Student Ambassador Blog | Kaitlyn
Oct 25, 2017, by Kaitlyn
This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending our annual Occupational Therapy Association of California (OTAC) Conference in our state’s capitol, Sacramento. This year we are celebrating 100 years of OT, so naturally, this conference was going to be a big celebration. In even more exciting news, this year we had over 80 Trojans presenting and speaking and 8 receiving awards! It was very humbling to be among fellow USC students and alumni who had put in so much hard work to be where they are now.
At this particular conference, two of my favorite sessions were coincidentally presented by faculty from USC. One of the sessions I attended was titled, “Positive Psychology and Meditation: Clinical Applications and Beyond!,” which was facilitated by Dr. Don Gordon. In this session I learned about the supporting evidence of positive psychology, research related to the effectiveness of meditation (including neurobiology and how it builds psychological coping skills), how to engage in exercises like meditation as a form of coping (which can be applied to patient interventions if appropriate!), and so much more.
Another one of my favorite sessions was titled, “The Shared Governance Model of Participatory Decision-Making: An Opportunity for the Development of Occupational Therapy Leadership, Power, and Voice,” which was led by Dr. Katie Jordan, Dr. Samia Rafeedie, and Dr. Bryant Edwards. In this session, I learned about the importance of “shared governance,” which is an organizational structure that enlists participatory decision-making models of leadership. For example, we discussed the importance of involving front-line staff (i.e. nurses) in making decisions so that they too feel empowered, appreciated, and respected.
When I was not in sessions, I was working either at our USC Exhibit Hall Booth (as a part of my Student Ambassador role) or completing any OTAC Student Delegate tasks that were needed of me (as a part of my OTAC Student Delegate role). It was definitely a busy weekend, but it was EXTREMELY rewarding and wouldn’t have had it any other way.
On Saturday, the Keynote Speaker at the Awards Ceremony was none other than Frank Kronenberg, who is the director and co-founder of Shades of Black Works, a Cape Town-based social enterprise with a triple social mission: strengthening places of origin, forging connections, and supporting collective story-making. Kronenberg is also a prominent global activist and the co-founder of the movement “Occupational Therapists without Borders.” Frank Kronenberg’s speech, which was about humanizing praxes and its relation to OT, was nothing short of inspiring. I may or may not have shed a tear (or two… or three…) during it. At the end, he proposed that we modify Mary Reilly’s infamous statement, “Man through the use of his hands as they are energized by mind and will, can influence the state of his own health” to the following: “Humanity, through joining hands, as energized by ubuntu and political will, can influence the health of the human condition.”
Overall, I can confidently say that attending conferences like OTAC is what revitalizes and recharges my soul in my own OT journey. Being surrounded by so many kind, accomplished, and hardworking occupational therapists inspires me to be better and do better not only in the realm of OT, but also in life in general.
Sep 27, 2017, by Kaitlyn
I really love people and I also really love food. So, it makes sense that being able to share a good-tasting meal with people I care about is one of my favorite occupations. Fellow student ambassador, Erika, did a great job of naming some places you can visit in Los Angeles in her most recent blog post. Since I have been asked time and time again where the best places are to eat from students new to LA, I have decided to compile a small (yes, I said small) list of just some of my favorites based on areas around LA. Disclaimer: I am a vegetarian so some of these restaurants tend to stray on the veggie-friendly side!
Downtown Los Angeles (DTLA)
- Bottega Louie | Bottega Louie is the mecca of all things Instagram-worthy and aesthetically pleasing. The restaurant itself has high ceilings, white walls, and gold accents, making for a clean look all around. My favorite: all flavors of the macarons and Portabello Fries.
- Maccheroni Republic | This Italian restaurant is on the smaller side, but they have a great outdoor patio with lights strung across the top. My favorite: Bianchi & Neri pasta (without meat).
- Mendocino Farms | The DTLA location is at FIGat7th, so make sure to stop by the other stores and dessert places around! It also gets quite busy around weekday lunches since many corporate people working downtown will go there for lunch. My favorite: Vegan Banh Mi sandwich.
