Electives During the OTD Program >
February 5, 2021
This Fall I was feeling burnt out towards the end of the semester. It was my first OTD semester with classes being virtual and it was my first time being the only OT at my site (primary care clinic). Many times, I was just trying to keep up with my assignments and residency demands. During the month of October, I began looking at what classes I would be taking for the Spring semester, but it was all just too stressful, and I kept pushing it back. My bi-weekly check ins with my faculty mentor and clinical preceptor helped with brainstorming ideas for potential electives to take in the Spring. The idea of getting to choose courses that interest me and plan my own schedule sounded refreshing. I began to look for electives outside of the OT department since I’ve never had the opportunity to take a class in another department.
Taking the advice from my check ins and further understanding the needs of my residency population, I decided to look for electives in gerontology, policy, and pain medicine under the Keck School of Medicine. Eventually, I came across several exciting opportunities to take as electives but not enough units because of the 2 additional elective units I took during the Master’s program. Remember that during the OTD program you can take 4 units of electives (unless you took extra elective units as a USC Master’s student). For students starting their OTD in the fall, in the Spring semester you will also be taking OT 621: Occupational Therapy Leadership: Contemporary Issues (4 units).
Since the beginning of my residency training our focus has been supporting clients with uncontrolled diabetes and hypertension. I also had the opportunity to provide short consultations, with one of the highest requests being for chronic pain. Clients on our active caseload will often request support with pain management as well due to diabetes complications such as neuropathy and other comorbidities that cause pain, making it harder for them to engage in their health management and daily occupations. Given this need and while doing further research, I decided I wanted to use my 2 elective units to learn more about pain and better support my clients. After reaching out to Keck faculty to get clearance for pain medicine courses, I enrolled in PAIN-704: Pain and Society: Epidemiology and Cultural Issues and PAIN-720: Physical and Occupational Therapies. PAIN 704 is a course focused on exploring societal issues related to pain and pain management such as culture, ethnicity, caregiving, social and psychological factors. PAIN 720 is a course focused on discussing different OT and PT techniques to assess and treat chronic pain.
The first week of January I had a check-in with Dr. Sarah Bream, our OTD Program Director. During our meeting I shared with her my desire to take MDED-511: Immigrants, Illness, and Narrative Medicine (4 units), but not having enough units. MDED 511 is a course that examines immigrant experiences in the U.S. through the lens of narrative medicine, aimed to deepen students’ understanding of critical issues affecting immigrants in the U.S. and develop skills to better serve immigrant communities and populations in healthcare and other social services. I shared with her my passion to increase my knowledge and skills to better serve immigrant communities during my residency and in my career. Dr. Bream was very receptive of my ideas and even provided additional advice to work on for my OTD portfolio. She shared with me that on a case-to-case basis, exceptions could be made to substitute OT 621 with another course. I was really surprised but excited to hear this because that meant I could take the MDED 511 course. I truly appreciated her help with problem solving, finding a way to shape my OTD experience, and taking care of the necessary paperwork to make the change.
I am now three weeks into my Spring semester, and I am feeling refreshed (after Winter Break), more confident in my clinical skills, and looking forward to my electives expanding my knowledge. I wanted to share my experience choosing electives during the OTD because if you are feeling unsure about what to take or simply don’t have enough units to take certain courses, I encourage you to reach out to Dr. Bream, your faculty mentor, classmates, the student ambassadors, or even former students because unless you ask, you may not know about the different ways that you can customize your learning experience.
Joining a Growing Number of Latinx Occupational Therapists >
January 5, 2021
Recently the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) published the 2019 Workforce and Salary Survey. Based on 15,596 responses (most being AOTA members), in 2018 race/ethnicity of occupational therapists were as follows: 3.6% Hispanic/Latinx, 2.6% African American/Black, 6.3% Asian/Pacific Islander, 0.2% American Indian/Alaskan Native, 1.7% Multiethnic, 1.6% Preferred not to Answer, with the majority of occupational therapists remaining at 84.0% Caucasian/White. Keep in mind that these numbers are based on people who responded to the survey. The United States (U.S.) Bureau of Labor Statistics also compiled data in 2019 from employed occupational therapists that were as follows: White, 75.7%; Black or African American, 10.2%; Asian, 12.4%, and Hispanic or Latino, 10.2%.
