All roads lead to OT
The first time I heard the phrase “occupational therapy” I was standing in the freshman dorm room of my future best friend (+ former Chan student ambassador) Noelle; I had just moved in down the hall. She told me about the BS-MA program, and I thought, that’s cool and then did not think about OT again for 2 years.
That’s the simple start to my messy story answering the question “Why OT?” I think of it as driving down 3 roads at the same time. To help navigate, I’ve included some illustrations.
Road 1: Academic Life
While media studies and OT may seem unrelated, this road was the most direct.
Freshly graduated from a media-focused vocational high school, I was excited to don my new hat as a student at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Several of the classes for my Media Arts + Practice major focused on media ethics and the impact of technology on daily life, which built my interest in the use of media outside of the entertainment industry. I had a particular interest in media for healthcare and bounced around between a few different minors to explore this intersection. When I ultimately declared my occupational science (OS) minor, I knew I had found the perfect way to combine my interests in both arts and healthcare. For my undergraduate senior thesis, I prototyped an assistive device designed to help parents practice self regulation strategies with their children.
In the year following, I completed my OT school prerequisites and applications while pursuing my MA in Media Arts, Games, and Health. A natural transition between media and OT studies, I sharpened my research skills and broadened my understanding of technology use/gaming as an occupation.
On this road, I ignited my interests in interdisciplinary research and excitement for OT studies.
Road 2: Work Life
I’ve always been a bit of a workaholic. So, on top of all that school, I spent my extracurricular time trying on a bunch of careers.
I spent my freshman and sophomore years dream hopping from film editor to TV producer to website coder to themed entertainment designer. I worked intense hours at USC’s student TV station and explored my interests further with internships at a news station and a science museum. These were all incredibly interesting experiences, but none of them felt right for me.
In the off season, for 5 summers, I worked as a camp counselor at my local parks system. In my 6th summer, I transitioned into the therapeutic recreation division, providing one-to-one support for children with disabilities on general day camps. These were the first jobs that showed me that going to work doesn’t have to feel like work. The only other job I felt this way about was teaching Zumba at the USC gym.
On this road, I realized the commonality between jobs I truly enjoyed was forming connections and making a direct, meaningful impact on others.
Road 3: Personal Life
In the same semester that I declared my OS minor, I was supporting a loved one through rehabilitation following emergent open heart surgery. As I stayed involved in their recovery, I noted how their re-engagement in meaningful occupations, such as returning to work or playing basketball again, were what gave them and our family a sense of hope among the hardships. It was just like what I learned in my OS minor courses — that holistic healthcare is about more than survival.
I have also had exposure to the patient perspective through my experiences with chronic illness. After years of doctor’s appointments, I’ve seen the kind of provider I want to be — one that emphasizes the practices of listening, patience, empathy, and advocacy.
On this road, I saw the power of meaningful occupations and found my passion for providing individualized care.
If I could go back in time to my first conversation with Noelle and tell myself to look into/pursue OT right away, I wouldn’t. The non-traditional path was the way for me.
That being said, it feels nice to keep my eyes on one road now. Can’t wait to see where it goes.