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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


Undecided and Excited! ⟩
January 23, 2011, by Austen

Beginnings and Endings What are OS/OT?

Here we are entering the third week of our last semester, and let me tell you, time has flown by! The end is in sight and the real world is fast approaching. That means the search for jobs is about to start. Everyday I ask myself what am I going to do? Where do I want to work? Where do I want to live? Usually, I would have answers to these questions, a plan for the next step. However, in this situation I do not.

All throughout college the unknown was scary to me. I needed a goal to work towards, a direction. I always had something to work towards, a major, a career in mind, etc. That is part of why I chose to pursue an occupational therapy degree. It was an end goal, a direct path, and a specific degree for a wonderful career I knew I would enjoy. I also thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do within OT: I wanted to work with kids. However, over these past 2 years, I have realized I am not so sure about that anymore. I am not sure what I want to do or what is coming next. That would typically make me very uneasy, being a Type A personality. Much to my surprise, I am not worried at all.

Perhaps part of my comfort with the unknown is knowing that occupational therapy provides lots of opportunities. Anywhere I move, there will be jobs. Any area I choose to pursue, there will be jobs. That is part of the beauty of OT! Also, if I take a job in an area I end up not enjoying, I can always switch to a new practice area and try something new. The challenge is going to be choosing where to start, what to try first. But the thought of not knowing where that is going to be is exciting to me. I get to enter a new adventure of my life, one that is finally unplanned. All of my life I have planned the future, the next step, and I am ready to be spontaneous for once and see where I end up. Luckily I know that wherever I end up in OT, I will be happy!


Endless Opportunities ⟩
January 11, 2011, by Austen

What are OS/OT?

The band was back together again in Portland, Oregon. Over winter break, I went back home to reunite with my parents and my sister who had just returned from a semester in Capetown. It was as if we were never separated, just picked up where we left off as we always do. It is funny how that happens. As usual, my sister and I immediately jumped into the kitchen and started baking. Over the holidays, we went on a baking rampage. Luckily we were not the only ones eating our delicious creations, we baked for rescue missions, parties, friends, neighbors, and of course, our household. But I can honestly say I baked something new at least three times a week, and I looked forward to it each and every time. Some of my favorites and most successful endeavors were homemade granola, healthy(er) oatmeal chocolate peanut butter chip cookies, chocolate pecan toffee bars, german chocolate cake, lemon cupcakes with blueberry jam filling and vanilla frosting, and pumpkin ginger cookies with maple icing. Hungry? The list of baked goods that came out of my oven goes on and on. I guess you could say I love baking.

People tell me I should go to culinary school, become a food critic, or open a bakery, or all three. This all started when I returned from my semester abroad in Madrid with a new deep love of good food. I enjoy everything about it: reading recipes, grocery shopping, Food Network shows, cooking, indulging, and sharing the experience with others. Cooking and baking are now a large part of my life, and something I hope to continue doing. Since I find cooking and baking so enjoyable and meaningful, I would love to somehow incorporate it with my occupational therapy degree. Cooking classes for physically or mentally disabled? Baking as a social activity for developmentally delayed? Cooking classes for the college student? I often wonder if this is possible, but the more and more I talk about it with others, I realize that occupational therapy can be applied to and paired with any area of interest. Occupational therapy’s diverse and broad skill base can even serve as a valuable marketing tool to create a job that may lie outside the traditional medical/clinician role, whether that be related to cooking, nutrition, sports, music, dance, art, and so on. I once thought of occupational therapy as a very specific field, but I find now that occupational therapy can intertwine with many different aspects of life in ways we may not have explored before. On that note, I get more and more excited about all the opportunities awaiting me. So if you have any recommendations or ideas on how I can combine my love of food, cooking, and baking with occupational therapy, I am all ears!

Well, classes have begun and the semester is quickly underway. Here is to the New Year and my last semester. I think it will be a good one, a challenging one, and an exciting one. I look forward to it!


