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
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USC, Peking University to team on one of China’s first graduate programs in occupational therapy

, in General News

The partnership has the potential to transform the quality of life for millions of people, USC provost says

By Mike McNulty and John Hobbs/USC News

USC Provost Michael Quick and Peking University Health Science Center President Qimin Zhan formalize the partnership between the two institutions. (Photo/Philip Channing)

USC Provost Michael Quick and Peking University Health Science Center President Qimin Zhan formalize the partnership between the two institutions. (Photo/Philip Channing)

USC and Peking University have forged a partnership that could impact the quality of lives for millions of Chinese individuals living with, or at risk for, a disability.

USC Provost Michael Quick joined a delegation of senior leaders from the Peking University Health Science Center to formalize a new partnership between the academic institutions to develop one of China’s first graduate programs specializing in occupational therapy.

Alongside Qimin Zhan, president of the Health Science Center, Quick formally established the China Initiative partnership between one of China’s most prestigious universities and the USC Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.

“Occupational therapy enables people throughout the world to lead healthier, happier, fuller lives,” Quick said. “By advancing occupational therapy education, research and clinical care in China, this new partnership with Peking University has the potential to transform the quality of life for millions of people.”

The announcement caps more than two years of intercontinental exploration and travel by USC Chan faculty members, including Associate Dean Florence Clark and the China Initiative’s Interim Director Julie McLaughlin Gray, to better understand the nuances of occupational therapy within China’s health care system and to identify an optimal partner capable of fostering the profession’s growth within the country.

A gift realized
The China Initiative began in 2014 as part of a multimillion dollar gift from USC Trustee Ronnie C. Chan MBA ’76 and his wife, Barbara, to endow and name USC’s occupational therapy division and to establish a partnership with an elite Chinese university to expand occupational therapy research, education and practice.

“We would not be here today without the foresight and generosity of USC Trustee Ronnie Chan, his wife, Barbara, and their family,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “Thanks to the Chan family, we will be able to extend USC’s faculty expertise across the Pacific in order to fortify the global occupational therapy community.”

Occupational therapy in China
Currently, there is just one occupational therapy graduate-level program in China. Typically occupational therapy — as we know it in the United States — falls under the auspices of general rehabilitation therapy — which is a bachelor’s degree program.

The China Initiative partnership builds upon that educational foundation, establishing one of China’s first graduate-level programs in occupational therapy. The program offers students a master’s in rehabilitation (with an emphasis in occupational therapy) from the Peking University Health Science Center through a program that will replicate the world-renowned curriculum at USC Chan. Graduates of the master’s program will then be eligible to apply to the post-professional occupational therapy doctorate program at USC.

During the first two years of the partnership, USC Chan and PKU/Peking University Health Science Center faculty members will collaborate to develop the contours of the program, making sure it is responsive to the specific health needs of the world’s most populous nation.

The program’s first faculty members will be individuals appointed by the Peking University Health Science Center to spend two years at USC Chan, earning both a post-professional master’s degree and a post-professional occupational therapy doctorate. These faculty members will then return to China to launch the Peking University Health Science Center program.

In addition to establishing the master’s program, the partnership paves the way for Chinese PhD students to study at USC Chan.

Once established and implemented, the partnership promises to continue the educational evolution of occupational therapy in China, training a new generation of practitioners to provide high-quality clinical services to the estimated 85 million Chinese living with, or at risk for, a disability.

Peking University Health Science Center delegation with faculty members of the USC Chan Division. (Photo/Philip Channing)

Peking University Health Science Center delegation with faculty members of the USC Chan Division. (Photo/Philip Channing)

More productive lives

Occupational therapy is a health care profession focused on enabling people to better manage chronic disease and disability through sustainable, health-promoting activities and routines in order to live more satisfying and productive lives.

USC has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the nation’s No. 1 occupational therapy graduate educational program for more years than all other programs combined, and USC has a legacy of professional leadership, including founding the nation’s first two-year, entry-level master’s degree in occupational therapy in 1962.

Peking University is China’s first national university and the highest ranked in mainland China, according to the annual QS World University Rankings. Built in 1912, the Peking University Health Science Center was the country’s first school to teach Western medicine in the style of the British medical education system and now is among China’s most selective and respected medical schools.

“This historic partnership with Peking University will dramatically influence practice and research to create innovative ways of improving quality of life in China,” said Clark, holder of the Mrs. T.H. Chan Professorship in Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. “By collaborating in the establishment of a state-of-the-art curriculum for educating Chinese clinicians and by fostering the development of scientists, USC continues demonstrating its investment in professional excellence throughout the world.”

Chinese translation of USC-PKU agreement

LA 18 Evening News covers the USC-PKU partnership, including soundbites from Clark, during the Oct. 20 newscast

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.”

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