Final Reflections and Next Steps >
May 4, 2018
I can’t believe I’m really saying this, but I’m officially done with ALL of my classes in the Entry-Level Master’s Program! I want to take this final blog post to reflect on the past two years in the program, and to share what’s coming up next for me! Warning: this one gets a little sentimental.
Over the past 2 years:
I’ve taken (and passed!) 22 classes. That’s included countless exams and the 4 Ps (papers, posters, presentations, and projects). Those classes have included so many opportunities for group work, which have encouraged me to see multiple perspectives, enhanced my communication skills, and have given me the chance to get to know so many of my classmates on a deeper level. Each class covered a different topic; I’ve learned about specific practice immersion areas, research methods, program development, leadership, therapeutic use of self, and so much more! I used this Spring semester to take elective courses to dive into pediatrics, the practice area I’m most interested in. Altogether the curriculum has prepared me to be a general practitioner, ready to work as an OT in any practice area.
In those 22 classes, I’ve been instructed by 26 outstanding faculty members, who each brought their own unique experiences and perspectives to the classroom and the course material. Seriously, the USC Chan faculty members are passionate, experienced, and understanding — they’ve truly made this learning experience a positive one. They’ve challenged my clinical reasoning and they’ve supported my development to becoming an entry-level practitioner.
I’ve learned and studied with 136 classmates. These students have come from so many unique backgrounds and will end up working in a wide range of different practice areas. The passion, drive, and enthusiasm in my class has been so impressive, but it has always felt like such a supportive group!
I was inducted into Pi Theta Epsilon, the National Honor Society for Occupational Therapy.
I completed 4 fieldwork placements (3 Level I and 1 Level II). Each placement was in a uniquely different practice area: an acute hospital setting, an outpatient forensic mental health setting, a community-based center for older adults, and school-based pediatrics. In each setting, I got to connect with real clients and work through the OT process with them to help them achieve their goals. It was in these environments where I felt the most challenged, but also the most rewarded; getting an A on an exam feels great, but actually helping a client feels WAY better! One more Level II Fieldwork to go this summer!
I’ve dedicated 350+ hours of work in this role as a Student Ambassador. I’ve had the honor of representing the Chan Division over the last year and half and sharing my experiences as a student in this program through this blog, but also by conducting tours and information sessions for prospective students on campus, presentations to pre-OT clubs at universities in Southern California, and tabling at health fairs. Serving as a Student Ambassador has been one of the highlights of my experience in the program, because of the opportunities and experiences it has given me, but also because of the people it’s brought me closer to. This position has allowed me to get to know my 5 amazing coworkers: Ali, Bryan, Erika, Kaitlyn, and Linah, none of whom I knew very well before starting in this role!
I’ve also been so lucky to get to know my supervisors who oversee admissions, recruitment and events for the Division: Kim Kho, Liz Carley, Erin McIntyre, Amber Bennett, and Bianca Ojeda. It’s truly been a pleasure to work with and learn from these women!
These two years haven’t been ONLY class and work, however! OT students definitely understand the importance of lifestyle balance 😊
I spent 2 weeks in Australia for my leadership externship, where I learned about occupational therapy education and practice at Griffith University and their affiliate clinical sites.
I’ve supported the Trojans at 11 home football games and tailgates, including 2 homecoming tailgates! Fight On!
I’ve spent countless hours at the OT House not only studying, but also spending time with friends and talking about topics other than OT (No Homework Saturdays!!).
There’s definitely been time for a few parties, too!
Finally, I’ve made 7 incredible, lifelong friends in this program: Emily, Niamh, Dani, Brett, Brooke, Hanna, and Heather. I moved from North Carolina to Los Angeles to start this program. I was 21, had just graduated from college, and I was starting grad school in a new city where I didn’t know anyone — it was a scary transition! That feeling went away much quicker than I’d anticipated. I’m so lucky to have found a place in the group of friends that I did. These two years would not have been the same without the laughs, the support, the debriefs, the study sessions, the outings, and the dance parties.
In a few days, I’ll be graduating from the Entry-Level Master’s program, but there are 3 additional things I have to do before I can call myself a registered occupational therapist: (1) Take the Comprehensive Exam; (2) Complete my final 12-week Level II Fieldwork experience; and (3) Take and pass the National Board Certification in Occupational Therapy exam.