Defining Occupational Therapy ⟩
November 6, 2010, by Austen

What are OS/OT?

In class last week, we discussed how 40 years ago occupational therapy struggled to define itself. The boundaries and responsibilities of the occupational therapists were vague, the scope of practice was not clearly delineated, and many did not understand what it was. Unfortunately, we are still in that same situation today. Individual occupational therapists define the profession differently, they practice differently, and as a result, much of the public is unaware we exist.

During our discussion, I immediately started asking myself, why is it that our profession has not been able to find a simple definition? How can we still be stuck in the same situation as decades ago? Have we made no progress in establishing ourselves?

At first, these questions were discouraging. I felt hesitant about my choice to enter a profession that cannot explain itself in a uniform and definite way. I was a little bothered by the fact that I will have to explain what occupational therapy is to most people I encounter. I already struggle with a solid explanation of the profession.

Thinking about it a little longer, I realized that occupational therapy’s lack of a straightforward definition is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I think it is a beautiful thing. It is not appropriate for our profession to define ourselves as simply as other professions like accountant, lawyer, or stockbroker. We have the freedom to work in so many different settings with such different populations that the responsibilities, tasks, and skills vary from job to job. It would be limiting to pick a more precise definition of occupational therapy.

My favorite part of occupational therapy is its flexibility. Occupational therapists are able to work anywhere and with anyone. I would much rather have a variety of opportunities available to me at the cost of taking 30 seconds to explain what occupational therapists do. Life is full of sacrifices. Occupational therapy as a profession is worth the struggle of finding a definition because in the end, we know that the opportunities are endless, we will love what we do, and we will be able to change lives.

However, it does not hurt to advocate for our profession and get us further out in the public eye. We still need to educate everyone we talk to, get others involved, and spread our love of occupational therapy. If we show excitement and passion about our profession, it will inspire others. We should not be discouraged by the unawareness and ambiguity that exists, but instead motivated to change it.


A Summer of Surprises ⟩
October 23, 2010, by Austen

Fieldwork What are OS/OT?

I was initially uneasy with my first summer fieldwork placement at an inpatient acute rehabilitation floor of a large hospital. I had no idea what to expect as I had no prior fieldwork experience in that setting. I was worried about not liking physical disabilities, not being good at it, and being overwhelmed in a hospital setting.

The inpatient rehab unit I was on was super intense as I had expected, and there were so many things to remember. I worked 4 days a week 10 hour days, arriving in time to see my first patient at 7am, and leaving around 5pm. By the time I got home, I was exhausted from mental, physical, and emotional overload. It was an 18 bed unit, with a large OT and PT gym area, fully equipped kitchen, and lots of activities resources to choose from. I observed the first couple weeks, then started brainstorming treatment ideas, eventually taking on one patient of my own. About half way through the 12 week internship I started treating an entire caseload of 5-6 patients in a day. I was treating on my own, with my clinical instructor either in another room with her own patient or down the hall at our desk. I had an amazing clinical instructor. She was supportive, encouraging, helpful, thorough, patient, and challenging and we got along great. She knew when to push me, she knew when to step in. She was an incredible teacher. I really lucked out.

In the observation phase, I remember watching my clinical instructor help a 380 pound woman diagnosed with “failure to thrive” to the commode, assist with perineal care as the patient was not able to reach, and also bathe every crease of the patient’s body to ensure thorough washing. I was worried about the day I would have to do that myself and I was quick to think a hospital is not a place I want to work later on. Essentially, I was scared to do something I had never done before. Not only was I hesitant about some of the responsibilities of the OT in an acute rehab setting early on, but I was critical of the overall hospital setting as I assumed more hands-on experience. It was pretty stressful and overwhelming from what I experienced, and it was really fast-paced. I was constantly moving, always on my feet, always thinking on the go. I worked up a sweat all day as I was constantly transferring patients, running around collecting items, running errands, etc. I would go home and collapse after a day at work. There was no leftover energy to do much of anything else.

