Healthcare for the Homeless
March 26, 2020
Student Ambassador Kaho interviews OTD student Julian Prado about his decision to pursue the OTD and work with the homeless population in Los Angeles.
What made you want to pursue an OTD degree?
I decided to pursue an OTD degree because I wanted to be able to have a clinical experience within a role emerging practice area and be able to cultivate the role under the guidance of mentorship. My mentor, Dr. Deborah Pitts has years of experience working within the mental health sphere and I feel so lucky to be able to have her as my mentor. I would also love to teach in an occupational therapy program in the future which also helped me make my decision to take on the OTD.
Where is your residency?
My residency is at John Wesley Community Health Center for Community Health (JWCH CCH), a designated healthcare for homeless clinic and federally qualified health center located in the heart of Skid Row. It serves as a “one stop shop” with services including primary care providers, behavioral health, substance recovery services, case management, dentistry, optometry, psychiatry, and podiatry. As such, JWCH CCH predominantly serves people who are experiencing homlessness or have a previous experience of homelessness.
How did you get into your residency?
JWCH CCH is the setting for one of the Student Run Clinic experiences that is available to students in the MA-II program. I volunteered with SRC and that’s what got me interested in the site itself. Throughout the program I fell in love with so many aspects of the scope of our profession. Primary care specifically allows for a practitioner to be a master generalist which is what drew me to a primary care setting. The more I researched the needs of people experiencing homelessness and their complex health needs the more it made sense for OT to have a presence is a primary care clinic who’s patient panels are mostly experiencing homelessness.
What is your favorite part about your current residency?
As challenging as my residency can be there are definitely still enjoyable parts to it. I enjoy my client interactions and knowing that I am part of a team that has the client’s best interest in mind. I’m convinced the people that I work with are the most resilient people I’ve ever had the opportunity to meet. There’s also something really exciting about the fact that OT within homeless services is innovative and I love being a part of that process. I hope that one day occupational therapy will be standard across the continuum of care for people experiencing homelessness. The people I work with are amongst the most vulnerable people in LA who’s daily goal is just to survive the day and I like having a seat at the table to advocate for OT presence in the care of the clients.
What is the most challenging part?
Working within services for people experiencing homelessness requires you to work within systems which can be tiring as you work with people who experience oppression through these systems. Hearing people’s stories and the traumas they have experienced and continue to experience can be simultaneously heartbreaking and upsetting but it has pushed to try to participate on a policy level by participating in organization meetings that inform policy. Cultivating a new area of practice is will always innately have its challenges especially as a new practitioner but I am thankful to have a support team that helps propel me forward.
What are your plans after getting your OTD?
First, I will definitely be taking a vacation to celebrate all the hard work it’s taken me to get to finally having a terminal degree. Post vacation, I would love to continue to work to expand the role of occupational therapy within homeless services as it has been simultaneously the most challenging but meaningful work I have engaged in during my time at the Chan Division. Our scope allows us to fill in gaps that are in existing services. However if that is not available I would love to work as an OT serving older adults as I’ve come to realize through my residency that I enjoy working with older adults. Sometime in the future I would love to be able to be able to teach in an occupational therapy program. I’ve enjoyed having so many wonderful mentors during my time at the Chan Division and I would love to be able to do the same for aspiring OT practitioners. The dream would be to be able to teach and cultivate programs that promote participation in occupation for people of all abilities on a community scale.