The truth is these statistics are not where I or many people would want them to be and they make me feel fortunate to be a part of this small, but growing percentage of Latinx occupational therapists. It is also a reminder that I must continue to push the narrative. In addition to the numbers shared above, I also represent an unknown statistic of undocumented occupational therapists in the United States. The closest statistic I found while doing my research was from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) tabulation data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2018 American Community Survey, which found that 3.6% of “therapists” in the U.S. are “foreign-born workers”. Yet, there is no true number I can refer to as this number gathers occupational therapists, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, and speech-language pathologists under the term “therapists”, and the term “foreign-born workers” can include undocumented people, undocumented people with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, and a variety of visas. Furthermore, disclosing immigration status is a sensitive topic to disclose on surveys or any type of data collection.
So why is this important you may be wondering? Well, as I have disclosed in a previous financial aid video, I am currently undocumented with DACA status. My entire life has been full of firsts, first person in my family to go to college, first to go to graduate school, and the list goes on. During the process and since officially becoming a licensed OT in California, the firsts just keep coming and as we begin 2021, I foresee many more happening this year. At some point this year I will be completing my Doctorate in Occupational Therapy (OTD) degree and applying for jobs. If someone would have told me this back when I was in high school, I would have not believed it. Back then I didn’t think it was possible to even go to college, much less that one day I would be at USC working on my doctorate degree. This is why the numbers above matter because to have access to even one professional that looks like you or that may come from a similar background can make a huge difference in someone’s decision to pursue a specific program and/or career as it did for me. Furthermore, having representation in the healthcare field for clients from diverse backgrounds is vital to providing the best care possible and better understand client beliefs and values.
This year my life is going to change, and it is scary/exciting as this will be one of the biggest firsts I’ve ever had to experience. The last two years at USC, I’ve had the opportunity to have mentors in the OT profession such as Dr. Celso Delgado, Dr. Jesus Diaz, Dr. Gabby Granados, Dr. Beth Pyatak, and Dr. Arameh Anvarizadeh, to name a few, who have supported me in ways that have made it possible for an undocumented student from Van Nuys to join this group of occupational therapists working to increase representation in our profession and make our communities’ voices heard. And I also want to give a shoutout to some of my classmates, Katie Bui, Marilyn Thompson, and Janis Yue, for also doing the work to increase diversity in OT these last few years and also working on their OTD.
Last Step, But it Comes with a Price (The Cost of Getting Your OT License) >
November 23, 2020
This is the time when many of you are finishing your Fall semester, and for class of 2021 this is the end of the didactic part of the Master’s program for you! Congratulations! Time flies by right? Once you are done with the COMPS Exam and get some well-deserved rest during the holidays, you will be gone for 8 months doing level-2 fieldwork. Perhaps you may feel like it is too early to start thinking about the NBCOT or OT License application process, but trust me, that will come sooner that you expect it. I wanted to take this time, while it is still fresh on my mind, to share with you the costs I accumulated the last couple of months in the process of getting my OT license. Last week I received an email stating that my California OT License was approved and I am officially an OTR/L!! But first, I had to pay the final license fee.
So…$1,278, that was the total spent to get my OT license. I was not happy about it either. Yes, that is a lot of money and for many students it may not be easy to get that amount of money. This is the reason why I think it’s important to start thinking about it now, even if it’s still a year away. You want to make sure you are planning ahead and if you can set aside some money for when this time comes. I understand that my experience may be different from other students, and keep in mind that these were my costs for 2020 in the state of California. If you are applying for your OT limited permit and/or license, the process and costs may look different. Lastly, the process doesn’t really change but make sure you are checking all the updated requirements.
I remember when I was in the Master’s program I knew I would have to pay for NBCOT exam, OT License, etc. but it wasn’t until I did my research that I realized just how expensive it is. And how does one “save money” while being a full time student, being at fieldwork, and perhaps not having an consistent income? Unfortunately, there isn’t one specific answer for that. However, there are a few things I would recommend as you prepare for the costs of getting your OT license.
