It seems as if I just started the program yesterday, but here we are in the final semester preparing for the comprehensive exam, graduation, fieldwork, and then the national board exam! Woah! But before I get to all that, first I get to enjoy my final semester as a Master’s student by taking electives! This is one of the unique things that USC has to offer because this is our chance to “specialize” within a “generalist” degree. What does that really mean? We get to pick additional coursework to take based on our interested area of practice, so we could “specialize” in pediatrics, wellness, rehabilitation, etc. One week in, I am very happy with the elective options I have chosen because it is really information that I want to know more about and find myself very engaged in the reading and can relate it to future practice.
But one course I am taking is actually a course I more or less made up myself! We are given the opportunity to complete an Independent Study or Independent Directed Research. I have mentioned in my previous blogs about a project I started last summer while I was in my Level II Fieldwork at a community based mental health wellness center. During my time there, the site identified a need for a group intervention for adults with ADHD. So I hit the ground running, researching different interventions that are currently out there and nothing seemed to fit just right, so I made my own. Throughout the summer, I spent time writing, rewriting, researching, reading, and presenting all the material I had found, and by the end I had the first draft of a facilitator and participant manual for a group intervention for Adults with ADHD on time management and organization skills. I would not have been so successful if it hadn’t been for the mentorship of the faculty at USC who guided me through the process and encouraged me to further develop the program during my fall course “Occupation-Centered Programs for the Community.” During this time, I revised the manual again and continued to research what was currently out there. I even had the opportunity to attend a conference by the Allen Cognitive Network where they highlighted some current interventions in time management. So this leads me to my independent study! I will continue the development and revisions of the manuals as well as be presenting at the Occupational Therapy Association of California (OTAC) Spring Symposium. I am so excited to pursue this opportunity and feel so lucky to have a program and Division that supports me in my interests and academic pursuits! Occupational therapy is a broad, diverse field that has many niches so there are constantly opportunities to pursue a passion of yours that you didn’t even know existed! Follow your passion
Last week we finished up our Level I Fieldwork opportunities so I thought I would take some time and give you a little bit more background about what these experiences look like One of the unique things about the program here at USC is that fieldwork experience is built into our coursework within the Immersions. As students, we are placed in 3 different Level I Fieldworks, which align with which immersion you are in - Adult Rehabilitation, Mental Health, or Pediatrics. The first two fieldwork opportunities occur in our first year of the program. I started in the Mental Health immersion, so my first Level I was at a Community-Based Mental Health Wellness Center. This was a very interesting experience as it was my second semester of graduate school (can’t forget about summer term!) and there was no occupational therapist at my setting. I was very nervous about not having someone to shadow but part of the experience is just learning about the population you are working with. I was fortunate enough to chat with individuals and hear their life stories as well as lead groups and meet with individuals one-on-one to facilitate lifestyle changes. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity and thought it was a great learning experience! The next semester I was in the Pediatric Immersion and was placed at a local school district. This was fantastic for me since I hope to go into School-Based Practice. I loved being able to work with the children and plan creative activities for them to do. I learned a lot about working with multiple children at one time, planning therapeutic obstacles, and creating educational games. Being in a school district is also a great opportunity to learn about interdisciplinary teams as you work with classroom teachers, physical therapists, speech therapists, psychologists, among others. Lucky for me, this experience confirmed by desire to work in this area of occupational therapy! My last Level I experience was for the Adult Rehabilitation immersion, and was at an outpatient therapy clinic, specifically working with hands. I learned a lot of what it takes to “prep” muscles for therapy, such as why you would use heat or ice. In addition, I learned about different types of exercises and stretches you can do for the joints and muscles of the fingers, hand, wrist, forearm, and elbow. Overall, this was a great opportunity for me to learn about an area of occupational therapy that I didn’t know anything about.
In addition to Level I Fieldwork opportunities, we also are placed at two Level II Fieldwork sites. The first one occurs between your first and second year in the program, after you have completed two Level I experiences. My first Level II was at a Community-Based Mental Health Wellness Center (yes- same type of setting as my Level I if you’re still with me!). I pursued this opportunity as it was a setting I very much enjoyed and thought I had a lot more to learn about! And boy was I right! The Level II experience is for 12 weeks full-time. I was able to lead groups, meet one-on-one with clients, facilitate a workshop on time management, and conduct a relaxation workshop. I was given the chance to create my own experience and sought out many educational opportunities! One included the beginning development of a group intervention for adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but stay tuned for more on this later! I have yet to complete my second Level II fieldwork, but am excited for what experiences that will bring.
Fieldwork experiences are great chances to learn more about the field of occupational therapy and explore different settings that you may not have done before. USC is unique in that we have 5 opportunities throughout our program and they are all different experiences! Everyone’s is a little bit different, but they are all great!!!
One of the fantastic things about being in Southern California is getting to enjoy the sun all year long! I love being able to walk outside, go for hikes, and just enjoy the sunshine
Why you might ask? Well… I am from a very tiny town in Northern Minnesota. So while I’m out here soaking up the sun, my family and friends back home are fighting with 1 foot of snow and 20 degree weather! Yup - you read that right! It’s that cold, did someone say Polar Vortex??? Needless to say, I am thankful to be in Los Angeles! So how did I get here….let me tell you about my journey from a small town to the big city!
My pups and I on our 2100 mile journey to California!
