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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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Student Blog


Level I Fieldworks ⟩
April 24, 2011, by Amanda


Experience everything OT!

Throughout your first year, you will have various opportunities to go out into the occupational therapy field — FIELDWORK! The word “fieldwork” sometimes throws people off, as it in part sounds like you are an archeologist going to excavate. When I explain what fieldwork is to those outside of our academic community, I describe it as an internship, specifically a clinical internship. In OT school you have two types of fieldworks, Level I and Level II. I will begin here to explain what Level I fieldworks entail.

Level I fieldworks are relatively brief and allow for greater exposure to the many practice areas and settings of occupational therapy. As I had volunteered and worked primarily in pediatric settings before beginning the program at USC, I decided to use Level I fieldworks as an opportunity to see what else was possible to do with a Master’s in OT. In my first year we had these Level I’s structured in two ways: the dose model and the immersion model. For my dose model, I went once a week (on Thursdays I had the day off from class) to an upper extremity and hand rehabilitation outpatient clinic. At this site I primarily observed, but the OT who I was placed with allowed for hands-on opportunities when the client was okay with it. This included anything from feeling tightness of muscles, ligaments, and joints after the healing of bones, seeing the different procedures after carpal tunnel release surgery, and talking to the clients about their experiences.

My first immersion model experience of level I fieldwork was spending everyday of one week in the field of psychosocial practice at a school for adolescents that are considered “at-risk.” This site aims to lead the teens to becoming healthy, independent, and productive members of the community. Occupational therapy played a role in re-engaging the students in healthy behaviors and social interactions and preferred occupations. This was my first time seeing OT in mental health practice and the OT I was with allowed me to plan and lead therapeutic group activities as well as helped me develop my documentation skills.

My second immersion model experience was in physical rehabilitation at a large hospital system. This time, the experience was structured so I went everyday for two weeks. Again, never having seen OT in the various levels of care, I really benefitted from this experience. Throughout my two weeks, I moved from acute care, to inpatient care, to transitional rehabilitation services, to outpatient care. It was amazing to see the breadth of OT skills depending on where a patient is in their recovery. I especially enjoyed the transitional rehabilitation services as it was based in a residential setting. This home was remodeled to house all aspects of rehabilitation.  There was a conventional gym for therapeutic exercises, but OTs used the kitchen, community garden, study room, bathroom and places throughout the community for their interventions. I absolutely fell in love with the structure of therapy at this level of care for all the possibilities of OT and the emphasis on returning to the community.

If you are starting to worry about how all of this gets arranged — don’t! We have two fieldwork coordinators that are experts in placing students. My part in all this was for each of these 3 fieldwork opportunities I had to rank the practice area I wanted to see and then list the geographic locations in Los Angeles that were the best for me. The fieldwork coordinators took care of contacting the sites and securing placements for students. The time off from class during the semester is specifically scheduled for fieldwork, so you get to go to the sites and experience OT!


Supporting Coursework ⟩
January 31, 2011, by Amanda

Classes What are OS/OT?

To complement the clinical coursework, there are a few classes that enhance your ability to understand client needs and address them from an occupational science perspective.

Throughout the clinical coursework, there is supporting coursework to enhance your understanding of occupation and multiple dimensions of practice. To begin, there is a medical lecture component to your coursework, the purpose of which is to introduce students to varying diagnoses and conditions. Guest lecturers that specialize in working with various populations are the ones delivering the course content. The information from this course serves as a great reference. As an entry-level practitioner you are faced with so many new populations and your notes from school are something you will return to refresh your understanding and knowledge of the details of the conditions you see in practice. What I also found fascinating was when a professional from another discipline presented his or her perspective of a diagnosis. For example, there was a bariatric surgeon presented on obesity. From his professional perspective, bariatric surgery was the answer to the obesity and type II diabetes epidemic. This compares with the occupational science and therapy perspective that would intervene through understanding an individual’s occupational habits, roles, and routines and develop strategies to address the chronic weight management issues that the individual faces. Both interventions require major lifestyle changes, depending on the individual, one, the other, or both interventions may be appropriate. From these lectures, you begin to build your sense of how OT would approach a condition compared to another professional. You see how important the OT perspective is in healthcare.

Occupational science is an academic discipline devoted to the systematic study of the form, function and meaning of occupation. USC’s Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy is committed to understanding the human experience of occupation in order to apply that understanding to the practice of occupational therapy. Coursework in occupational science is part of the curriculum for occupational therapy students at USC. Students explore the various dimensions and interdisciplinary knowledge that underlie occupation. Topics include how routines, habits, culture, environment and preferences contribute to health and well-being. Guest lecturers present how they have taken concepts from occupational science and developed programs that increase well-being, such as in the programs at the USC Faculty practice and in the Well-Elderly Study. As a student, you begin to see occupation through different lenses and how to identify supports and barriers to occupation. The study of occupational science informs occupational therapy practice through asking how we may best understand and enable occupational performance.