- Bossanova | Bossanova is one of those restaurants I choose when I can’t figure out where else to eat or am too lazy to figure out where to eat. Everything on this menu is so good and their portions are huge. My favorite: the Plantains.
- California Chicken Cafe | I’ve never been here when it wasn’t busy, and that’s because their wraps and salad are REALLY good and everyone knows it. They still have the best salads I’ve tasted to this day. My favorite: ironically, the Chinese Chicken Salad without the chicken.
- Republique | If you’re looking for a pretty place to eat, this is it. My favorite: Avocado Toast.
- Urth Caffe | Urth Caffe is my go-to restaurant every single time I want to go out to eat. It has gotten to a point where my friends say to me, “Where should we eat? And don’t say Urth Caffe again.” It’s healthy, the vibe is casual, and I know it’s pretty much going to taste the same every time I go. My favorites: Hummus and Tabouli salad and Blended Green Tea Boba (I know, boba isn’t healthy but everything in moderation I always say!).
- Wurstkuche | I don’t eat meat, but from what I’ve heard the sausages are really good here! If you’re wondering what I order, I get their fries! The fries that they serve here are good. Like, really good. My favorite: Fries with Chipotle Aioli and Pesto Mayo.
- Amazebowls | When I went to undergrad at USC, Amazebowls was just a food truck on Hoover. Now, they have their own place and I can feed both my stomach and my withdrawals from Hawaii. My favorite: anything on the menu.
Silverlake & Highland Park
- Sqirl | Sqirl is a very low key and understated place for brunch/lunch. You never would notice it just driving by! However, it is recommended time and time again by both hipsters and non-hipsters alike. My favorite: Brioche Toast with Ricotta and Specialty Jam of the Day.
- Maximiliano | The best outdoor patio for dinner and t-a-s-t-y pizza! My favorite: the Bianca-Verde Pizza.
- Cafe Mak | Cafe Mak is another place I frequented during my undergraduate years at USC. It is still my favorite cafe to study at because there is a plethora of outlets, great Wi-Fi, not many people know about it, and you can order your food at the press of a button (literally, there are buttons on the table). My favorite: Iced Vanilla Latte.
- Ubatuba Acai | My standards for acai bowls are a little high since I go to Hawaii very frequently and lived there for 3 months this past summer. I’ve tried almost every acai bowl place in the LA area and I will say that this place (and Amazebowls) are comparable to the ones in the Aloha state. My favorite: anything on the menu.
- Swingers | If you’re out in Santa Monica, this diner is the best place for late night eats. They offer food that is vegan, vegetarian, and meat-friendly! My favorite: Vegan Nachos and Stuffed Grilled Cheese.
- Blue Plate Taco | It gets pretty busy here so expect somewhat of a wait. I recommend going here for dinner after a shopping along 3rd Street Promenade or before/after visiting the pier! It’s along PCH so you get a great view of the ocean. My favorite: Veggie Tacos.
The great thing about southern California is that there is so much diversity, and with that comes a lot of diversity in food! With that being said, be open to everything and anything because there are hidden gems everywhere.
Sep 15, 2017, by Kaitlyn
With everything in life, I like to be all in. Thus, when I entered graduate school I knew that I wanted to dedicate every possible ounce of myself to the experience of being an OT student (because hey, you’re only an OT student for so long!). With the responsibility of being an involved student, however, also comes the responsibility of taking time for yourself and embracing the concept of: WORK-LIFE BALANCE. It is absolutely essential to our health and well-being, especially in graduate school.
Work-life balance is still a work in progress for me, and I think it is something that will continue to be a work in progress, as life itself is so fluid. Here are a few basic things that I’ve learned along the way—via classes at USC and also through personal experience—that have helped me have a decently balanced life thus far:
1. Time management is key. I personally keep a color-coded planner that I can write in and also a Google calendar synced to my iPhone. I quite literally do not know how I would live my life without the two because they both keep me in check. For both, I make sure I write things down by the hour because it allows me to see the breakdown of my day and where there is time for what. I also color code by classes (pink), work (blue), social (purple), and school-affiliated events events (orange) so that I can see exactly how balanced my week is. By color-coding, I can also see if I’m maybe working myself too hard and need to wedge out a time to see my family or friends (it also just makes the calendar more aesthetically appealing to be honest).