I’m staying at USC to get my Doctoral degree (OTD); the program is 1 year and begins in August. I am pursuing the Advanced Clinical Practice track of the OTD, and I will be completing my residency at the USC University Center of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. I’m looking forward to spending the upcoming year developing my clinical expertise in the clinical practice area of pediatric mental health!
I’ve wanted to be an Occupational Therapist since the 8th grade, and it’s surreal that I’m so close to accomplishing this dream! I’m so thankful for the learning experience I’ve had these past two years, and I’m looking forward to one more year at USC to gain advanced skills in OT! Thanks to my family, friends, fellow Student Ambassadors, and classmates for the support these two years. And, finally, thanks to the readers — best of luck as you pursue your OT goals!!
Australian Externship Reflections >
April 17, 2018
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I was given the opportunity to travel to Australia for my two week Leadership Externship. What an experience it was! We were hosted by Griffith University’s OT Program on the Gold Coast of Australia, known for its beaches and surfing competitions.
At Griffith, we were able to sit in on first, second, and third year classes, which was a cool experience, both to meet the students and faculty and to see what their curriculum is like! In Australia, the education required to become an OT is a 4 year Bachelor’s degree, whereas in the US it’s a Master’s Degree. The program there emphasizes the Canadian Model of Occupational Performance and Engagement as the lens through which they view evaluation, treatment, and client interaction. I was not very familiar with this model beforehand, but it was a very occupation-centered approach to OT, which I appreciated learning more about! In comparison, our program at USC introduces a number of different models, which we can choose to utilize when we feel they fit the clinical situation. The classes were very interactive and full of discussion and team-based activities, which reminded me of our classes at USC.
In addition to sitting in on some of the classes at Griffith, we also had the opportunity to see a number of different clinical sites in the area. Here, we gained an appreciation for their universal healthcare system and some of the unique programs they were able to put in place.
We visited Galleon Gardens, a residential older adult facility. One thing that stood out out to me there was the incredible attention to detail in their newly-renovated memory care wing. Each resident’s door had a different design to help them recognize it as their own. The floor panels ran the same direction throughout the wing to prevent residents from getting “stuck” or confused by the floor. Cabinets for the nursing staff had hidden latches so residents wouldn’t see handles and try to open them. An OT had been consulted when designing the space, so not only was it beautiful and homey, but it was purposeful. The other standout at Galleon Gardens was the work they’re doing with texture-modified foods for residents with modified diets. The staff uses molds to make the pureed foods look like their original form, making the food more appealing to eat; it’s unlike anything I’d ever seen before!
We spent a couple mornings at Gold Coast University Hospital (GCUH), meeting with staff, touring the floors, and observing fourth-year students in their placements there. We also spent a day at Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital (LCCH) [now the Queensland Children’s Hospital] in Brisbane. Both of these hospitals were quite new, so the facilities and design were incredible — both had really state of the art rehabilitation spaces. At GCUH, they had a simulated grocery store, kitchen, and apartment called the LIFE Space as well as a car (put on the roof by crane!) for patients to safely practice activities they’d be doing when they returned home. LCCH had a beautiful outdoor space with a wheelchair-accesible swing and rock climbing wall (great for kids who are able to get outside!) as well as some cool treatment rooms. My favorite was one of the craft rooms, which was designed so that kids could get as messy as they wanted and could paint the floor, walls, and ceiling; the staff could just hose off the entire room and the water drained out through the floor!
Finally, we got to visit a couple of mental health sites in the area. Headspace was an outpatient mental health site for adolescents and young adults. The space had a cool feel to it and the staff dressed really casually, so it felt like a very inviting space for the population that it served. We also visited with the Homeless Health Outreach Team, and learned about the work they’re doing in the community. In Australia, OT seems to have a larger presence in mental health than it does in the US at the moment. OT has its roots in mental health, and we’re definitely working on increasing our presence in mental health in the US. Seeing how well they’re doing it in Australia served as a great example for what we’re working towards here!
