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


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.


No, I Don’t Find People Jobs: My OT Elevator Speech

, by Kaitlyn

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If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me what occupational therapy is, I would have… well, a lot of dollars. If you’re pursuing OT or even an OT yourself, then you’ve probably come across the following misconceptions and/or questions about the profession, such as, “Occupational therapy is like physical therapy, right?,” or, “Do you help people find jobs?”

For some, it may be exhausting to describe what OT is over and over again. For me, I’ve learned to think of it as a great opportunity to advocate for the profession and tell people about the amazing value of OT! I’ve been in countless situations—other than my job—whether it’s at the dinner table, at social events/parties, or just out and about in the real world where I’ve busted out my OT “elevator speech.” Rome wasn’t built in a day, so we can’t expect everyone to know exactly what OT is overnight either. grin

Here is the general breakdown and framework of my ever-evolving OT spiel that can hopefully help guide you in some way shape or form: 

The “occupation” part of “occupational therapy,” is defined as any meaningful activity that comprises a person’s everyday life. For some people, their meaningful activity in life can mean their career, but for others, it can be socializing with their friends, brushing their teeth, brushing their hair, cooking, engaging in arts and crafts at school, and so on.

Here, I define ‘occupation’ first. I feel like once people understand our meaning of ‘occupation,’ it is a much easier concept to grasp.

Therefore, OT is a health profession that empowers and enables individuals of all ages to engage in these occupations to the best of their abilities despite any injury, disease, or disability.

Here, I define occupational therapy.

How we do this depends on where we work. For example, those working at a school may work with children on their fine motor skills (i.e. using scissors to cut) so that they can participate in arts in crafts in the classroom. Those working in a hospital may work with those who have suffered a stroke to work on activities of daily living (i.e. brushing teeth). *This list could go on and on…

At this point, I’ll list examples of different places OT can work and what they do in those settings. Part of the reason why OT is so hard to grasp is because we can be found anywhere and everywhere!

To try and solidify everything I’ve said, I’ll either talk about my personal experiences or somehow make the connection to something that will make sense to the person or people I am talking to. If I’m talking about a personal experience, I’ll tend to talk about OT’s role in animal-assisted therapy and my involvement with Assistance Dogs of Hawaii as a clinical rotation. Another connection I frequently make is related to the Marvel movie, “Doctor Strange,” which works well with the kids/male population/anyone who likes Marvel movies but knows nothing about health care. In summary, Dr. Strange, a neurosurgeon, gets into a car accident in which he injures both of his hands. In the movie, he sees a hand therapist (most likely an OT), who helps rehabilitate his hand so that he can get back to his meaningful occupation of performing surgery (and being a superhero later on, obviously). 

Defining OT is all about practice, catering to your audience, and having a positive attitude about it! There is no right or wrong way to talk about a career you love.


Currie Hall (No Affiliation with Food nor the NBA)

, by Kaitlyn

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After high school, I moved out to downtown Los Angeles to attend USC for undergrad and lived there for four years. Once I decided that I was going to go continue at USC (but this time on the Health Sciences Campus), I knew that it was the perfect time to move and make a (slight) change.

I am a big believer in growing wherever you are planted. Thus, finding the right place to live is imperative to me in so many ways. Is it reasonably close to friends and family? Is it safe? Is it comfortable? Are there opportunities for socialization in the nearby area? Are there good restaurants (huge food lover here, see: here) around?! There are a lot of considerations when finding a new place to live and I wanted to make the right choice as I embarked on this new journey.

I had a few options in mind, but I ultimately decided to move into an apartment building located on the USC Health Sciences Campus called Currie Hall. I moved there on the first day it opened, so I’ve been living there for about a year and a half now. If you’re interested in moving in, the following are some pros and cons.

- The “commute” - My commute is about a 5-minute walk across the street to the Center for Health Professions building. It sure beats sitting in traffic for an hour, that’s for sure!
- The residents - Almost everyone in the building is a student on the USC Health Sciences Campus. Thus, you’ll run into medical, physical therapy, and pharmacy (just to name a few) students all the time! It’s in the norm to see people walking around in scrubs and/or a white coat. It’s a great experience to be in such a interdisciplinary housing setting filled with future healthcare professionals! I personally live with a pharmacy student and a medical student!
- Safety - I feel very safe in this building. There are many “checkpoints” at every doorway/entryway where your key is required. DPS is also only just a phone call away if they’re ever needed!
- Proximity to “new” cities - I frequent the Arts District, Silver Lake, Echo Park, Downtown, and Pasadena quite frequently because they are all within close driving distance (this also means cheap Ubers/Lyfts)! All of the cities I just mentioned have different “personalities”, so it’s nice to feel like I’m still exploring new places around LA. *Tip: Arts District, Silver Lake, and Echo Park have amazing hidden gems when it comes to restaurants so definitely keep your options open! My current favorites are Mohawk Bend and Cliff’s Edge (again, big food lover here).
- The apartment & building itself - Like I mentioned before, I moved in the first day it opened so it is BRAND NEW. Some notable perks: an in-unit washer/dryer (a life saver!), a balcony, your own bathroom, your own walk-in closet, furnished when you move in, a gym, a BBQ grill/patio area, a pool and jacuzzi, study rooms, etc. The staff is also great as well!

