Student Ambassador Blog
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!
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 and 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.
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.
However, there was one particular session that I shadowed that really confirmed the decision to pursue OT for me. I was at a pediatric clinic and the OT I was shadowing was working on fine motor skills with a young girl. When I first met the young girl, she said her main goal was to be able to play “princess dress up” with her father and put on her favorite princess dress that happened to have a row of buttons along the back of the garment. After months of therapy, I watched that same young girl put that dress over her pre-existing outfit and button the buttons she once could not manipulate before. The dad simply turned and said to me, “I knew my princess was there all along.” It was in this moment and the culmination of all the other moments that I realized that OT was the one for me (like I said, it really was love at first sight!).
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.