Well hello again! The blog has looked a little bare these past few weeks, as the Master’s students were away on their leadership capstone externships. A couple weekends ago, I returned from Australia, feeling joyful and jetlagged
The faculty at Griffith University were welcoming right from the airport and facilitated an amazing learning opportunity throughout our two weeks in Goldcoast.
Along with five other classmates, I toured clinical sites, attended classes, visited fieldwork placements, and led presentations. To become fully immersed in Aussie OT, we visited public and private hospitals, a children’s hospital, a nursing home, a pediatric clinic, a community-based mental health foundation, and a role-emerging site. It was enlightening to hear about OT from leaders in each of these places and share our own experiences from fieldwork in similar settings. Many of the buildings were recently renovated, so I was impressed by the colorful and modern designs!
Overall, I was pleased to realize OT is more similar than different abroad. The profession represents the same ideals of holistic, occupation-based, client-centered care in any hemisphere. However, my classmates and I noted some differences within the education and healthcare systems. In Australia, OT is a Bachelor’s degree, while a Master’s degree is required in the US. However, undergraduate education is more focused toward a career in Australia, as determined by an exit exam taken at the end of high school which plays a role in determining students’ future paths.
USC students presenting to Griffith students about leadership and professionalism within OT in the US
Now for the fun stuff! (Not that learning about OT isn’t fun )
We held koalas:
We pet kangaroos:
We walked along the coastline to see the beautiful beaches:
We were total tourists at the Sydney Opera House:
We snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef:
...and we became even more enthusiastic about occupational therapy! I would encourage every student to consider planning an amazing and meaningful externship. Click on the bold names to learn more about Global Initiatives and the USC Summer Occupational Therapy Immersion.
As prior blog posts have mentioned, the final semester of the program is full of unique electives. These classes range from lecture-based courses in advanced practice areas to research involvement to hands-on experiential opportunities. After reading over all of the course descriptions, I was most excited about this last category, which includes a class called Autism in the Community.
Despite keeping an open mind throughout the program, I have always wanted to work in pediatrics. I initially became interested in occupational therapy after learning about the role in schools helping children with developmental disabilities. Growing up, I used to visit the special education classroom during lunch to play games with the students in the class. It was a great way to relax during the day and become friends with new people!
Now, as I finish up my Master’s degree, I have found myself coming full circle. This past Friday, I visited a nonpublic school for children on the autism spectrum and spent two hours bonding with them over board games. To be clear, I played Connect 4 for graduate course credit—living the dream! Seriously, I had so much fun meeting this class of amazing students. Now that we have met the students, my classmates and I will each be assigned our own buddy from the special education classroom. In the coming weeks, we will take weekly field trips with our buddies to the California Science Center. Not only do these trips allow our buddies to learn and apply their science curriculum, but being in the community provides valuable opportunities to practice social skills and regulation. Reciprocally, my classmates and I gain hands-on experience working with adolescents with autism—in pretty much the most fun way possible
As part of OT 540: Leadership Capstone, one of the final required courses of the Master’s program, all students embark on a two-week long externship experience. During this course, students learn about the many skills that contribute to being a leader. Various facets of leadership include developing strong personality traits, collaborating on interdisciplinary teams, joining professional organizations, and understanding a profession’s role within a wider job market. In California, occupational therapy is represented by the state organization Occupational Therapy Association of California, as well as at the national level with the American Occupational Therapy Association, both of which advocate on behalf of occupational therapists by protecting the scope of practice, supporting research, and publicizing the profession.
In addition to weekly questionnaires and a public policy discussions, the main project of the class is centered on the Leadership Externship. Different from an internship, an externship is a short-term immersion in a new experience. Externships emphasize active observation, in which exposure to new opportunities leads to the development of new ideas.
One of the greatest features of this assignment is that it is student-driven, meaning it is up to you where you want to go, what you want to learn, and how you will learn it! Students develop their own learning objectives and shape the externship process around meeting them. Because the class is focused on leadership, the ultimate goal is to learn about management, advocacy, and professionalism.
One of the other greatest features of this assignment is that the externship dates are scheduled right before Spring Break, giving students the opportunity to travel for an additional third week. The combination of student-driven work and three weeks off from classes allows many students to complete externships out-of-state—or even internationally! Global Initiatives, the department within the Chan Division focused on international connections, organizes multiple Student Exchange Programs. Through these programs, students complete the externship at partnered universities to observe occupational therapy programs at different universities and experience the field of occupational therapy in a different country!
In just over two weeks, I will embark on my externship to Griffith University in Australia, so stay tuned for travel updates…
Before deciding to enter a graduate program, you may have asked yourself, “Can I be an OT?” I may not know you too well yet, but I have a feeling the answer is yes! While a Master’s degree in occupational therapy is required to practice, many professionals arrive at this destination from vastly different origins.
My path was a bit more direct as I entered USC directly in the Bachelor’s to Master’s program. However, in the effort to gain a well-rounded undergraduate education, I also pursued a major in psychology and a minor in nutrition & health promotion. By studying these diverse fields, I feel enabled to blend multiple perspectives to inform my future practice as an occupational therapist.
Occupational therapy stresses the importance of client-centered practice and treating the whole person. Because each OT exudes a unique therapeutic style, one’s practice can be informed by his or her background. An OT with a background in business might differ from one who studied sociology, but they can both provide valuable treatment for their clients. Further, these varied perspectives allow therapists to share knowledge and exchange ideas with each other, which improves therapists’ clinical reasoning and the profession as a whole!
When starting graduate school, housing is a big consideration. I have moved each year throughout my time at USC and have been fortunate enough to live by both the University Park Campus and the Health Sciences Campus. Everyone has different priorities, but for me, I specifically sought out places that came furnished, were located near campus, and created a welcoming environment for students.
The OT House is a convenient option full of future occupational therapists—what could be better?! Despite its name, it is an apartment building, not a house. It is located near UPC with a tram stop right outside. Students usually take the morning tram to commute to HSC, which makes it manageable to live without a car. A portion of the OT House is dedicated as a special interest housing community for occupational therapy students. The recreation room on the second floor is home to Engage, a student organization focused on engaging community youth in meaningful occupations. Because it is managed by USC Housing, the rental cycle aligns with the semester schedule of the OT program.
This year, I live in Currie Hall on HSC, which was just built last year. The facilities are new and the location is incredibly convenient; I can see the OT building from my balcony! Complete with a pool, hot tub, gym, and fire pit, Currie Hall is the place to be. Don’t worry parents—there is a study room, too, and it offers free printing! Aside from all the amenities, I especially appreciate the opportunity to live in a community full of health science students. Many of my OT classmates live just down the hall (or next door!), but I have also met students from other professional programs, as well. In fact, my roommates consist of an occupational therapy student, a medical student, and a gerontology student. We have learned from each other and become close friends as a result of living together.
These are just two student housing options, but there are surely more out there. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or the other ambassadors!