12 Weeks of Fieldwork
Welcome to a special edition of student blogs! For the next 12 days, we will be sharing a blog every day. To kick us off, I’m excited to tell you about my 12 weeks of fieldwork.
Level II fieldwork is a full-time 12-week clinical experience in any occupational therapy setting. As part of the Entry-Level MA, you do two of these in the 2nd and 3rd summer. I felt set on doing one of my Level IIs in a pediatric hospital, but many of those want someone who has already done a Level II in an adult hospital setting. So here was my criteria for searching for my first Level II: (1) Adult hospital setting (2) In a new and interesting place.
That was it really. I had little sense of what I wanted to get out of working with adults. In fact, I was terrified of working with adults. I had only ever worked with children and knew I loved it, so it never crossed my mind to pursue something else.
We can request fieldwork sites anywhere in the country, so I browsed the map of sites and picked Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital as my top choice. No one from USC had done their fieldwork there before, but it hit both of my criteria. It is a hospital with inpatient, outpatient, and day rehab programs in Wheaton, IL, a suburb of Chicago. And luckily - I got placed there! So after a lot of scrambling to find housing in Illinois, a state I had never been to, I packed up all my stuff and moved for the summer of 2021.
Here’s what my 12 weeks looked like:
Week 1: Observation, Loneliness, Exhaustion
To start out, I experienced a combination of excitement, overwhelm, and imposter syndrome constantly for the whole week. I was thankful that my site had weekly objectives for their fieldwork students, and week 1 was mostly observation. Even so, it was hard not to freak out knowing I would be actually doing what I was watching in a few short weeks.
It was tough adjusting both to a new role as a fieldwork student and to a new city at the same time. I only knew two people in the area, all the grocery stores were different, and I felt like a foreigner. I was subletting an apartment in Chicago and commuting 45-90min to and from the hospital. My hours were 6:30am - 3pm, but I tried to get there by 6. By the time I got home around 4:30/5, I’d eat dinner and immediately get ready for bed so there was no time to socialize. In all senses, I was exhausted.
Week 2: Leaning on Other People
By week 2 I was starting to feel more comfortable with the other people at the hospital. The OT schools in the Midwest had a different schedule, so the other fieldwork students were already halfway done when I came in. The conversations I had with them were the reassurance I needed that I was going to be fine.
The other therapists, nurses, and hospital staff were incredibly welcoming. I somehow picked a random site off a map and ended up at the nicest hospital in the country. It put me at ease knowing they were used to having students around and weren’t judging me for asking questions.
Above all, my fieldwork educator could not have been a better match for my learning style. He was great at giving constructive feedback in a way that was encouraging and he boosted my confidence when I was clearly very anxious.
Week 3: Sweaty
Each floor of the hospital was sectioned into different clusters of patients. I was placed in the inpatient brain injury rehab unit, where each therapist has about 7 patients on their caseload that they see mostly every day. At this point, I was expected to take on a couple of my fieldwork educator’s patients onto my own caseload. There was a lot of sweat, but I was really enjoying getting to connect more closely with the patients.
Week 4: Getting Into the Groove
As I gradually built up my own caseload each week, I started to feel more competent in my own skills and useful as a teammate to my fieldwork educator. Plus, after 4 weeks, I had finally adjusted to my new normal of being asleep by 9pm and waking up at 5.
Week 5: Emotional Support Ice Cream
Weeks 5 and 6 looked a lot like week 4. I added about 1 new patient to my caseload each week and spent more time planning/documenting/reviewing with my fieldwork educator. Objectively, the workload was increasing, but it was a comfortable pace and I was feeling good.
I was also improving my life balance, including prioritizing meal prepping and making more time to socialize (especially weekly Bachelor/ice cream nights with friends).
Week 6: Midterm Eval
Woohoo halfway through! Anxiety no more! Just kidding. You get evaluated at the end of week 6 and I was really worried for nothing. I had been getting consistent feedback from my fieldwork educator, and the evaluation session was helpful for us to elaborate on that feedback and set goals for the second half of the summer.
Weeks 7-11: Full Caseload, Feeling like I Belong
The gradually-building-up-to-a-full-caseload part of fieldwork was over. I was still working closely with my fieldwork educator, but the goal was for me to lead all the sessions. Even though I had become more comfortable with treatment planning, the nature of brain injuries is unpredictable and you never knew what the next patient would be like – which was both challenging and exciting as an opportunity to get creative working in a hospital.
The role of a fieldwork student at this point of the experience was an unfamiliar middle ground between student and professional. Obviously, I was still learning and building my skills, but at the same time I felt like I was really in it and working. I got to collaborate with an amazing PT and SLP, my documentation required minimal review, and I got such kind comments from patients who were surprised I was a student. I really felt like I belonged.
Week 12: A Tearful Goodbye
I am a sprinkler when it comes to saying goodbye. On my last day, I cried on the way there, I cried saying goodbye to everyone, and I cried on my way home. I never thought I would love working in this setting so much, and it was so hard to think about it being over and going back to school for a year before my next Level II. Looking ahead, I still can’t wait to try out pediatric hospital work, but I’m happy to know there’s a part of me that likes working with adults too.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! TLDR: My Level II fieldwork was expectedly challenging but unexpectedly awesome.