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University of Southern California
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USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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Austen's Blog

Austen

Be Active and Be Happy >

by Austen

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As you may already know, running is part of my daily routine. I roll out of bed every morning and get outside for a little jog, rain or shine. It wakes me up, gives me energy, and clears my mind. Days without a jog in the morning just are not the same. I feel lethargic and lazy, I do not eat as healthy, and I am not as alert and energetic. I had to take some time off from running last week, and I realized the negative effects not exercising has on my lifestyle.

I woke up Tuesday morning and set out on my typical loop around campus. Around one mile in, both of my legs started cramping. My shins felt like they could not relax and my calves were tight. It was so uncomfortable that I could barely run 2 miles, when my daily mileage usually reaches 4. After jogging/walking the rest of the way home, I noticed my left knee was stiff and swelling. I have had meniscus repair surgery done on that knee, but it usually does not act up when I run. Something was up, but I could not figure out what the issue was.

I got up Wednesday morning and tried again. No luck. Leg cramps and tightness. At that point I gave up and decided to take a couple days off. During those 2 days, I noticed a huge change in what my lifestyle is like without exercise. It is much unhealthier in all aspects. I eat more, I lay around more, I watch more TV, and it just feels terrible! There is a physical feeling inside that I do not like, it is hard to explain. But, I realized how exercise affects me both physically and mentally. It gives me more energy and makes me a happier person in general. It makes me feel alive and well. There are so many things about exercise that make me feel good that it will need to continue to be a daily activity throughout my life. Interesting how much you learn about the importance of something when it is taken away, right?

I had a sneaking suspicion that my leg issues were related to old running shoes. So during those couple days off, I bought some new ones. I tried them out yesterday on a light jog, and it made a huge difference! I was worried I was having muscular or skeletal problems, but I do not think that is case anymore. And yesterday was a great day after that run. I felt rejuvenated, I wanted to be outside, I felt alive. And my body craved nutritious and healthy meals, which always makes me feel better. I love running! Even though it is not always easy and can be boring (especially running around South Central LA), it feels so good once you are done.

Go be active! It feels great! 😊

Austen

Engage >

by Austen

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Every Thursday evening, the OT house hosts a weekly program called Engage. We pick up kids in the neighborhood, bring them back to the OT House, help them with their homework, engage in a group activity, eat dinner together, then take the kids home. It is such a fun and rewarding experience right down the hall from me!

I have always loved giving back to the community. Feeling part of it, learning from it, improving it, making a difference. Engage has been my weekly contribution. However, it is not just to the community, but to the lives of those children. I love being part of the group of OT students who serve as mentors and friends, promoting the importance of doing well in school, setting goals, and working hard. I truly enjoy being a role model and setting a positive example for them to look up to. In this day and age, there are so many distractions that can get kids in trouble. Engage is a way to help keep focus and priorities among our youth, keeping them excited about school and their futures.

My favorite activity we have done so far was planting vegetables and herbs in the large planting boxes on our patio at the OT House. The kids had a great time organizing the planters, spacing out the seeds, placing the seeds in the soil, and labeling each row. As the weeks have gone by, the veggies and herbs have grown so much that the kids get to see the results of something they did together. That was a great activity, promoting team work, collaboration, community building, taking turns, and sustainability.

As the school year starts winding down, we have just a few weeks left of Engage. Since I will not be here next year, it will be very sad to have to say goodbye to the kids that come every week who I have developed relationships with. It has been such a joy watching them grow over this past year, and I know they will continue to grow up into wonderful people. I just hope they have gotten as much out of the program as I have.

Austen

A chance to be the client and clinician >

by Austen

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One of the electives I chose to take this semester is Lifestyle Redesign. This class is taught by Dr. Camille Dieterle of the USC Faculty Practice for Lifestyle Redesign. Some of the topics we are learning about include the foundation of this practice area, the populations that benefit, the programs offered at the USC Faculty Practice, ways to develop programs and modules, and methods for helping people establish a healthier lifestyle.

A large portion of the class includes role-playing with a partner, taking turns playing the parts of the client and the clinician. We work in our “diads” to practice self-reflection and analysis, goal-setting, problem solving, and solution generation on each other. While one person acts as the client and identifies complaints, areas for improvement, things they would like to change, and/or what their goals are, the other person acts as the clinician, helping identify outcomes to work towards, possible solutions to get there, and ultimately collaboratively establishing an action plan with the client. This role-playing aspect of the class has been the most valuable to me so far. I am learning to communicate effectively in the clinician role, asking open-ended questions, avoiding judgement, and using non-directive comments. It is very challenging to not give advice when that may be what someone is looking for, but we are learning more effective ways of empowering the client so that they can reach their own solutions.