- Apply apply apply for scholarships! Last year I applied to the California Foundation of Occupational Therapy (CFOT) Scholarship and was selected, which is one of the ways I had funds for NBCOT/OT license expenses. If you haven’t already, please check our USC Chan Scholarship Page which includes USC and non-USC scholarship opportunities throughout the year.
- Select your study materials wisely and talk to former OT students about their experience preparing for the NBCOT exam. You may not have to get every single study material out there. I made that mistake this past year because I panicked and didn’t inform myself prior to buying study materials. As I began studying, I realized there are many free resources to study for the NBCOT. Please see previous blog that talks more about study materials I used, including free resources.
- Consider the timeline from completing your last level-2 fieldwork to when you will need your OT limited permit and/or license. The reason I bring this up is because you may be able to reduce your costs if you don’t need your OT limited permit for example. For OTD students in the clinical track, we were required to apply for the OT limited permit in order to provide any type of client care. For other OTD tracks or if you are front-loading all your OTD courses, make sure you are in communication with Dr. Bream to understand your timeline and expectations for getting your OT limited permit and/or license. Many of my classmates that decided not to do the OTD, only had to pay for the OT license since they waited to apply for jobs until they passed the NBCOT and their license was approved.
- For physical study materials (i.e., TherapyEd book, Occupational Therapy Examination Review Guide) check your class Facebook page, Facebook NBCOT study groups, and with former OT students as they may be willing to sell you the study books for cheaper. Also, don’t forget to use your study materials from the program (i.e., Pedretti book)!
- Start setting money aside now, if possible. If you find yourself working during fieldwork, this may be something worth considering. I was fortunate to work as OTD Student Ambassador during the summer, helping ease the financial burden of all the expenses.
- Get creative! Start a fundraiser! You may able to raise part of the money by selling food, baked goods, etc.
My Support System >
October 26, 2020
This past week I received the best news ever, “WE” passed the NBCOT exam! The reason I say “WE” is because I attribute every big accomplishment to my support system. Yes, they will always say that I’m the one that put in the work but I feel that my accomplishments are and always will be a collective effort. Where I come from, it often takes a village to do what very few have done before. This past weekend made me reflect back on my support system and their unconditional love and support. I have been fortunate to have people in my corner every step of the way. Being the first person in my family to go to college came with a set of challenges that at times felt unmanageable. From thinking college wasn’t an option in high school to now being in the OTD Program it has been a long journey to say the least. Last Wednesday, when I opened that email with the NBCOT score, I felt a sense of relief as well as gratitude because I know what it took for me to get here, to be one huge step closer to being a fully licensed OT. This is much bigger than me because it goes back to the hardships my parents and my community have faced.
There have been moments in the last couple weeks when I felt defeated while taking classes, completing my residency, going through life, and studying for the NBCOT. It is in these moments that it helps to lean on your support system. Whether that is your family, significant other, friends, classmates, mentors, school organization, etc., it is good to know that there is someone there for you. Having people checking in on me, giving me good vibes, and understanding that I had to spend almost every day studying helped me get closer to the finish line. Sometimes a quick encouraging text can go a long way for someone. And I think this has been the theme of my entire college career, having people that cared enough to make sure I was doing okay mentally, emotionally, and physically. Today I want to simply thank every single person that has made an impact on my journey. The list is too big to add on here today but you know who you are.
This year has been such a unique year as we had to completely change our lives. It has been a year of ups and downs, and times full of uncertainty. All of this plus the responsibilities we still have on a daily basis can make anyone feel overwhelmed. If you ever feel like you are just drowning in school work and other responsibilities, take a moment to reflect on how far you have come. Remember those long nights when you used to have conversations with your loved ones about going to OT school and now you’re here. Hold on to those moments and use them when times get tough. When things don’t go your way, take time to feel those emotions, heal, and when you’re ready get back to it because there is always more than one path. Know that regardless of the outcome your support system, your village, your people, will be there to help you get back on your feet. They will not judge you, and instead will respect you and care for you. Now more than ever it is important to stay connected to your support system. Spend time with those people, whether that is in person, FaceTime, Zoom, whatever way you can. One thing I have learned is that accomplishments always feel best when you can share them with the people that were there along the way. Lastly, take all those lessons you learned along the way and support others.