Not only did we learn from all of the students, faculty, and practitioners we met during our visit, but we also got to share what we know with the folks at Griffith. We gave a presentation that covered OT practice and education in the US (and how it differs from Australia), some highlights about our programs at USC, and we also gave some advice to students going out on their first long placement (as we’ve already completed our first 12 week Level II Fieldwork placements). We also covered the Summer Occupational Therapy Immersion program run by Global Initiatives here at USC Chan. Some of the students we met at Griffith will be coming out here this summer for the SOTI program, so I’m looking forward to reconnecting with them and showing them around LA!
The two weeks of externship are conveniently scheduled right next to spring break, so I was able to spend that week traveling in New Zealand and Australia. I spent the first three days of spring break in New Zealand, which had the most beautiful green rolling hills (and lots of sheep!). I even drove on the opposite side of the road for one day, which was quite the mental exercise 😊.
I spent the second half of spring break in Sydney, Australia, where we saw the Sydney Harbour Bridge, toured the Opera house, and did the coastal walk from Coogee to Bondi Beach. With the beaches, the big city, and so much going on, Sydney actually reminded me a lot of LA!
The two weeks of externship were jam-packed with classes and site visits, but we also made time to do some sight-seeing! On the Gold Coast, we had some time to lounge by the beach, but my favorite excursion was to the Currumbin Wildlife Center, where we got to pet kangaroos, hold koalas, and see other wildlife unique to Australia (definitely checked off a couple bucket list items there!).
Overall, this experience made me think about OT in new and different ways. The healthcare and education systems in Australia are quite different from the systems in the US. Despite those differences, occupational therapy as a profession was quite similar, which was very cool to see! I’m so grateful this opportunity was part of my OT education, as it encouraged me to think more globally about my future profession. It was really incredible to hear about my classmates’ diverse experiences when we all got back together, which reminded me that there are OTs doing incredible work across the world! Make sure to check out Kaitlyn’s blog post about her experience in Denmark and Erika’s blog post about her externship in Ireland.
Externship Excitement >
February 20, 2018
In a couple of days, I’ll be leaving for a two week stay in Australia — and it’s part of a class assignment! The leadership externship is part of OT 540: Leadership Capstone, which all second year students take during the spring semester. The leadership externship is a two-week, student-driven experience designed to build leadership, communication, and professionalism skills, and further explore topics covered in OT 540.
The vision of the Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy states: “Our vision is to be one of the world’s leading academic programs in occupational science and occupational therapy — and to develop expert, compassionate leaders who improve the health and well-being of individuals and society.” Not only does USC teach us how to be occupational therapists, it also teaches us how to be leaders in the field of occupational therapy, and the leadership externship helps get us there.
I think it’s incredible that the faculty is willing to give second year students a break from classes in the middle of the semester in order to accommodate this unique learning experience.
Students can design their externship to fit their interests and career goals. I have classmates who will be shadowing university and hospital directors and administrators, working with advocacy or cultural groups, and volunteering for a special interest group. Other students choose to take the AMPS (Assessment of Motor and Process Skills) certification class, which adds a tool to their evaluation toolbox as an entry-level practitioner out in the field. On average, 1/3 of the class chooses to plan an international externship experience to learn more about OT in the global context. I have friends preparing to travel to Ghana, South Korea, Denmark, Japan, Peru, Ireland, and more — how awesome is that?! The Global Initiatives Office, headed by Dr. Danny Park, has connections with a number of OT programs across the world, and provides a lot of support and resources to students interested in planning an international externship experience.
The opportunity to travel and learn more about OT internationally is unique and was one of the reasons I chose to study at USC. This is an opportunity I’ve been looking forward to since starting in the program, so I’m really excited that it’s finally here! I’ll be spending two weeks at Griffith University in the Gold Coast of Australia, along with 5 other classmates. While there, I hope to learn more about their OT curriculum and Occupational Science, visit various clinical sites in the area, make presentations to the students, faculty, and practitioners, and build lasting professional relationships.
Our one week spring break immediately follows the two weeks of externship, so a lot of students are capitalizing on this timing and stay abroad the extra week for personal travel. I’m using the extra week to visit Sydney, Australia and Auckland, New Zealand! It’s been a busy couple weeks planning for this three-week excursion (How many clinical sites can we find time to visit? How many Koalas can I hold?!), but I’m getting more and more excited as it gets closer. I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences and reflections on the blog after I return. Australia, here I come!!