Not only am I learning skills I will use in the workplace next year, but I am also getting a lot out of being the client during our one-on-one sessions. I have learned a lot about myself, what is bothering me that I may not have been aware of, what I want, and what I want to change. It has been a great opportunity for self analysis and reflection, allowing me to identify aspects of my life that could be improved. In essence, it has been like free therapy. What a bonus!

This class has already equipped me with effective communication skills that I will be able to use in practice, no matter what setting. I have many more “tools” to add to my bag of tricks as a soon-to-be clinician, which makes me feel more confident and excited. When looking at the elective courses available, I highly recommend this one!

Austen

Finished a half marathon! >

by Austen

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This morning my OT friends Jen, Lauren, and I ran the Surf City Huntington Beach Half Marathon! A good number of first and second year OT MA students ran in the race, and it was great to see some familiar faces down there.

I typically run 3-4 miles a day, at about a 9:30-10 minute per mile pace. The farthest I have ever gone is 6 miles. But at the beginning of this year, Jen encouraged me to start building on some more distance. Little did I know, the Surf City Half Marathon was on her radar. She told me and Lauren to register and do it with her, so that is what we did! I have never run in a race before, but always wanted to someday. I guess I did not realize that day was coming so soon.

I started training over winter break. I would do 4 short runs, about 4-5 miles, a week, then one long run (7 or 8 miles) on a weekend morning. Once we got back to school, Jen and I ran an 8.5 miler together. That was the longest I had gone, and farthest I would go before race day.

So after Motivation Interviewing on Saturday, Jen and I drove down to Huntington Beach and stayed at Lauren’s parents’ house for the night. We loaded up on carbs (spaghetti and garlic bread) and had big bowls of oatmeal for breakfast. We certainly were energized! At 8:12am, we were off, starting the 13.1 mile adventure. Jen and Lauren bolted out, weaving through the slower runners. I decided I could not do that and wanted to keep an even pace. So I stayed behind maintaining my comfortable pace. Mile 5 I was feeling good. Lauren’s parents were on the sideline cheering us on there. But by mile 7 I was seriously doubting why I chose to do this. When the mile 10 marker showed up, I was feeling great again, on that runner’s high. Only 3 to go, and they flew by! I ran all 13.1 miles in 2 hours 8 minutes 52 seconds, with a pretty steady pace of 9:50 minute miles. I beat my goal of 2 hours 10 minutes!

I never really understood why people run marathons. But now I do. It was a great feeling running alongside thousands of other people who enjoy doing the same thing you do. The other runners kept me going, they kept me energized, they kept me strong. Even though I was separated from my running buddies, I had lots of other runners to keep me company. There is also quite a bit of an adrenaline rush, especially when all the friends and families are yelling on the side line down the entire route. What a rush! It was just a great experience overall. I think I will do one again someday.

Austen

Experiencing a new area of practice >

by Austen

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There are several OT practice areas I still have yet to experience. These include school-based pediatrics, mental health, and geriatrics. One great thing about the USC OT program is there is an option to do an independent study course in the second year as an elective. You can design your own objectives and choose a setting of interest. Since I have always wondered about school-based pediatrics, I chose to do an independent study in a school setting to get an idea of what occupational therapy looks like there. I created the objectives I wanted to complete and found a school-based occupational therapist to observe for 4 hours a week.

Now, every Thursday morning I head down to Grand View Elementary in Manhattan Beach. The first day I stepped foot on the beautiful school campus I fell in love with it! It is a large elementary school, with lots of buildings, gardens, walkways, playgrounds, and grassy areas. There are 3 small rooms set aside for speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. The OT room has a mat, swing, squeeze machine, games, arts and crafts materials, toys, a computer, and table and chairs. It has the full setup with plenty of resources. I was really impressed!

The occupational therapist I am observing is also amazing. She has so much energy, treats the students as equals, radiates a positive attitude, and is a great teacher. She strives to make OT fun for the kids, occupation based, and relevant to their participation in school activities. I really like the interventions used in school based therapy, including activities that help improve fine motor skills, bilateral coordination, attention, etc.

The other thing I found I really like about school based OT is the environment is really fun. The kids are social and happy, they are around their peers, and there are a lot of other professionals (teachers, administrators, instructors, etc) to consult with. It is a very supportive environment for both the children and the school staff, making it an enjoyable place to be in. I can definitely see myself working in school based OT. I am aware of the downsides, such as large case loads, limited therapy time, and traveling between schools. But I find the job’s perks to outweigh the disadvantages. Maybe I have found a new aspiration?

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