University of Southern California
University of Southern California
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
Redesigning Lives Globally
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USC Chan launches online MA degree program

, in General News

New part-time program looks to advance domestic and international therapy communities

By Mike McNulty

Current post-professional master's student Jennifer Bermudez tries out the online learning technology with daughter Mia. (Photo/Hong Le)

Current post-professional master’s student Jennifer Bermudez tries out the online learning technology with daughter Mia. (Photo/Hong Le)

The USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy is launching a new online program aimed at busy practicing occupational therapists who want to enhance their clinical competencies and advance their career development.

Beginning in January 2017, the USC Online Post-Professional Master of Arts Degree in Occupational Therapy will use state-of-the-art instructional methods including video conferencing tools and digital learning materials to deliver an exclusively online educational experience that upholds the quality, standards and reputation synonymous with USC occupational therapy.

“This is a landmark moment for the USC Chan Division, as we are now able to bring the best of USC occupational therapy education directly from Los Angeles to the worldwide community of occupational therapists” said Myka Winder, assistant clinical professor and the Chan Division’s director of online education. “No matter where in the world you might be practicing occupational therapy, as long as you can get online, USC Chan can get to you.”

The program is specifically designed to meet the needs of both seasoned American occupational therapists, who may be looking to reinvigorate their knowledge base or career trajectories, as well as international-based clinicians for whom a master’s degree signifies the pinnacle of occupational therapy expertise within their respective countries. To date, the USC post-professional master’s degree program has only been offered as in-person, on-campus program. With this new online, part-time option for earning the post-professional master’s degree in occupational therapy, students no longer need to suspend their clinical careers and relocate to Southern California in order to earn a USC degree.

“I am so excited that we are now providing an online degree option for practicing therapists to take their skills to the next level,” said clinical professor Erna Blanche, who is the director of the post-professional master’s degree program. “This is truly the best of both worlds — an excellent education with the convenience of an online, part-time learning format.”

As part of its preparation in developing the new online program, USC Chan has invested in a full-time instructional designer, who is an expert in the theory- and research-based processes of designing and implementing curricula and course materials for optimal learning. The program has also invested in the digital infrastructure needed to seamlessly deliver excellent online education such as Zoom Video Conferencing for live sessions and Articulate Storyline for interactive lecture slides.

“For nearly 75 years, USC has been at the forefront of innovation in educational programming and curricula,” said associate clinical professor Julie McLaughlin Gray, who also serves as USC Chan’s associate chair of curriculum and faculty. “This online program not only builds on that legacy but is a significant step towards the next 75 years of USC occupational therapy education.”

The USC Chan Division has an unparalleled record of innovation in occupational therapy degree programs. USC inaugurated the nation’s first post-professional degree program in occupational therapy in 1947, the nation’s first two-year, entry-level master’s degree in occupational therapy in 1962 and, in 1989, created the world’s first doctoral program in occupational science.

Eligible students must hold a baccalaureate degree in occupational therapy with a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0 from either an accredited college or university or from a program approved by the World Federation of Occupational Therapy®. Because the program is delivered entirely online, there are no additional on-campus attendance requirements in order for students to graduate.

To learn more about the new USC Online Post-Professional Master of Arts Degree in Occupational Therapy program, visit


Crafting a kinder chemo

, in General News

How changes in the environment might improve experiences during outpatient infusions

By Mike McNulty/USC News

A USC researcher suggests that settings in which chemo is delivered should be controlled. (Photo/iStock)

A USC researcher suggests that settings in which chemo is delivered should be controlled. (Photo/iStock)

There’s no such thing as peaceful chemotherapy.

The anti-cancer drugs that attack the body’s dangerous cancer cells cannot discriminate from its healthy ones, causing immediate side effects such as nausea, fatigue, difficulty breathing and pain, not to mention long-term side effects including hair loss, organ damage and cognitive changes.

But what should be more purposefully controlled, according to USC researcher Leah Stein Duker, are the settings in which chemotherapy is delivered to patients.

“Multiple people in my life have been diagnosed with, and treated for, cancer,” says Duker, a research assistant professor at the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. “When I was sitting with them during chemotherapy infusions, I couldn’t help but observe how aspects of the environment — fluorescent lights, incessant noise, uncomfortable chairs and pervasive feelings of boredom and social isolation — all seemed to increase stress and anxiety.”

Those observations come naturally to Duker. For the past seven years, she has been on a National Institutes of Health-funded research team studying the effects of sensory adaptations in the dental environment on physiological and behavioral stress in children with autism spectrum disorders during dental cleanings. The team’s promising findings suggest that environmental changes do indeed improve the dental care experience, and now Duker and her colleagues are investigating how and why this sensory adaptation intervention works.

