USC Chan Magazine | Spring 2011
Originally published in the Spring 2011 issue of the USC Chan Magazine
When Florence Clark picks a metaphor to describe today’s state of occupational therapy, she means it.
In her 2010 Inaugural Address as the 28th President of the American Occupational Therapy Association, Dr. Clark, Associate Dean and Professor at the USC Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, unveiled what she has since being calling Occupational Therapy in High Definition — ‘OT in HD’. It is a metaphor for a vision of the future of occupational therapy that, like a high-definition television screen, is contrasting and vibrant enough to form a cohesive wide-screen picture, but clear and sharp enough to zoom in to appreciate the individual details. Just as the resolution of an HDTV increases as many pixels move together in unison, so too, she believes, will the power and visibility of occupational therapy grow as individual occupational therapy practitioners begin embracing their own ‘pixel power’.
The metaphor of OT in HD, and the concept of occupational therapists exercising their own ‘pixel power’, has taken the occupational therapy profession by storm during the past year. This includes the many unique ways in which USC Trojan occupational therapists — innovative professionals, inspiring leaders, expert professors and driven students alike — are using their own pixel power to push the profession toward the 2017 Centennial Vision.
Meet these following seven powerful Trojan pixels, hear their own stories in their own words, and consider how you too can unleash the power.
TERRI CHEW NISHIMURA M.A.(‘85), OTR/L, is moving occupational therapy into high definition through her dedication to civic participation
I was a pre-med student at U.C. Davis and then was pre-Physical Therapy. My degree is in Human Development and I needed to do an internship for one of my courses, and because Easter Seals in Sacramento did not have any PT internships available, they offered me a spot in the OT department. I was desperate, so I took it. The OTs were using a sensory integration approach. My comment was “you get paid to play with kids? That’s what I’m going to do!” After that, I changed my career choice to OT.
Once I chose to pursue OT as a profession, the icing on the cake for me was being able to take USC OT610 and train under Dr. A. Jean Ayres. She was amazingly brilliant and would also go down the scooter board ramp with the kids up until she passed away. She was a researcher and therapist but she was also my role model and mentor.
We all have strengths and weaknesses, and my strength is meeting and connecting with people and creating fun and memorable experiences. 25 years ago, OT wasn’t much of a recognizable or understandable profession. Dr. Ayres especially did not always receive the support and recognition for her pioneering work in sensory integration. I would say my individual pixel is to go out to groups that are unaware of occupational therapy and to infuse OT into what they are doing. These unique worlds have included the business community (Chamber of Commerce), public policy community (in my role as Commissioner on L.A. County’s Policy Roundtable for Child Care), and legislative community (by hosting meet-and-greets and fundraising for candidates, and approaching local elected officials to serve on our Honorary Advisory Board).
“My pixel is to go out to groups that are unaware of occupational therapy and infuse OT into what they are doing.”
In 2017, occupational therapy will be a powerful and widely-recognized profession, through policy, advocacy and innovative, outside-the-box thinking. My love and passion are sensory integration, and thnking about ways to use these concepts in a variety of ways, including direct impact in early care and education, school furniture, toy design and even greater diffusion into public policy.
I was just appointed by the City of Torrance to serve on the city’s Centennial committee to plan the yearlong celebration, and I have already seen how this can be an opportunity for therapists to work closely with city community leaders. In 2017, I see myself being even more involved in direct legislative activities. Occupational therapists need to know who the decision makers are, and make sure that we are sitting at the same table!
GRACE HO M.P.H., M.A.(‘82), B.S.(‘81), OTR/L, is pushing occupational therapy into high definition by encouraging practitioners to pursue and enter non-traditional power circles
In 1985, as a fresh graduate from the USC Occupational Therapy Master’s program and the UCLA Master’s of Public Health program, and a new occupational therapist practicing in the L.A. area, my father back in Japan was diagnosed with cancer. It was devastating. Of course, I needed to fly back to Japan ASAP to tend to him after surgery. But when I was denied a leave of absence from my hospital OT position, I quit my job right away and flew back to my native home. I spent many months in Japan with family, though when I finally returned to the states to re-enter OT practice, I had a difficult time finding an employer wanting to take a novice practitioner who had been out of practice for many months.
So I began exploring jobs outside of the health care world. Being bilingual in English and Japanese, I believed my language skills could be put to good use somewhere. Soon thereafter, I secured a position as an executive assistant to the President of a Fortune 500 Company! Ever since, I have always worked with C-level executives and government dignitaries. Not exactly my original vision for my career in hospital-based stroke rehabilitation!
“By becoming an international best-selling Business/Self-help author and motivational speaker, I have found a unique way to bring OT to the business world.”
