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University of Southern California
University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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Academics
Academics

Elissa S. Lee OTD ’20

Elissa S. Lee OTD ’20

Hometown: Austin, Texas & Taipei, Taiwan

Program: Post-Professional OTD, Class of 2020

What brought you to occupational therapy?
When I was 10, my family made the decision to move from Texas to Taiwan to caregive for my beautiful grandmother, who had suffered a stroke. Every Saturday, I would accompany her to the rehabilitation clinic, where she would receive PT, OT, and speech. The occupational therapists there incorporated my grandmother’s love of drawing into their fine motor treatments, the physical therapists found her favorite Teresa Teng songs and sang along with her as she practiced her daily walk, up until her last day. I wanted to be part of that magic — she was singing, up until the last moment of her life.

Where are you located for your residency and what services are provided there?
I had the privilege of working with the most wonderful lab, Lifestyle Redesign for Chronic Conditions (fun fact: I got to name the lab for a gift card contest my first year) — led by the brilliant Dr. Beth Pyatak — and supported research on chronic care management for medically underserved populations. Some of the projects I had the opportunity to work on include: developing intervention content for medically underserved people with diabetes, writing an OT research-focused book to be published by the Oxford University Press, building out a caregiving survey during COVID-19, and creating a primary care learning collective across the nation.

Through the year, I also had the opportunity to develop professionally — including presenting at conferences, writing articles on health disparities for outlets such as the Center for Health Journalism and Southern California News Group, consulting for nonprofits like Born This Way Foundation, and serving as the behavioral health committee chair for the School Health Clinics of Santa Clara County’s board.

How do you plan to use Occupational Therapy in the future?
I hope to be able to apply my education in any setting I work in. I’ve been thinking a lot about how an occupational lens can be applied to health equity and preventative health in America. Recently, along with Kellie Miyashima (OTD ’21) and Trevor San Antonio (OTD ’21), I helped to create an AAPI therapist directory and scholarship for aspiring AAPI mental health providers, and have applied my OT education and principles of user experience / universal design in the way we designed marketing materials and scholarship requirements.

If you could give any words of advice for incoming Master’s students, what would they be?
Find your people. There is an incredible community of people out there who share your passions and interests in helping the world, one patient at a time. I have found some of my best mentors and friends through this program.

Also, get enough sleep, food, water, and movement. It’s so important for us to practice what we preach!