“What if we could also make cancer treatment, chemotherapy infusions specifically, a little bit better,” Duker wonders. “What would make the infusion experience a kinder, gentler one?”

Raising awareness

September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, a special initiative to highlight the types of cancer that largely affect children. About 10,380 children in the United States under the age of 15 will be diagnosed with cancer in 2016, according to statistics from the American Cancer Society. Because survival rates have dramatically increased during the last 20 years due to significant advances in diagnosis and treatment, more researchers are now focusing on the specific challenges faced during and following treatment.

While the types of “tailored environmental modifications” that Duker studies are in place at a handful of cancer treatment centers in Arizona and are utilized during rehabilitation at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, their effects on pediatric populations during chemotherapy infusions have never been scientifically assessed — until now.

Thanks to funding from the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and a USC Zumberge Fund award which helps young faculty launch their research careers, Duker has begun a new research project to determine exactly what physical, sensory and social environmental factors are predictors of stress in children undergoing outpatient chemotherapy infusions and in their caregivers.

By conducting interviews and gathering physiological and behavioral data from children, their caregivers, and healthcare providers at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Infusion Center, the Clinical and Translational Research Scholar hopes she can identify what environmental factors cause or alleviate stress during infusions. Duker will then use that data as a foundation to develop an intervention that modifies environmental factors during chemotherapy infusions in order to decrease children’s and caregiver’s behavioral, physiological, and psychosocial stress.

By one day creating an intervention that offers customizable adaptations which reduce stress during outpatient infusions, Duker hopes her research can improve both the experience of chemotherapy and short- and long-term health outcomes.

“I truly believe that environmental adaptations have the potential to positively impact the experiences of people during any number of different stressful health care procedures,” says Duker. “Cancer is awful, but treatment doesn’t have to be.”

A dog among doctors: Health center’s newest staffer is man’s best friend

, in General News, Student News

Meet Professor Beauregard Tirebiter, the first full-time university facility dog in the country: He’s got office hours and everything

By Joanna Clay/USC News

USC recently added a new staff member. And you could easily say he’s the furriest.

Professor Beauregard Tirebiter — dubbed “Beau” for short — is a 2-year-old black Goldendoodle. He makes USC the first and only university in the United States with a full-time facility dog on staff, according to the Office for Wellness and Health Promotion at the USC Engemann Student Health Center.

A facility dog is similar to a therapy dog, but rather than being trained to work periodically with individuals, he’s trained to work with a multitude of people on a regular basis in a facility such as a hospital, school or nursing home.

Beau earned his credential after extensive training with the Canine Angels Service Teams in Oregon. At USC he’ll be called a “wellness dog” and he takes residence on the second floor at Engemann, where paw print signs lead students to his location.

He has office hours and business cards, but he has trouble handing out the latter.

A couple of years ago, the Trojan League of Los Angeles, an alumni group, donated funds toward student wellness. After some deliberation by Engemann officials, Beau seemed like the right choice.

“We had such a positive reception from students from the visiting therapy dogs and also looking at the literature and specifically the benefits of human-canine interaction,” said Amanda Vanni, his handler and a health promotion specialist at the center.

Beau Tirebiter

Professor Beauregard Tirebiter (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Calm and well-being

Research suggests that positive interactions with dogs can create a sense of calm and well-being, according to Olga Solomon, an assistant professor at the USC Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. Petting a therapy dog, for example, can increase serotonin, beta-endorphin and oxytocin – chemicals and hormones that make people happy – and decrease cortisol, a stress hormone.

Cate Dorr OTD ‘16, who researched facility dogs while studying for her doctorate in occupational therapy at USC, said the dog can also remove a barrier for students with qualms about accessing resources at the center.

“I think this is probably an area that is continuing to be pioneered, and it’s great USC is taking the lead,” Dorr said.

Beau has been on campus for a couple weeks now, so he’s used to visitors.

On a recent Thursday, Madeleine Fox, 19, got down on the floor to hang out with Beau, then stuck around to do some schoolwork.

“I really miss my dog from home, so it’s the best,” said Fox, a second-year student. “Dogs are the epitome of good and that just rubs off on us and makes us happier.”

Beau showed off a bit, shaking paws with onlookers.

“It’s great,” said freshman Jerome Ching. “I’ve just grown up around dogs my whole life.”

Canine and community

Paula Lee Swinford, director of the Office of Wellness and Health Promotion, said Beau will help create a sense of community at USC.

“We wanted to do something that would change our culture,” she said. “What Beau brings is a consistent relationship for students. … He will remember them.”

Vanni, who takes Beau home with her every day, will be training him to get comfortable all over campus. She’s also teaching him some tricks.