- Far from the beach - Unfortunately, it is far from the beach, which is one of my greatest loves! With traffic, it takes me about 45 minutes to get to the coastline. I also have friends that live on the west side of Los Angeles (i.e. Santa Monica, Culver City) so it can be inconvenient at times to get to them.
- Everything is within some kind of driving distance - Although it is the most convenient option when it comes to school, it is not the most convenient when it comes to going to the store or running errands. For example, Trader Joe’s and Target are about a 15 minute drive away in the neighboring cities. Sometimes this feels a bit isolating, but it hasn’t bothered me too much because I have a car. 
- Holiday Breaks=Ghost Town - It is eerily empty when winter, summer, and spring breaks roll around because most residents go home for the holidays!
- “Dorm”-like? - I have to agree and disagree on this one. Yes, it does feel like a dorm in that everyone there is a student but we are also all graduate students. This means that we’re all busy—studying, going off to clinical rotations, working… you name it! We’ve got a lot of responsibilities on our plate so you definitely won’t get those freshman dorm experiences you had in college.

Image Source

I may have picked the closest option to campus, but don’t be afraid to venture out as well! I have many friends who commute from neighboring cities like Silver Lake, Echo Park, Alhambra, Pasadena, and Downtown. I know people who commute from Culver City, Manhattan Beach, and Santa Monica as well! My best piece of advice: Determine what’s important to you and pick a place you know you will be happy in.

If interested in learning more about Currie Hall, click here.


What it Means to be an OTAC Student Delegate

, by Kaitlyn

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I have been asked what I do as an Occupational Therapy Association of California (OTAC) Student Delegate quite frequently and I don’t blame people for asking. I will admit that it is a bit elusive, and that is because it is a very multi-faceted role with a lot of “behind the scenes” work.

Becoming an OTAC Student Delegate through USC’s OT program begins with an Executive Board Occupational Therapy and Science Council (OTSC) election process. After elected, there is an application and letter of recommendation process as well. Once these steps are complete, you can begin your role as an OTAC Student Delegate!

USC OTSC Executive Board 2016-2017

USC OTSC Executive Board 2016-2017

There are many derivatives that come out of the OTAC Student Delegate role. I function as an integral member of the OTAC Student Leadership Committee and a liaison between our program and OTAC. I also help plan and organize events in collaboration with OTAC and participate in conference calls and meetings with our committee co-chairs and other students from different OT programs in California.

OTAC Name Badge

Out of all the things that I am expected (and love) to do, being able to help plan and organize events is my favorite. For example, one of the events we have is called ‘Afternoon Tea with a Scholar.’ Last year’s 15th Annual Afternoon Tea with a Scholar featured Ann McDonald, MA, PhD, OTR/L (and USC alum!), who spoke about the dynamic role of OT in support of families due to the difficult task of meeting the needs of a family member who has a physical, emotional, or neurodevelopmental challenge. At this event specifically, I served as a student representative, introduced myself to all OTAC members and supporting guests, and helped with setup and cleanup of the entire event.

Another event that I thoroughly enjoy is our annual Legislative Reception. The Legislative Reception provides a forum for OT practitioners to interact with legislators and their staff about health care issues that OTs are facing. This event provides an opportunity for our profession to dialogue about the changes we want to see, advocate for the profession, and discuss key issues in healthcare. This event required a lot of preparation beforehand with weekly committee conference calls and also being proactive about communicating with legislators around the Southern California area. 

OTAC Rose Parade Float Booth

Working at the Rose Parade Float Booth at OTAC Conference 2016

Our biggest events, of course, are the OTAC Annual Conference (which was in Pasadena last year, Sacramento this year) and OTAC Spring Symposium (which was in San Diego in the spring). At these events, I have helped run the student track by organizing and facilitating the Q&A panel, facilitating the social mixer, introducing speakers, serving as a room monitor, and so much more. At last year’s OTAC Annual Conference, I also worked the OTAC Rose Parade Float Booth to help fundraise money for our float that was featured in the 2017 Rose Parade. In that weekend alone, we raised more than $6,000!

USC OTSC Executive Board 2017-2018

Our new USC OTSC Executive Board 2017-2018!

Overall, I’ve grown so much professionally and personally through this role.The biggest lesson I’ve learned in this specific journey is to always take a chance (when appropriate, obviously) and go towards things even without knowing the outcome. I went into the initial OTSC Executive Board election with hopes, but no expectations. Because of this, I have found my time being an OTAC Student Delegate so much more rewarding and have been so much more grateful for the opportunity.


Keeping Up with the OTs: Moving with Motivation

, by Kaitlyn

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Graduate school can be stressful and at times, difficult. Juggling school, work and all the other demands of life is not always a piece of cake. In those times where I feel overwhelmed and like I have too much on my plate, I simply find ways to remind myself why I chose the path I am on now and why I do everything I do.

With that being said, I love to replenish my motivation through interactions with my patients, colleagues, classmates, family, friends, and people in everyday life. In addition to that, I’ll use the Internet as a resource to find inspiration (thank you Google and YouTube!). This past year, I attended the AOTA Annual Conference in Philadelphia and they played a video of Al Roker discussing the positive impact occupational therapy had on him and his son. I love to watch this video when I need that little push:

Here is one of my favorite quotes that encompasses my deep rooted feelings for occupational therapy as well:

“I’m an occupational therapist, an obscure profession if there ever was one. We are few and far between, maybe because we have chosen to serve people with disabilities. All disabilities. Not a glamorous endeavour, nor a lucrative one. And I say serve because we deem that in helping we see weakness, while in serving we see wholeness. We’ve opted for wholeness nearly a century ago and have been at odds with the system ever since. We don’t fix people, you see, with them we simply try to find a way to meaning, balance, and justice. I chose occupational therapy because it blends science and humanism, intellectual rigour, and compassion.”
- Rachel Thibeault

All in all, I believe that an ethical life is one that involves doing the most “good” that you can. For me personally, being an occupational therapist is a profession where I am able to do the most “good” that I can. With OT, I know that at the end of my life I can look back and say that I lived one that was fulfilling and meaningful.

I have met the most incredible people just in the short time I’ve been an OT student and I’m looking forward to a lifetime more of such inspiring encounters.

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