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University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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Adventures in OT in Ireland ⟩
April 4, 2018, by Erika

Externships International What are OS/OT?

As part of our Leadership Capstone course that rounds out our final semester at USC Chan (boy, did time FLY!), we are given an opportunity to build our own externship experience during the two weeks leading up to Spring Break. In recognition that OT is a broad field that can work with populations across various settings and life stages and that each students’ journey through OT is highly individual; this is a great opportunity for students to pursue their individual interests and curiosities about the profession while demonstrating their own knowledge and leadership in OT.

The creativity of my fellow classmates’ externship experiences was inspiring! Some students stayed local and observed ergonomic and lifestyle changes that their friends could implement to prevent work-related injuries at their desk jobs. Other students chose to shadow faculty in order to see what goes into working in academia. Still, others expanded upon their community-based OT programs that we crafted last semester and furthered their research and execution to make these programs viable and one step closer to becoming realized.

Additionally, a great number of students went international. As Kaitlyn mentioned, our Global Initiatives office offers organized trips to places like Denmark, Japan, Ghana, Korea, and Australia where you can go with a group of your classmates to visit various OT facilities and universities abroad.

I chose to go international as well! I ended up going to Ireland and with the help of a few classmates and colleagues who were either from Ireland or had previously gone to Ireland during their externships, I was able to set up 8 independent site visits with OTs in 4 different cities across the country. In choosing Ireland, I really wanted to understand what the strengths and barriers were in practicing OT within a public healthcare system, explore interventions that prove successful in Ireland that may not be in America and the cultural implications of that, and gain a sense of the student experience and curriculum for those currently learning OT in Ireland.

My overall experience exceeded any of my expectations and goals. Here is a map and a list of sites I was able to visit:

Map of Externship in Ireland
(Note: Yellow Points = OT Site Visits)

Co. Dublin

Dublin City University & Trinity University
I spoke with OTs and OT students who work in Student Disability Services.

National Rehabilitation Hospital
Inpatient Rehab observation of their Prosthetic Orthotic Limb Absence Programme, Rehabilitation Training Unit Group, Brain Injury Program, and discuss the student experience with Trinity fieldwork students that were placed there.

Co. Galway

Galway University Hospital
I observed OTs working in acute care in the following areas General Med (renal, infectious disease, and endocrine), Med Surgery, and Cardiac ICU.

The lovely OTs (Kirby & Gillian) who graciously let me shadow them on their rounds at Galway University Hospital

The lovely OTs (Kirby & Gillian) who graciously let me shadow them on their rounds at Galway University Hospital

National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG)
I met with the Practice Education Coordinator who graciously set me up with many of her OT contacts in Ireland.

Co. Westmeath

Clonbrusk Resource Centre
I spoke with American OTs who have been in Ireland for over 15 years practicing in pediatrics and observed an OT evaluation with a new client.

Co. Cork

St Finbarr’s Hospital
Spoke with an OT working in the hospital’s Inpatient Rehab Geriatrics unit.

Joe and I playing visuospatial and memory games on the big screen TV at the inpatient Geriatric unit at St. Finbarr's Hospital, Cork

Joe and I playing visuospatial and memory games on the big screen TV at the inpatient Geriatric unit at St. Finbarr’s Hospital, Cork

University College Cork (UCC)
Along with my classmate, Joe, we presented on our community-based OT programs to graduating OT students at UCC. Additionally, I was able to sit in in a couple of lectures about interventions that are being introduced into Ireland from other parts of Europe as well as a lecture on working with transgendered clients in Ireland.

Joe and I presenting on our community-based OT programs to UCC OT students

Joe and I presenting on our community-based OT programs to UCC OT students

Sitting in on a lecture about working with the transgendered community in Ireland

Sitting in on a lecture about working with the transgendered community in Ireland

On top of this, I was able to travel and sightsee the gorgeous countryside in between site visits. From the terrifying adventure of learning how to drive on the left side of the road to observing Irish families playing in the snow on their first snow day in 10 years to exploring the towering Cliffs of Moher and the teeny artist town of Dingle to celebrating St. Paddy’s day in Dublin, Ireland was nothing short of extraordinary and this was most often shown through the warmth of its people and culture.

Biking the Greenway from Achill Island to Newport

Biking the Greenway from Achill Island to Newport

Climbing Croagh Patrick

One of my biggest achievements: climbing Croagh Patrick, the mountain behind me!

The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher. Breathtaking.

My rental car Bertie and me

My rental car Bertie and me. I fell in love with teeny cars.

St. Paddy's day at the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin!

St. Paddy’s day at the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin!

Sláinte! (Cheers! in Irish)


Sunday Brunch with My Mentor ⟩
February 14, 2018, by Erika

What are OS/OT?

I know, I know, I sound like a broken record but I’m saying it again. The Division makes it a point to ensure that all students feel supported. One of the best ways they make this happen is through opportunities to form relationships with faculty. One the best ways they facilitate THAT is through the faculty mentor/student mentee program.