In the decades since, I’ve built upon my different personal and career experiences, and have found exciting ways to bring occupational therapy into the business world, and vice versa. I am a successful life coach and author, and am always looking for ways to incorporate OT concepts like balance and wellness with Eastern ideas, like Feng Shui. I am looking forward to helping fulfill the “globally connected and diverse profession” dimension of the Centennial Vision.
Grace Ho has published 7 books in Japan, 1 book in Korea, and in January 2011, released her first book in English in the U.S. entitled “One Minute Feng Shui for Prosperity”. The book has already reached the #2 spot on Amazon.com’s Kindle Reader “Global Marketing” category bestseller list, and secured the #1 spots on Japanese Amazon.com.jp bestseller lists in the “Business/Investment” and “Nonfiction/Economy” categories.
SHAWN PHIPPS Ph.D. (Cand.), M.S., B.S.(‘97), OTR/L, FAOTA, is spearheading occupational therapy’s presence in California’s health care marketplace
After graduating from USC with my Bachelor’s degree, I had the pleasure of beginning my occupational therapy career at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center. There I had the unique opportunity to work with the most amazing patients, families and therapists, across the continuum of care, for over a decade. It was at Rancho that I learned to always strive for excellence in my clinical practice with survivors of traumatic brain injury, stroke, spinal cord injury and other neurological conditions.
I later had the opportunity to strive for excellence in my professional leadership skills in clinical and administrative supervision. These experiences and my own desire for continuous improvement prepared me for my current role as Regional Manager for California Children’s Services Medical Therapy Program in the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
“The most important part of leadership is inspiring others to also be a part of the movement, so really, my ‘pixel’ is inseparable from the collective team I have surrounded myself with.”
It was early in my career at Rancho that I also discovered my passion for teaching and service to the profession. Experiences there inspired me to commit to serving on the Board of Directors of the Occupational Therapy Association of California for ten years, prior to serving as the current President of OTAC, now in my second consecutive term of office, through 2012.
Being a powerful pixel, to me, means the bar for success is set very high. I have always pushed myself to the highest level of performance as possible, whether as a clinician or a leader. Realizing the AOTA Centennial Vision will depend on ensuring that occupational therapy secures a more powerful and widely recognized place in the health care marketplace. My OTAC presidency has primarily focused on creating opportunities for occupational therapists to achieve power in legislative arenas and ensure that the care we provide our clients gets its due recognition.
I cannot believe that we are only six years away from 2017 and the celebration of our profession’s 100th birthday! I hope that my individual ‘pixel’ will contribute to our collective realization of this vision. I am looking forward to leading, inspiring and promoting the spirit of excellence that has been so important in my professional life. And then, in 2018, we can create an even bolder vision for the future of occupational therapy in the next 100 years!
JOHN MARGETIS B.A.(‘10), OTS, has the personal investment and leadership skills necessary for building a high-definition profession
I was first introduced to occupational therapy as a young child at the Child Amputee and Prosthetic Project (CAPP) at Shriner’s Hospital for Children, in Los Angeles. I was born in Taiwan with bilateral partial amputations of both hands and both feet, so as soon as I came to L.A., I was fitted with prosthetics. I worked with two fantastic occupational therapists over many years, and they helped me to develop the skills to function independently, whether that means using my prosthetics or not.
“My early and prolonged exposure to occupational therapy has given me a deep personal investment in, and gratitude for, the profession.”
It’s a little ironic, but despite being a client of OT for years, I did not choose to pursue an education and career in OT until very late in my undergraduate years. During my final undergrad semester at USC, when I was wrapping up an honors thesis in sociology, I enrolled in one of Dr. Kate Crowley’s occupational science minor courses. After only two weeks in that class, I realized I had stumbled into exactly what I had been looking for all along! I quickly dropped out of the minor course to enroll in the Bachelor’s-to-Master’s progressive program.
In building a powerful profession, I think my unique personal experiences as a consumer of occupational therapy, as well as the leadership skills that I have had the chance to develop here at USC, will make my ‘pixel’ shine brightly. I have a deep personal investment, mixed with gratitude, that has made me willing to seek out leadership roles. I want to not only promote and develop my skills as a clinician, but also to promote the entire profession as we get near the 100th birthday!
CARLY ROGERS M.A.(‘04), OTR/L, is leveraging her own occupational interests to develop innovative programming for a very deserving population
As a student in the professional program at USC, I developed the Ocean Therapy program for our community-based programming course. I have been a Los Angeles County Lifeguard since 1994 and been a Certified Emergency Medical Technician since 1999, so developing a program that combined my love for the water with purposeful therapeutic outcomes was a natural fit. The Ocean Therapy program is designed to facilitate improved self-esteem and self-efficacy in individuals with disabilities through the adapted sport of surfing.