2. Prioritize your schoolwork and work on it when you have free parts in your day (even if they’re small!). It may be 30 minutes before meeting a friend for dinner or 2 hours in between events. I am always surprised at how much I can accomplish even in 10 minutes.
3. Invest time in things that matter to you. Basically: engage in your meaningful occupations! For me, that’s a lot of things: it means going to a new coffee shop, going to OTAC events to advocate for the profession, taking pictures, spending time with people in the program (i.e. at our OT/PT tailgates and football games), reading a good book, going on a hike, exploring different places around LA, and so on. I just make sure that whatever it is, it is something I genuinely find enjoyment in and contributes to the betterment of myself.
4. See people you actually want to see. It’s true that life can get busy in grad school. What I’ve found, however, is that there is always time for the people you care about when you make the effort. Therefore, I make sure that a lot of my free time is spent with my family and friends even if I can only spare a few hours in my week. A few hours is better than nothing. On a serious note though, nothing releases oxytocin and reduces stress like having a “Frozen” sing-along with my 4-year-old niece and 2-year-old nephew.
5. Take time for yourself. This concept is something I am constantly grappling with because I love being on the go at all times and also have an embarrassing case of “fomo” (fear of missing out). Most recently, I’ve been spending about 15 minutes each night writing at least 3 things I am grateful for everyday in my gratitude journal. Writing in my gratitude journal has been the perfect form of taking time for myself because it allows me to be able to spend time with my thoughts while also ending my day on a positive note. Even though it’s only 15 minutes, it’s still better than nothing!
As previously mentioned before, work-life balance is a work in progress! Some weeks are more balanced than others and work-life balance means different things to different people, but what is important is that you’re striving for YOUR best quality of life along the way. Good luck and happy balancing!
Sep 6, 2017, by Kaitlyn
Hawaii, dogs, and OT… If this sounds like the ultimate dream trifecta of a Level II Fieldwork then let me be the one to tell you that it is actually real (because I lived it!). This past summer, I am grateful to say that I spent 3 months in Maui with Assistance Dogs of Hawaii for my first Level II Fieldwork experience.
This journey began in March of 2017, when I first underwent an application and interview process. By the end of that month, I began to mentally prepare myself for what would be a life-changing, temporary move across the Pacific Ocean to work with one the most inspiring non-profit organizations!
Assistance Dogs of Hawaii, founded by Mo and Will Maurer, is a fully accredited, 501(c)3 non-profit organization that provides people with physical disabilities specially trained dogs to help them live more independent lives. I was lucky enough to work under the supervision of my clinical instructor, Dr. Cate Dorr, who is a certified dog trainer and occupational therapist. Between Assistance Dogs of Hawaii and working alongside Dr. Cate Dorr, I knew that it was going to be a summer full of growing and learning.
In the 3 months that I was in Maui, I was exposed to a multitude of experiences and learning opportunities. Just to name a few, I learned how to care for and train service dogs (my preview to motherhood), participated in Team Training Camp where I learned the skills of a hospital facility dog handler, conducted therapy visits, created and implemented a week-long camp dedicated to children with limited mobility called Camp Bow Wow (which was featured in Maui News!), and of course, worked with patients of all ages and diagnoses implementing occupational therapy and Canine-Facilitated Interventions (a term coined by Dr. Dorr herself!).
Towards the end of the summer, we were even provided with the opportunity to visit foundations and hospitals such as Kapiolani, Queen’s, and Shriners, all of which are located on Oahu with our (at the time) 10-week old puppies! During that same trip to Oahu, we also met with Catia Garrell, one of the founders for Thrive for Life (and an USC OT grad!) to see a home modification project in progress. At the site, we got to see how accessible home modifications are made through an OT lens, which is just another piece of evidence that since the OT scope is so broad, we should never be scared to think outside of the box!