Then the third to last week of fieldwork arrived. At that time I was treating my own caseload, completing all documentation, and feeling comfortable with my routine. A 10-hour day was still physically and mentally taxing on me, but it was doable. I found a schedule that worked for me, I found a way to manage my patients, I found a way to be organized. And I was having fun! It was at that moment that I could not only look at the checklist of things I had to complete, but I could enjoy being with my patients. I found a way to balance being the health care professional and the cheerleader, the coach and the friend. Something clicked. The last couple weeks were the best ones, because I felt like I knew what I was doing and I saw the difference I was making. My patients would go home saying “Thanks a million,” “I could not have done this without you,” and “I really appreciate all of your help.” That makes it all worth it.

Despite my initial trepidation, working in acute rehab was an amazing experience and I learned a number of lessons. It may seem cliche, but I learned to not always rely on first impressions. After the incident with that obese woman, I dreaded going into that hospital for the first couple weeks, worried about the first day I would have to get my hands dirty. However, once I stepped in and started treating, I never flinched again. I realized that my first impression that working in a hospital was not for me was too quick of a judgement. I sit in the classroom now wishing I was back on that acute rehab unit. My summer experience was way better than I ever thought it would be. I also learned to keep an open mind. Before I started, I told myself I was not going to like it and I was going to be bad at it. Much to my surprise, I loved my fieldwork there, and happened to do a great job! So, just because you think you may not like something or may be bad at it, give it a try anyway and you may surprise yourself like I did.


Finding what is meaningful to you ⟩
October 6, 2010, by Austen

Life Hacks School/Life Balance

Occupations are the activities we fill our time with, the things we do daily. In our Occupational Therapy program, we have read a lot about how important occupations are to health and well-being, and why engaging in meaningful activities positively influences our overall quality of life. It seems obvious that doing things we enjoy helps us live healthier happier lives, but I did not really think about it until we discussed it in class. Since then, I have made a conscious effort to incorporate activities I love doing in each and every day. As a result, I am happier and more satisfied with my life.

I danced on my high school’s state champion dance team for four years. We practiced for around 15 hours a week, learning and perfecting our routines to compete. Sometimes I could not stand walking into that gymnasium room any more, I was sick of our music, and annoyed with our coach yelling at us. But when I was dancing in front of hundreds of people hearing fans cheer me on, I remembered why I love dancing. My muscles would take over and they knew exactly what to do, my mind would go blank, and time seemed to fly by. I reached what we call “flow.” But when I went to college, I stopped dancing. I started freshman year as pre-med, and had no time for it. I lost one of my most meaningful occupations. Looking back, I can see how negatively it affected me. I was low on energy, not as happy, and felt like something big was missing from my life. It is almost as if I did not realize how important and influential dancing was to me until I lost it. It was not until years later, during the first year in the OT program, that I was inspired to pick it back up again.

I joined the USC Repertory Dance Company through the School of Theater on main campus at USC. Having dance back in my life has made a huge difference in my wellbeing over the past year. I have a social network of friends in my company, I get lots of exercise, and I have a creative outlet for expression. It is a wonderful right-brain activity to balance out all the left-brain work we do in school. It is a chance to get lost in music, explore new movement, and step into the character of whoever I want to be. I can leave my problems, concerns, and anxieties at the door and forget about them during rehearsals. Picking up dance again helped me experience for myself what it is we have been learning in OT school. I now understand the role meaningful occupation plays in one’s life. Experiencing the negative effect of not dancing solidified the importance of pursuing things I enjoy doing as often as possible. I am going to continue to engage in meaningful activities such as dance because they truly make me a happier, healthier, more motivated and curious person.

What do you enjoy doing? What makes time fly by for you? What do you look forward to doing everyday? If those question bring specific things to mind, hold on the them and continue engaging in those activities. If nothing comes to mind, go out and find something that makes you happy and excited. This will make each day fulfilling and help you achieve overall wellbeing.

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