Every semester, all first and second year students are matched with faculty mentors. Typically, you are matched with your mentor according to the practice area you are interested in pursuing. As with many students, that can change with each semester so really, you’re given a great opportunity to have a mentor to reach out to as your interests shift. These practice areas can vary from your traditional adult rehab and pediatrics and mental health tracks to other non-traditional practice areas like academia, geriatrics, and research. It’s a great opportunity that the Division sets up to ensure that each student has direct access to a leader in OT that can provide guidance and support on whatever interest they may be pursuing.

This semester, I was paired with Dr. Don Gordon. He is an assistant professor of clinical OT in the Division and works in the inpatient unit at USC’s Keck Medical Center. He has also received his PhD in Occupational Science so as you can imagine, he has had a wealth of knowledge across the board — in clinical practice, academia, and research!

This past Sunday, he invited all his mentees to a brunch at his house! There were about 5 of us students that showed up and it was a really lovely experience. His wife Claire prepared the fluffiest pancakes any of us had ever tasted. We finally got to meet his son, Luke, who Dr. Gordon speaks so highly of during lectures. Unfortunately, his daughter Kyla was at a sleep over so we missed her but with all the stories Dr. Gordon and Claire shared about their kids, it was like she was there in spirit!

Brunch was really special. It was as informal as it was personal. It was one of those moments that felt like it lasted at most an hour but was actually 3 hours by the time we left! Time just flew. We discussed topics from our shared enjoyment of hiking and questions about what we’ve been learning in class to more philosophical conversations of whether motivational interviewing can be effective outside of therapeutic relationships. Whatever we wanted to discuss was able to be put on the table . . . next to the never ending stack of yummy pancakes.

I feel really lucky to have a mentor that has shown such dedication to forming a relationship and creating experiences with his students and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that sentiment. I hear there’s a hiking trip invitation coming our way soon from DG and I’m pretty stoked!


My Encounter with Cookies and Kinship at CHP ⟩
January 16, 2018, by Erika


Every day, hundreds of USC faculty, staff, OT students, PT students, and Pharmacy students, wander the halls, offices, and patios of the Center for the Health Professions (CHP) building. It’s the hub where we, as OT students, spend most of our time in the program. It houses our classrooms, labs, auditoriums, outdoor patios, and other spaces that facilitate our learning.

We have one particular room at CHP that most students unofficially call “the microwave room.” Between 12-12:20pm, you will find 8 or so microwaves buzzing as hungry OT and PT students nuke their lunches. There are also communal tables in this room where you could eat your lunch, study, or catch up with friends. This is where I had a beautiful unexpected encounter with Sharon*.

I was about to take a bite of my green beans and meatless ground beef stir fry (don’t be hatin’ on my veg game) leftovers when I hear a voice: “That smells AMAZING!” I look over and I see a sweet woman with the gentlest smile munching on her apple. I thank her and humbly tell her that it tastes as good as it smells and we get to talking. I find out she works in a research office on the 2nd floor of the building. Somehow, we arrive on the topic of cookies and she asks me if I like them.


She asks me what kind.

“Chocolate chip.”

She asks me if I like nuts.

“No way.”

She says I remind her of her son who likes his cookies just the way I do and asks if I’ll be on campus on Friday.


Without hesitation, she says she’s going to bake me a batch and bring them on Friday. My eyes get huge and my heart warm. I tell her that I have a big batch of my green beans and meatless ground beef dish and that if she’s open to it, I’ll bring her a lil lunch in exchange. She says that would be amazing.

Friday rolls around and I walk up to her office in CHP. She’s delighted to see me and we do our lil exchange. The cookies look perfect in every way - moist, chewy, made with love. I ask her if I can taste one now and she says of course! I take a bite and immediate let out a “Hoooooly that’s good.” She smiles sweetly at me and says, “I like you. How do I keep you in my pocket all day?”

This beautiful encounter left me with such gratitude and joy. Knowing that humans like Sharon exist who choose to connect with others not just out of politeness but out of genuine curiosity and kinship inspires me to implement these qualities in my practice as an OT.

Sharon’s kindness reminds me of a book I read over the winter break called “Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship” by Gregory Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention program in the world. He speaks about our deep interconnectedness as humans despite our varying backgrounds, experiences, ethnicities, etc., and that once we realize that we share in kinship with strangers and loved ones alike, we can start to truly love. Here is a powerful interview with Greg Boyle if you are interested in learning more:

Priest Responds To Gang Members’ ‘Lethal Absence Of Hope’ With Jobs, And Love

As I left Sharon’s office, I told her I’d be back to return her tupperware.

In true Sharon fashion with her perpetually giving heart, she yelled back at me, “Not unless you want it refilled!”

*All names mentioned in this blogpost are pseudonyms.