When I wasn’t working or with the dogs, I explored the island and really immersed myself in the beauty of Hawaii (and became really tan while doing so).
Out of all the amazing things that I got to do while I was in Hawaii, I will say that working with patients alongside my four-legged friends proved to be something that has profoundly changed my heart. For example, one of my patients broke dog treats in order to improve strength in his hands post incomplete C5-C6 spinal cord injury and another patient with spina bifida took steps alongside one of our service dogs in training to help him engage in tabletop ambulatory level activities. Seeing the motivation and intrinsic desire to do better in therapy sessions with the presence of dogs really opened my eyes to how beneficial and essential this emerging practice is to the profession of occupational therapy.
All in all, I have learned so much about dogs, occupational therapy, Canine-Facilitated Interventions, people, and myself from this Level II Fieldwork experience. Here are a few:
1. Be open to every Level II Fieldwork placement possibility. Prior to receiving an offer from Assistance Dogs of Hawaii, I was looking into rehabilitation hospitals and clinics across the country, ranging from places like Nebraska to the Bay Area to New York. I knew that I wanted to expose myself to the best learning experience while being in OT school and for me that meant opening my mind to every option out there. While those did not necessarily work out for me at first, the opportunity with Assistance Dogs of Hawaii followed soon thereafter. When one door closes, it just means that there is a better door waiting for you.
2. Allow yourself to make mistakes and learn from them. I am so far from perfect and I know it. The beauty of being a fieldwork student is that it is okay to make mistakes… so long as you learn from them and have a positive attitude about it! Your clinical instructor is there to teach and support you through these learning curves, so don’t be too hard on yourself when you don’t know everything.
3. As much as you teach your patients, let your patients teach you too. I met the most inspiring individuals during my time in Hawaii and I can confidently say that I am a changed person because of them. My patients, my patients’ families and friends, and the people of Hawaii have taught me the true definitions of what it means to be resilient, compassionate, and happy. Despite any hardships they were facing during that time, they always managed to have a huge smile accompanied by a huge heart.
I’d like to end this post with one of my favorite quotes from a patient that I worked with that had ALS. During our last session together, she told me, “Kaitlyn, sometimes life will not treat you kindly. When this happens—because it will—just be strong and be kind back regardless. You will be doing amazing work as an OT, and you will change so many lives whether you know it or not.”
Mahalo Mo and Will Maurer, Dr. Cate Dorr, USC, Assistance Dogs of Hawaii, and the beautiful islands of Hawaii for the adventure of a lifetime.
Aug 28, 2017, by Kaitlyn
The most common question I am asked is how my path to pursue occupational therapy began. I have always found it extremely rewarding to hear the narratives of my peers because we all ended up being where we were meant to be: en route to become occupational therapists. Here is my own narrative.
When thinking about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I had the following criteria: I wanted to be in health care, I wanted to improve the well-being of people, and I wanted to be able to look back on my life and know that I dedicated my life to serving others in the best way that I could.
For my undergraduate studies, I attended the University of Southern California (my dream school since I was a young girl!) but was very much undeclared and undecided. It was not until I took a class under USC’s Occupational Science minor in my sophomore year that I even knew what occupational therapy was. I like to say that my encounter with OT250: Introduction to Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy is the closest I have ever been to “love at first sight.” I was extremely invested in the material that we were learning in that class. I loved the idea of improving people’s lives based on their own personal goals and seeing each person as a whole instead of in parts. To make things even better, I absolutely admired my professor, Dr. Kate Crowley, who I still keep in contact with to this day.
From that point on, the road to becoming an occupational therapist became clearer and clearer. I began to take more classes under the Occupational Science minor, volunteered and shadowed practicing occupational therapists at numerous hospitals and clinics, and worked at a camp organized by health practitioners for disabled and at-risk children. I learned and saw the power of OT in each experience and enjoyed every minute of it.
Occupational therapy is an amazing profession that I wholeheartedly believe in and I am so excited to be able to share my experiences with you here on this blog. I hope that you enjoy the ride with me and that maybe, just maybe, you’ll fall in love with OT just like I did too.