OT House Pros and Cons >
February 7, 2018
This blog is dedicated to a building that I spend a lot of time in: The OT House. Although I don’t actually live in the OT House (I live in an apartment in Pasadena), most of my friends do, so it’s become a second home for me. Linah offered some advice about finding housing in LA and Kaitlyn wrote about Currie Hall, a graduate student housing option on the Health Sciences campus, so here’s one more housing perspective. The OT House (officially named Centennial Apartments) is a graduate student apartment located near the USC University Park Campus. Each unit is a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment with a kitchen, living room, and balcony. The building has a communal outdoor patio with lounge chairs and a grill. A gym is located in the basement with cardio equipment (2 treadmills, 2 ellipticals) as well as two benches with free weights. There is a communal lounge on the first floor with a large TV and table space to study with a group. Washers and dryers are available on every floor.
I polled a few friends (shout out to Brooke, Heather, Hanna, Emily, and Brett!) to get some Pros and Cons about living in the OT House, so here we go:
The OT House is a short walk to USC’s University Park Campus — easy access to the libraries and fun events on campus. The Village, a new complex with a Trader Joe’s, Target, restaurants, and a gym is also a short walk away. Additionally, the OT house is centrally located in Los Angeles, a short drive to downtown and 30 minutes away from the beach!
- Great for Students without a Car
There is an inter-campus tram that picks students up right in front of the OT House in the morning and drops students off on the Health Science campus, where all of our classes take place. It’s a quick 30 minute ride — no need to have a car or deal with navigating traffic to get to school in the morning! The OT house is also within the Campus Cruiser boundaries; from 7PM-2AM students can take a free Lyft ride to anywhere else within the boundary. There are a couple of metro stops near the OT House, which students can use to commute to Fieldwork if they don’t have a car.
The building is very secure! You have to swipe into the building entrance AND swipe into the elevator. Only residents of the building are able to enter. A key is required to enter each floor using the stairs, and doors are locked with a key. In the event of an emergency, campus security is a quick phone call away.
Living with fellow OT students is a great way to make friends and study partners! There is a Resident Advisor who plans various events for the building (most recently, trivia), and there is an OT Faculty Advisor, currently Dr. Kim Lenington, who lives at the OT house (with her very cute dog, Barney) and is available to spend time with and support students living at the OT House. I’m an “honorary” member of the OT House Facebook group, and I’ve attended a lot of fun gatherings at the OT House: 4th of July barbeque, superbowl party, holiday gift exchange, a wine and cheese sampling soiree, and so much more! Additionally, Engage is a weekly community outreach program hosted at the OT House. It’s a fun way to connect with and mentor children and young adults in the community, with games, activities, and dinner.
- General Apartment Setup
The OT House is FULLY furnished: table and chairs in the dining area; couch, chair, and tables in the living room; bed, desk, and storage drawers in the bedroom (and sizable closets); fridge/freezer, oven, stove, and dishwasher in the kitchen (no microwave provided). For anyone moving to LA to start the program, this makes the move significantly easier — no furniture shopping or movers to deal with! Though the bathroom is shared, there are 2 sinks and the toilet and shower are in separate rooms, making it an easy set-up for a shared bathroom. The apartment has A/C, and you can control your own air in each of the bedrooms — negates the awkward thermostat debates with your roommate.
- Cost and Housing Timeline
The 2018-2019 monthly rate per person will be $1,235, which is pretty competitive for Los Angeles. The housing contract lines up with the USC academic year — students can live there August-May and can do a summer contract May-August. This summer option is nice, as some students will choose to live in the OT House their first summer in the program, meet some friends, settle in and learn the LA area a little better, and then move to a different housing location for the fall. For students interested in doing Level II Fieldwork out of area during the summer, they don’t have to deal with paying for rent in two places or finding someone to sublet while they’re away.