The Skills for Occupational Therapy coursework that I previously wrote about in a blog post continues in the subsequent semesters. You expand your knowledge from analyzing tasks to understanding the therapeutic relationship and how to design occupation-centered programs. I found that these classes gave a space for discussing the tough issues you may see in practice. We explored our strengths and weaknesses in terms of building relationships and how we may best serve clients therapeutically. As a therapist you are not only providing an intervention, but you are using the relationship with the client to see successful outcomes. We also had the time to discuss what we were seeing in our level I fieldworks: what we liked and what we didn’t like. Based on what I saw in fieldworks and from discussions in this class, I began to imagine how I want to be as a therapist in the future. Skills for Occupational Therapy also allows students to explore interests in program development. We had a semester-long project aimed at founding the skills for surveying a population’s needs, designing an evidence-based program, and how you would go about implementing that program. Although not required, some students realize their occupation-based program or continue on to the OTD program to run their program. Topics for this project varied from addressing returning veterans needs to the use of pets in therapy to educating other professionals about effective “sensory strategies” in pediatric settings. Medical lectures, occupational science and skills for occupational therapy all enhance one’s ability to understand client needs and how to address them in occupational therapy practice.


Clinical Coursework ⟩
December 17, 2010, by Amanda

Classes What are OS/OT?

The path to becoming a clinician . . .

To continue delivering a picture of my experiences in studying occupational science and therapy at USC, I will introduce the clinical coursework. To pursue occupational therapy at some point we all decided that this was a career choice that fits our interests, academically and professionally. Before entering the program, I wondered, ‘how do you know what to do?’; when faced with a client with any number of strengths and limitations in occupational functioning, what is the first step? Furthermore, occupational therapists work with people on a whole continuum of diagnosis and conditions. How does occupational therapy school prepare the practitioner to work with both an individual referred for mental health services and an individual referred for a traumatic brain injury? As I previously explained in a blog post, the summer coursework lays the foundation for analyzing occupation. The first year is to start building your clinical skills. To be prepared to work in the physical disabilities, mental health, pediatrics, and geriatrics setting, there is clinical coursework for each practice area.

In my first year, the structure of the program was you had Fall and Spring courses in physical disabilities. The content covered in this course sequence is evaluation, goal-setting, and intervention planning in relation to various conditions that a practitioner would see in a hospital or clinic setting. Students learn how to identify occupational strengths and deficits as well as the evaluation of underlying skills, such as strength and range of motion. There is also lab based work weekly that involves exploring such varying topics as the uses of adaptive equipment as well as splinting. Also in lab, there is a functional kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom where you practice various techniques learned in therapy such as functional transfers and preparing for occupation-based interventions. You also have the opportunity for an off-campus visit to a national rehabilitation hospital to see occupational therapy in practice.

Mental health also followed Fall and Spring course sequences. Our first semester introduced us to many topics concerning the experience of occupation in relation to such concepts as interests, temporality, habits and the environment. We learned about occupational narrative and its therapeutic use as well as a series of evaluations that are valuable when assessing occupational function. What I loved about this course was its applicability to the other occupational therapy practice areas. For example, it really affirmed my belief that occupational therapists seek to influence not just the condition of having a physical disability but also the person that is experiencing it! The Spring course in mental health continued to explore occupation but to a greater extent its practice in mental health. You really gain an understanding of the efficacy of occupational therapy interventions for those experiencing occupational dysfunction.

Preparation for pediatric therapy comes in a two course sequence as well. In the Fall semester, we studied development. This course covered what you would guess: the development of the child in relation to occupational performance. A series of lectures ranging from reflexes to vestibular to visual development are presented in relation to a child’s age and condition. Students are also introduced to various assessments used in pediatrics. In the Spring, the student’s knowledge in pediatric practice is expanded through the exploration of the various practice areas, such as school-based versus early intervention clinics, and introductions to different intervention strategies, like sensory integration. Students have a few labs off-campus where we were able to observe therapists in the various pediatric settings. 

A practice area where demand for occupational therapists is on the rise is in geriatrics. Our clinical coursework in aging involves the physical, cognitive, environmental, and emotional challenges that individuals and their families face during the aging process. I loved this course for our engaging discussions, such as occupational therapists role in hospice care, and for encouraging occupational therapists to be involved in the prevention of decline and maintenance of wellness, as seen in USC’s Well-Elderly Study. As I am interested in occupational therapy practice in geriatrics and always felt very empowered that as an occupational therapist I will be able to make a difference in the lives of people through the power of engaging in meaningful occupation!