I Can’t Sleep! What Do I Do?! ⟩
December 4, 2017, by Erika

Life Hacks

You ever have a night where no matter how hard you try, you can’t sleep? A few weeks ago, I had one of those nights. My head was spinning a million miles an hour and any time I tried to relax, breathe, or picture myself on a tranquil beach, my mind just zoomed elsewhere and spun a million miles an hour at the next place it ended up! It was complete, and utter, torture.

Each night, whether it’s spawned from stress, depression, anxiety, diet, or physical conditions, millions of people struggle to stay asleep or fall asleep in America. MILLIONS! After my one interminable night, I can’t even imagine how people experience this as a nightly occurrence and somehow function the next day.

So of course, as an OT student would, I took account of my sleep hygiene for that evening. From assessing my memory of the day/night, it went like this:

9:00a - 5:00p: Last day of fieldwork! It was an incredibly busy day seeing patients, saying goodbye to patients, coworkers and CIs. While it was busy, it was full of adrenaline. I came out of fieldwork feeling very energetic!
6:00p: Went home, changed for yoga, drank some iced green tea.
7:15p: Yoga Class
8:30p: Visited a friend and had dinner.
10:30p: Watched an episode of “Stranger Things” S2 with my roommates.
12:00a: In bed, on my phone before bed (like a good Millennial).
4:00a: Tossing and turning in bed, completely awake.
6:30a: Finally fell asleep.
7:30a: Alarm clock rings! -__-

After learning about sleep hygiene and points of consideration that can affect sleep in our OT534: Health Promotion and Wellness class, there are a few things I would have done differently in order to potentially gain restful sleep.

  1. Avoid caffeine after 3p. I truly believe the iced green tea was a main culprit in keeping me awake till the whee hours of the morning. It was only half a glass! So lethal!
  2. Wind down. While Stranger Things S2 is SO HARD NOT TO BINGE, it wasn’t the best way to wind down before bed. Episode 4 made my energy and excitement rise up to my eyebrows that it took time for my heart, brain, and body to relax. For the future, knowing that STS2 is hella thrilling, perhaps I will make it a point to start watching it earlier in the night and avoid watching it right before bed!
  3. Reduce phone activity before bed. As many people know, blue light (from your phone or laptop) stimulates your body similarly to it’s response to daylight and thus, can wake your body up more then prepare it for sleep. Therefore, it’s encouraged to either adjust your phone settings to night time mode and make sure to reduce the amount of phone time prior to going to sleep.
  4. Don’t lie in bed awake. A good rule of thumb is that if you are awake in bed for more than 15-20 minutes, get up and do something. Refrain from highly stimulating activities like television or looking at your phone and try reading a boring book or magazine. Alternative activities can include stretching, breathing, or even utilizing a relaxation app like “Sleep Pillow Sounds” or “Sleep Time.”


Keeping that Thanksgiving Train Going — Choo Choooooo! ⟩
November 21, 2017, by Erika

Classes What are OS/OT?

Jumping off of Ali’s lovely post on what she is thankful for this Thanksgiving season, I have equally been reflecting upon the last semester and the various opportunities and encounters I have experienced. While this list is by no means a complete list of what I am grateful for this season, I thought that I would limit this post to a couple things that come to mind:

  1. I’m thankful for my group members!  I am taking two courses this semester that rely heavily on team based work- OT501: Adult Physical Rehabilitation and OT537: Occupation-Centered Programs for the Community. For both courses, our groups are set from the beginning and we work very closely throughout the entire semester. As most people know, team dynamics can typically be a gamble, but after 14 weeks together, I can honestly say, I won the JACKPOT. In both groups, every single person is inherently unique, willing to contribute, have supportive and kind hearts (surprise surprise, they’ve all chosen to pursue OT), and can laugh and joke like no one’s business. The best part of it all is that I didn’t know most of them that well going into the semester but they feel like family coming out. I am truly grateful for these beautiful people and for having the opportunity to get to know each of them better individually. They’ve brought me so much joy! Love you fams.
  2. I’m thankful for Adult Rehab! Like many incoming students to this program, I came in having a “good understanding” of what/where I wanted to practice. I was set on working in mental health. While that focus has not entirely shifted, I will say my interest has broadened now that I’ve learned more about occupational therapy, the various practice areas and populations they serve, as well as learning more about yourself and how I can best serve as an OT. I’m more than half way through my semester in Adult Rehab and I have to say, I never expected to be so curious and engaged in the subject matter. I had never been a physical or biological sciences enthusiast so all this content was a bit intimidating and foreign to me but with every week, my eyes have gotten bigger and my ears have perked up higher. Additionally, I was assigned to a really great Level I fieldwork placement at a Skilled Nursing Facility. My fieldwork educator was committed to ensuring that everything I was learning in the classroom, as long as it was available, I had the opportunity to see it in practice. With that said, I am grateful that every day in this program has the power to surprise you, debunk any assumptions you have going into the program, and potentially shine a light on a part of yourself or interests that you may have not ever considered.

Wishing you all a great Thanksgiving!

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