A few years ago, I decided I was ready for a change from my job working with patients and assisting them through the process of making the appointment, preparation for, and getting the results. I loved working in the healthcare field, but I didn’t feel like I was actually making a difference in their life. More so, I was just helping them along; but I wanted to be apart of the process in their journey of getting better and living life to the fullest! So I started researching different healthcare professions. I came across your standard: pharmacist (tried that, next), nurse (shots, no thanks), doctor (length of school, meh), psychologist (hhmmm..), physical therapist (anatomy, too much), occupational therapy (TELL ME MORE). As I began researching occupational therapy, I just kept thinking to myself - this is it, this is me, this is what I’ve been waiting for! So I went to the AOTA webpage and started looking for schools. I knew I needed a change in my life, so what better change than to head to the west coast for graduate school! Then it was just figuring out all the prerequisites and requirements for each school and begin the application process. I was really going to do this!!! I took two courses that summer that I needed to fulfill the prereqs, and then planned a trip to visit a few colleges in California, obviously one being the University of Southern California! I fell in love! It was better than I could have dreamed, everyone was so great and USC had so much to offer! As soon as I returned home I began working on my applications and OTCAS. My goal was to submit them all and be finished by October 30th, since USC had an early deadline of November 30th and said to submit 4 weeks ahead of time! I’m happy to say I met my goal, so next was the waiting game!!! How long could it really take….let me tell you - awhile!!! Even though I applied to several schools in California and Washington, I had already ranked them in my head, but still I wasn’t sure who I would hear from first. I waited…and waited…and waited, and then finally on Christmas Eve, I got home from work and checked my mail…and there it was…an envelope from USC. Now if you all watch tv shows, they always say you want the “big” envelopes, because “small” ones are rejection letters. Mine was a small envelope. Shakingly, I opened the letter, and much to my relief I had been accepted!!! Overcome with feelings of joy, excitement, determination, and fear, I didn’t know what to think! Was I really ready to move across the country, all by myself, where I didn’t know anyone, and pursue my dream? Fast forward a few months, I flew out to California again to find a place to live and attend the admitted student reception and knew this was absolutely the place I wanted to be! I was so excited to begin this journey.
With all that being said, I have never been happier with a decision I made. It has been one of the best thus far in my life! So never think a dream is too big, or too difficult! You can do it! And be successful! Take a risk, make a change, live your life to the fullest! That’s what we tell our patients to do, isn’t it? You can do it too! Dream big! I did
One of the many unique opportunities you have here at USC, is the chance to take elective courses during the spring of your 2nd year. This is the time where you can gain additional education on certain topics you are interested in, explore new interests, or build upon knowledge already gained in the program. Even though when we complete the program we are considered “generalist” OTs, you can “specialize” your electives. For example, if you are interested in Pediatrics, perhaps you will take a course in Early Intervention, School-Based Practice, and Sensory Integration Theory. Or if your focus intends to be Adult Rehabilitation, you may take Enhancing Motor Control for Occupation, Hand Rehabilitation, and Occupational Therapy in Acute Care. If Mental Health and Wellness is your niche you could focus on Lifestyle Redesign and Therapeutic Communication for the Healthcare Practitioner! There are so many combinations of courses you can take! And if you are someone who is interested in all of the above, that’s fine too! You can take any of the above and more! It is a great opportunity to continue to explore the field of occupational therapy and all it has to offer.
For myself personally, I hope to go into school-based pediatrics, therefore I am taking School-Based Practice, Sensory Integration Theory and Sensory Integration Interventions. The latter two classes fulfill part of the requirements for the Sensory Integration Certification Program. Through the certification program, I will gain knowledge in the foundations of sensory integration, education on administering the Sensory Integration and Praxis Test (SIPT) and interpreting the results as well as ideas for intervention to implement sensory strategies. I am really excited to start my electives in January and feel lucky that I have the opportunity to further explore my interests in pediatrics!
Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend The Occupational Therapy Association of California (OTAC) Annual Conference. It was my first OT Conference and I had a blast! I participated in the student track, which I really enjoyed because we had a variety of sessions throughout the days, some focusing on stress management, traumatic brain injury, autism spectrum disorder, and fine motor tools.
Since I want to go into school-based pediatrics, there were several sessions that I thoroughly enjoyed! The presenters had a lot of great ideas for tools and activities to do with children. One of the sessions was about putting the “Fun” in “Functional,” insert Therapy Fun Zone!!! They showed us many different activities we could work on to target sensory systems, hand strength, grasp, and visual skills. Another interactive session that focused on fun tools for kids was by Mama OT. What was great about this session, is she provided us with a lot of home items into creative items. The creator of Mama OT was an USC Occupational Therapy Graduate who saw the overlap of being a new mom and a new occupational therapist and wanted to share with others! One thing I love about the field of occupational therapy is that people are always willing to help others do better in their career. It’s great to follow blogs, facebook, or Pinterest boards to see what other occupational therapist are up to. Can you guess what we did with the items below?
Other great aspects of the OTAC conference included the social and mingling aspects. There were evening gatherings as well as exhibit halls that allowed us to interact with other occupational therapists and occupational therapy students. I personally enjoyed chatting with other OT students and comparing/contrasting what we were currently learning in class. And did I mention all the free stuff we got??? Pens, reusable bags, pencil grips, tools, etc., which all can be used to promote occupational therapy! Lastly, I can’t believe I almost forgot—to check out all the awesome pictures from the weekend, search #otacconf2014 on instagram. OTs use a lot of social media, and they had a competition using the hashtag. Overall, I really enjoyed the conference and see the benefit not only educationally, but personally as well. It excites me even more about becoming an occupational therapist and being out in the field soon!