- Wear and Tear
The OT house is not a new building. If you’re looking for a super sleek and modern apartment, this is not it — it’s got some character though (in fact, some of our professors lived in the OT house when they were in the Master’s program…looking at you, Dr. Rafeedie!). To be clear, the OT House is not gross or falling apart, it’s just not a new building! If maintenance problems do come up, like a fire alarm battery that needs replacing or a toilet that needs unclogging, maintenance acts quickly and thoroughly. One of my friends living at the OT House even called maintenance for help when she saw a spider in her room (maintenance was very nice about it, and she’s working on her fear of spiders. We’re supporting her through it 😊)
- Hidden Fees
The OT House has secure parking beneath and behind it, but it’s not free. Students living at the OT House pay $75/month for parking. There are washer/dryer units on each floor of the building, but those aren’t free either: the washer is $1.50 per load and the dryer is $1 per load.
- Printing and Package Pickup
There is not a communal printer in the OT House; the closest one is in Sierra, another apartment building, which is a 5 minute walk away. Students get 50 pages of printing free per year. Packages deliveries are also sent to Sierra, which is not open late at night. Timing package pick up around the class schedule has been a complaint from my friends who live at the OT House.
- The Shuttle Route
When taking the inter-campus shuttle back home at the end of the day, the route changes a little bit. It does not drop students back off right in front of the OT House. The closest stop in the afternoon is a 15-minute walk away from the OT House. Sure, I could spin it and say it incorporates a little activity into your day and allows you to hang out with friends and debrief the school day, but let’s be real. Sometimes at the end of the day, you just want to plop onto the couch, watch some TV, and not talk to anyone, and this added time to the commute delays that.
I’ve made a lot of great memories in the OT House, so I’m definitely partial to it, but there’s a lot to consider when deciding where to live. You can find more information about the OT House on our website and on the USC housing website. Hopefully this helps those of you thinking about the transition to LA!
Getting into the Swing of Spring! >
January 16, 2018
Spring semester is officially here! I’m definitely still getting back into the swing of classes and schoolwork after a long winter break. I had exactly a month off — and I definitely used it! Ali made the point that this may be the last long school break we’ll have, so I’m glad that I filled it with so many meaningful occupations! I was able to visit a friend from college in Nashville, TN (the country music fan in me was over the moon), spend Christmas with my family back home in North Carolina, and then finished it off with a family vacation in Hawaii filled with hiking, snorkeling, and sight-seeing. Check out a couple of pictures from Hawaii — my family and I hiked Manoa Falls in Honolulu; I also enjoyed relaxing by the beach, and I even tried Standup Paddleboarding for the first time!
Although leaving the beautiful beaches of Hawaii was tough, I’m excited to be back at school for this final semester in the Master’s program. Up until now, all of my courses were selected for me, as I worked my way through the Entry-Level Master’s Program curriculum. This semester, however, is unique because I got to select elective courses to fill my schedule. There are two required courses: OT540: Leadership Capstone and OT545: Advanced Seminar in Occupational Science that all second year students take in the spring.
The rest of my schedule is filled with the electives of my choosing! I see myself going into Pediatrics, so I chose elective courses related to Pediatric practice. I’m taking OT 564: Sensory Integration and OT 565: Sensory Integration Interventions, which count for part of the educational coursework to become certified in Sensory Integration. It’s unique that I’m able to start working towards this certification as part of my Master’s Curriculum, so I’m really grateful for this opportunity. I also get to learn from Dr. Erna Blanche, who studied Sensory Integration under Dr. A. Jean Ayres (who is basically an OT celebrity because she developed Sensory Integration Theory). In OT 567: Contemporary Issues: Occupational Therapy in Early Intervention, I get to learn about OT for children birth-3 years old, with an emphasis on the importance of family-centered and culturally-relevant practice. Finally, I’m taking OT 575: Dysphagia Across the Lifespan: Pediatrics Through Geriatrics. This class is all about swallowing disorders — I already got to look into my classmates’ throats to look for certain anatomical landmarks on day 1, so you could say it’s going well.
Because second years are all taking elective courses, we’re no longer divided up by cohort. Everyone is mixed up into different combinations, based on the classes we chose for ourselves. I definitely miss the familiarity and comfort of the 45ish students in my cohort, but I also value hearing opinions from different classmates.
It’s already shaping up to be a busy and eventful semester, but I’m just trying to take in as much as I can and enjoy these final few months (both in class and outside of class) with my classmates and friends before we all move on to the next step in our OT careers!
Looking forward to more fun LA outings throughout the semester — gotta fill my No-Homework-Saturdays somehow, right 😉