Studying for the NBCOT! >
September 28, 2020
The last couple of weeks have been busy, to say the least. The start of OTD residency, having class, and studying for the NBCOT exam have filled up my entire schedule. I would be lying if I said it’s been easy. There are days when I don’t even want to look at another paper of information after a long day of residency. Usually, I find myself studying 3-5 hours per day after 5PM, depending on how busy the week is. I have given myself about 6 weeks to study and will soon be sitting for the exam in 2 weeks! There are many challenges that I have faced with studying, and one of the challenges I want to share with you all is NBCOT study resources and tips to hopefully make your preparation a little better when the time comes for you to take this exam.
1. Choosing study materials that work for you
Everyone has a different learning style and there are a lot of options to choose from. This can be overwhelming because study materials cost money and you want to make sure you are getting what you need to pass this exam! I consider myself more of a visual learner and below I share the resources that worked for me.
- AOTA NBCOT Prep: This has been my main study resource as it includes PDFs for OT topics that may be on the exam. This also offers hundreds of practice questions and clinical simulations which are super helpful. Each question provides a rationale for the correct answer and the incorrect answers. The rationales are the most valuable component because it has helped improve my clinical reasoning.
- NBCOT Study Pack: Personally, I have found these practice questions the most challenging, but that has helped me problem solve and understand how to answer questions. Most importantly, it includes practice exams with a time limit similar to the actual NBCOT, providing a score at the end to see where you are at. This study pack also includes flashcards and matching games to practice different topics.
- TherapyEd: This book has a lot of information, so it could be overwhelming at times. However, it includes many exam hints, testing tips, and rationales to help you prepare. It also includes practice exams and clinical simulations.
- OT Miri (FREE): This has been one of my favorite study methods because Miri helps you understand concepts in a very fun way! She uses lots of visuals, mnemonics, and helps you apply the information into your personal life. Her style has helped me apply the information in a way that text may not be able to. She is also very honest about her experience studying for the NBCOT, not passing, and then re-taking the exam.
- OT Rex (FREE): This is a great video resource to learn topics in a very concise manner. The OT that makes these videos is great at organizing all of the information into one piece of paper that you can follow along and copy it for yourself to study.
- OT Exam Prepper (FREE): This podcast helps you learn mnemonics and find fun ways to help remember important concepts that you may need to know for the NBCOT. His examples include using Harry Potter, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, etc. He also provides handouts with all the information to help you study!
- OT Exam Audio (FREE): This podcast is another option to listen and review important concepts. My personal preference is listening to this podcast while running.
2. Create a schedule
Creating a schedule to follow was really helpful for me in order to keep myself accountable. As you begin to plan your own schedule, you will find many templates from friends or online to help you study. This will depend on your study style, study materials, and study time. You can always modify an existing schedule and apply it to meet your needs. Below is a sample of the study schedule I used. This is a modified version of a template one of my classmates sent me.
3. Maintain a positive attitude/mindset
Build a positive mindset and attitude when preparing for the NBCOT exam. Yes, it is probably one of the most important exams of your life! And the thought of not passing comes to mind and you don’t want to even imagine that feeling. But, you have not taken the exam and you are doing the best you can to prepare! Finding ways to OT yourself and address this thinking pattern will be beneficial. Don’t let this exam defeat you before you even take it. Remember, you got into OT school, you have learned so much, and you have been able to make it this far. YOU have made this possible! Focus on the things you can control, prepare, put in the work, and remember that YOU are more than capable of passing this exam.
4. Take breaks
There are going to be many times when you may not have time to study, you may not feel motivated, or simply feel over it. In order to balance this time and take care of your mental health, make sure you take breaks! Whether this is exercising, watching a show, getting some food, find ways to treat yourself. YOU are working hard and doing the best you can.
“We are not perfect human beings, nor do we have to pretend to be, but it is necessary for us to be the best version of ourselves we can be.”
― Satsuki Shibuya