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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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Going Back in Time to High School: My Externship Experience


April 12, 2022


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As part of OT 540: Leadership Capstone, all students are tasked to design a leadership experience for themselves across two weeks following spring break. The flexibility of this assignment was intimidating - so many things to choose from. You can do online certifications, shadow healthcare administrators, get involved in policy advocacy, or really . . . anything else you could think of, as long as it relates to leadership development.

I knew that after attending a large part of OT school online I wanted to take advantage of having another in-person learning opportunity. Thus far, I’ve learned that I love the hospital setting, but what if another setting was out there that I just hadn’t gotten the chance to see? So given that I took the pediatrics immersion online, I decided to aim for a leadership experience within a school.

The externship project is specifically NOT fieldwork. You’re not supposed to observe or provide clinical services, so shadowing a traditional school-based OT was off the table. However, it still posed a unique opportunity to explore the role of OT with a population I’m interested in – high schoolers. I attended a high-pressure vocational high school, and I desperately wish I could go back in time and tell myself everything I’ve learned since about taking care of myself. So that was the general theme I was going for.

My goals included:

  1. Promote the value of occupational therapy in the high school setting through education on the benefits of OT for academic success and student wellness
  2. Better understand the collaboration between teachers/administrators and OTs in school settings
  3. Prepare for leadership roles by practicing and developing my professional communication skills.

There are 10 full days to fill with externship activities, and they can be at different sites as long as they’re all related. They could also be completed outside the two dedicated weeks in the semester. I did half of my activities during the externship weeks, and spread out the other half beforehand.

The primary experience of my externship was a collaboration with my high school health teacher back at home in NJ. I worked with her to identify wellness-related needs of her current students and put together general wellness presentations to give to her classes.

The week was wonderfully chaotic. Getting to interact with students and learn more about the behind-the-scenes work of teachers was awesome. Having to evacuate the building mid-presentation because of a gas leak was . . . a lesson in flexibility. Overall, it was incredibly meaningful for me to go home and be back in a familiar setting sharing the benefit of the OT wellness lens with students and teachers.

In preparation for this experience, I connected with Dr. Rashelle Nagata at the USC Kortschak Center for Learning and Creativity for guidance. From Dr. Nagata, I learned more about the role of OT for academic success/wellness promotion for older students, and she was an essential mentor for developing engaging evidence-based presentations. An additional opportunity presented itself to volunteer with an OTD resident at a charter school in LA, so I also spent some externship hours working with her to plan and implement social-emotional learning activities for students there. So in total, that’s 3 sites, 3000 miles apart, mostly in person and partially via Zoom meetings. What an experience!

To any future students, I highly recommend using the externship as an opportunity to try something new and hone your leadership skills along the way.