“I’m teaching him how to do a ‘Fight on’ right now,” she said. “Obviously he can’t split his paw, but we’re working on a paw out in the air.”

Could occupational therapy lead to a better night’s sleep?

, in General News

By Mike McNulty

Every occupational therapist knows that the foundation for living well includes a healthy daily balance between work, play, rest and sleep.

But while therapeutic interventions often target patients’ habits, roles, routines and environments during waking hours, their combined effects upon sleeping behaviors — both daytime napping and consolidated nighttime sleep — are sparsely documented within the profession’s research literature. Sleep is an essential occupation associated with health outcomes, and by helping clients to catch more ZZZs, occupational therapists might better support health, well-being and occupational engagement.

To more accurately track sleeping behaviors and trends over time, an all-USC research team — including current and former faculty members, staff, students and alumni — led by assistant professor Natalie Leland, who is both an occupational therapist and gerontology researcher, examined napping and sleeping data gathered as part of the USC Well Elderly 2 Study. The Well Elderly 2 Study was a randomized controlled trial funded by the NIH National Institute on Aging to learn how Lifestyle Redesign®, a six-month occupation-based therapeutic intervention, can promote health and quality of life among ethnically diverse, community-living urban older adults.

Woman Napping on Bench

The research team found that, among all participants who stopped daytime napping during the six-month study period, those who received Lifestyle Redesign gained an average of 48 more minutes of nighttime sleep, while those who did not receive any treatment only gained an average of two more minutes of nighttime sleep. The team’s findings appeared in the July/August issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy.

These baseline results, while preliminary, suggest that participation in an occupation-based Lifestyle Redesign intervention may be related to enhanced sleep for older adults. To further develop evidence for the role of occupation-based interventions in improving patient’s sleep health, future research will be needed using standardized instruments such as validated questionnaires and wearable activity sensor devices.

“This exploratory study is consistent with research suggesting that daytime sleep restriction and engagement in daytime activity improves nighttime sleep behaviors,” said Leland. “Occupational therapists take a holistic approach to improving human health and wellness, and if there is indeed a connection between a good night’s sleep and everyday occupation, that will become a critical area of our future practice and research.”

Inaugural class inducts new sensory integration continuing education

, in General News, Student News, Alumni News

By Mike McNulty

Clinical professor Erna Blanche and research assistant professor Stefanie Bodison review video of a SI treatment session. (Photo/Phil Channing)

Clinical professor Erna Blanche and research assistant professor Stefanie Bodison review video of a SI treatment session. (Photo/Phil Channing)

The inaugural cohort of participants has successfully completed the first of USC’s new sequential four-course Sensory Integration (SI) Continuing Education (CE) Certificate Program. The 29 participants, hailing from 5 states and Hong Kong, completed the 30-hour course, Theoretical Foundations of Sensory Integration: From Theory to Identification, in Los Angeles last month.

Taught by clinical professor Erna Blanche and research assistant professor Stefanie Bodison, the course is earning positive early reviews from students, an encouraging sign for a program that aims to make longstanding and valuable contributions to the global community of SI therapists.

“It is evident Dr. Blanche is passionate not only about the materials but also about ensuring the students have a good understanding of the content,” said one unidentified student.

“Dr. Bodison was able to clearly communicate the subject matter she was responsible for in a clear manner,” according to another student.  “It was easy to understand and was engaging throughout.”

The USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy has a rich history of advanced training in sensory integration, going back to the initial hands-on supervised clinical course experiences originally taught by Dr. A. Jean Ayres beginning in 1977. Ayres was an occupational therapist and educational psychologist who developed a theoretical framework, a set of standardized tests and a clinical approach for the identification and remediation of sensory integration problems in children. Her publications on sensory integration span a 30-year period from the 1960s through the 1980s and include psychometric studies as well as clinical trials and single case series.

“As a former student myself of Dr. Ayres, I’m thrilled to be continuing her legacy at USC,” said Blanche. “It’s gratifying to see the enthusiasm of our students for learning this material.”

Through ongoing development and refinement of the content and materials during the past 35 years, the Chan Division remains committed to upholding the legacy of Ayres’ work in the science and clinical application of sensory integration by offering advanced training programs designed to meet the needs of the global community.

To that end, this new program includes both in-person and online learning options, awards a USC Certificate to its graduates, and offers “special consideration” for advanced standing — thereby reducing the required amount of study hours — to those participants who previously completed the USC/WPS Sensory Integration Certification Program, which will be discontinued at the end of this year.

“The span of experience of the participants was vast, ranging from 30-plus years of experience in sensory integration clinics to those who had only received SI training in their professional programs,” said Bodison. “It’s exciting to know that we’ve designed this course to meet the needs of this range of experience.”

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