In summary, the clinical coursework you will take at USC prepares you to view an individual through an occupational lens whether he or she is a child, adolescent, adult, or older adult referred for varying reasons. You are prepared to evaluate individuals and create interventions that address the physical, social, emotional, environmental, and cognitive components of occupation. This all sounds like a lot in your first year, but there’s MORE! You also have coursework that supports your development of clinical skills. To Be Continued!


My First OT Summer ⟩
November 7, 2010, by Amanda

Classes What are OS/OT?

An introduction to the summer coursework!

The first summer studying occupational therapy at USC lays down the foundation for analyzing occupation. During these intensive 8 weeks, you can expect to be in class a lot, but also you can expect to get to know your classmates and enjoy the time!

There are three classes that you take that summer: kinesiology for occupation, neuroscience for occupation, and occupational therapy skills. Kinesiology and neuroscience have both a lecture component to learn about important concepts relevant to occupation and a lab component where you apply these concepts. For example, you may spend kinesiology lecture learning about actions of muscles, but then in lab you would apply your knowledge of the muscles to analyze brushing your teeth. An example for neuroscience lecture is you will learn about the process of visual-perception in the brain. In lab you may take these concepts to understand how a deficit in this area affects how you experience activity. This allows you to unite your knowledge of the underlying components to the actual activities. Also, there are wonderful instructors and teaching assistants available to go over, explain or clarify difficult concepts . Although it at times felt like a lot of class in just 8 weeks, the structure of the summer classes provides many resources so you may be successful in your coursework!

The third course, Skills for Occupational Therapy, is a student favorite! This course allows your creativity to flow! Your instructor has a few different activities or crafts for that week. You choose what you would like to do and work at your leisure. After a morning of lecture and lab, Skills was a time to relax and be with your classmates and just proves how therapeutic individually meaningful activity can be!! You go beyond simply participating in craft and activity and analyze what is necessary to do the activity and what are the benefits to choose one activity over another. You are beginning to think in the occupational therapy mindset to explain the choice of one activity and what skills are necessary for participation!

Me working on a skills project

Me working on a skills project!!

This summer session is full-time and you are at school pretty much all day. I think the combination of being excited to start occupational therapy school and having this opportunity to be with all your classmates makes it feel less like “too much school” and more about the process of it all!


Moving to LA ⟩
October 10, 2010, by Amanda

Housing and Transportation Living in LA

After graduating from undergrad, I needed to pack-up and move to California. Living in the OT House made sense to me! So I hope that through my student blog you will get an in-depth look at what it is like to be an occupational therapy student here at USC. To start my tour of student life, I’ll start with my experiences during my first summer.

Coming from Maryland, I was leaving my family and friends to see what West Coast life is all about. For those of you worrying about making a move like I did, graduate school is the perfect time to try living somewhere new and it provides great opportunities to meet and befriend others. LA is a big town and the thought of moving there was a little intimidating. What is amazing about coming to USC for school is the living learning experience that is a housing option called the OT House. Besides my great aunt that lives in the area, I was nervous about moving to a place where I knew no one. For this reason, I chose to spend my first year in LA living in the OT House. From our first building meeting, I already met other classmates and even had a ride to school the next day. 😊 Those same friends have since become my California family.

Another great aspect of the OT house is the convenience factor. The two-bedroom apartments come equipped with a full bedroom set (you have your own bedroom), kitchen appliances, sofas, table and chairs. All you really need is your bedding, clothes, school gear, and kitchenware. After recently graduating I only had a few weeks to pull myself together and get out to LA for the June start and there was no way I could move furniture across the country. Living in the OT house meant I had a few things less to worry about. Due to its proximity to the University Park campus, the OT house makes going to classes on the Health Science campus easy. There is a bus that runs between campuses, making driving unnecessary. Also, you are close to all the activities of the University Park campus. Events, performances, Trojan sports, intramurals, you name it and it’s right there for you. As a full time student you have access to the Rec facilities, so your gym is right there too.

Being that the apartment building that hosts the OT House is majority OT students, you have access to study groups always! If you ever need a question answered or clarification on an assignment, your neighbor can most likely help you out. The OT House was always the common meeting point between in house and out of house students and the place for groups to meet when working on group assignments. There is an RA that is an OT student and a USC OT faculty member that lives in the building as well. Basically, choosing to live there gives you instant support in your academic life.

My first experiences in LA were wonderful, many of which I can attribute to being a resident in the OT House. It was there I built my foundation for life in LA and as an occupational therapy student. Below is a picture of the sunset from my apartment in the OT house!

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