After graduating from USC with my Master’s degree, I began working at Pediatric Therapy Network in Torrance. That very same month, a long-time friend and fellow L.A. County Ocean Lifeguard, Jimmy Miller, passed away. Two months later, Jimmy’s younger brother Jeff Miller approached me about the Ocean Therapy program I had created at USC. After several months of planning, I ran the first Ocean Therapy session with the newly-formed Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation. In June 2005, we ran a total of 5 Ocean Therapy sessions, and in 2006, we added two more youth groups for a total of 12 therapy sessions.
“My pixel is being able to combine my personal life passion of surfing and ocean-related sports into a therapeutic intervention that supports the healing of the very individuals it serves.”
In 2006, the JMMF got to talking about bringing the Ocean Therapy program to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton to surf with injured and rehabilitating Armed Forces personnel. It took an entire year to negotiate, but we finally had our first Ocean Therapy session in October 2007 at Camp Pendleton. It was such an amazing experience to watch the Wounded Warriors get in the water! And in 2009, we began running another program with the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration Domiciliary. My student-developed project is now a year round program at Camp Pendleton!
My pixel power is going to be dedicated to increasing the power and visibility of occupational therapy and occupation-based programs in military health care. The more I continue working with this population, the more I want occupational therapy to become undeniably recognized as a fundamental intervention in mental health services for combat veterans. Roles, habits, and routines are all aspects of occupational engagement that are impacted by combat and pose fundamental challenges to succesfully transitioning back to civilian life.
BILL WONG B.S., OTS, is bringing his unique perspectives and non-stop enthusiasm to expand future horizons of occupational therapy
I was born in Hong Kong, and came to the U.S. in 1996. I finished my Bachelor’s degree in Statistics in 2007. But I struggled to find work for a year after graduating, and my mom, who is a school community coordinator and had interacted with school-based OTs, actually suggested occupational therapy might be a good field for me to consider.
But my academic career started a bit rocky. Just before summer session classes began, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. It was tough for me because I did not have any time to cope while trying to handle the workload of graduate school. Also, because autism in general is an almost unheard of diagnosis for people aspiring to work in occupational therapy, I had a few doubts about whether I could become a licensed OT.
“I now realize I have a unique viewpoint on the subject, and have become a bridge for consumers with autism and OT students and practitioners.”
But over the last few years, I have literally had a 180-degree turn in my viewpoint on how I see individuals with disabilities. I now possess a unique perspective in OT regarding autism. A lot of people in OT have formed their perspectives on autism from being a friend, family member, colleague, or clinician. However, not only am I able to use what I learned in class to help the autism community as a practitioner, but I also see myself being able to relay the messages I hear from within the autism community back to OT students and practitioners. After all, during the process of learning about my diagnosis, I found that some consumers with autism might either be comfortable in being alone, or making friends with other consumers. I have become a bright and vibrant pixel in the fact that I can be a facilitator beteen autism consumers and occupational therapy students and practitioners.
BONNIE NAKASUJI O.T.D.(‘08), M.A.(‘04), B.S.(‘73), OTR/L, is going global to ensure that occupational therapy is internationally represented
Growing up, the career choices for women were secretaries, teachers and nurses. But when I found this “medical field” that focused on helping people recover using arts and crafts, and then moved out to California from New Jersey to take the Introduction to Occupational Therapy class at Los Angeles City College’s Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant program, I had fallen in love.
I first went to Ghana as part of an evangelical program to help those in need for specialized mobility equipment. But I soon discovered that in Africa, people with disabilities are considered cursed, are disowned by their families, and children with disabilities are often left alone out in the bush to die.
“When I first went to Ghana, West Africa, in 2003, it was in my role as a seating specialist to help distribute wheelchairs to people with disabilities. However, I soon discovered that the greatest barrier is not physical access, but social access.”
In 2004, construction work began on a boarding school for children with disabilities, funded by a 75-year old American woman with cerebral palsy who was heartbroken knowing that Ghanian children would not be educated in a society that shuns disability. When the school opened in 2005, I soon arrived with 10 USC occupational therapy students for Level I Fieldwork Education. In March 2011, the seventh team of USC occupational therapy students and I went to Ghana to serve the 39 children who now attend the school. Because there are no occupational therapists currently practicing in the entire country of Ghana, this annual trip has become very important not only to the school, but to the local community and families who need therapy consultation or specialized equipment.
I see my ‘pixel’ becoming brighter through the process of learning how to self-reflect about my own assumptions, perceptions and biases in an effort to become increasingly culturally sensitive and culturally contextual in my work in Ghana. One of my goals for the USC students who come to Ghana for Fieldwork is that they not only return back home with pediatric therapy skills, but more importantly, they learn the essential skills of self-reflection needed to embrace every future person with whom they will work with the fullest cultural sensitivity, and an openness to listening and partnering with their ‘patients’.