bring copies of all the documents you may need to start, such as your HIPAA certification. Make sure to bring pen and paper as well to take notes throughout the day.

3. Keep your eyes open. The goal of Level I Fieldwork is to get exposure to OT in different settings, apply what we are learning in classes to practice, and to develop understanding of the needs of the patients. Whether your fieldwork site allows you to be hands-on with patients or not, there is always something you can learn by observing therapeutic interactions.

4. Ask questions. Fieldwork experiences can sometimes be very different from what we see and hear in our classes. Ask your clinical instructor questions about why they did what they did, it will help you to understand their clinical reasoning. If you have questions while you are with a patient, write them down to ask later.

5. Know your learning style. Before our fieldwork, students at USC are asked to complete a learning style inventory. It is important to know how you best learn and share this with your clinical instructor.

6. Use your resources. Throughout all of our fieldwork experiences, we have an entire fieldwork team, along with faculty to support us. They are always available if you have questions, need advice, or just want to discuss how fieldwork has been going.

Remember, Level I Fieldwork is all about the learning experience. There is no better way to solidify what we learn in the classroom, than to see it out in the field!

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