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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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Taking a leap of faith: transitioning from SOTI participant to a full-time OTD student


by Global Initiatives Team

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Diversity Getting Involved International

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By Serg Lam, Doctoral Candidate, SOTI alumni (2019)

Editors Michelle Plevack and Abraham Ramirez
Entry-Level Professional Master’s students

Visit to Keck Medicine of USC’s hand therapy clinic with SOTI.

I always feel privileged to participate in my patients’ recovery journey. Having the opportunity to empower and restore patients back to their daily routine is definitely a joyful experience. Since I am an integral part of my patients’ recovery journey, I strive to learn different intervention strategies, and this is how my SOTI (USC’s Summer Occupational Therapy Immersion) story began.

During the SOTI program, my classmates and I visited many advanced occupational therapy practices. Out of these, ocean therapy was definitely a highlight for me. Ocean therapy utilizes surfing as a meaningful occupation to help individuals with PTSD and/or depression to overcome barriers and enhance their confidence. For example, maintaining good posture in big waves and swimming in the current provides an adverse scenario for individuals to safely “fight for their lives,” and enables them to develop healthy coping skills in adverse situations. The life skills they developed in therapy sessions could eventually transfer into their daily lives and allow them to manage challenges and stressors in real life. Upon reflection, Ocean therapy gave me the insight to develop my career goals. Besides being an occupational therapist in a psychiatric setting, I am also a Muay Thai coach/fighter. It has always been my dream to promote health and wellness for younger adults utilizing the sport I am fond of. Through training and coaching, I have seen positive transformations in many athletes. Overcoming barriers in training not only improves physical conditions in athletes, but it also empowers them to promote psychological resilience and to adapt to difficult situations in adulthood.

Hong Kong Muay Thai Championship 2021 at Southorn Stadium, Wan Chai.

Besides enriching therapists with advanced clinical knowledge in various settings, SOTI also promotes friendship and brings people with different nationalities together. Though we are therapists from other countries, with diverse backgrounds and age ranges, there was never a dull moment in class. My roommates Naoya and Andy have always supported me in the program. Trust and intimacy were formed as classmates had given me the nickname “Uncle Serg”, as I had been assigned a senior leader in class. The bond of friendship grew as we studied and explored beautiful California together.

SOTI class visit to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA).

“Uncle Serg” had a wonderful time in the SOTI program, and I realized it was never too late to start chasing my dreams. Before starting my OTD program, I worked in both in-patient and community psychiatric settings in Hong Kong. OT input is crucial in a psychiatric patient’s journey. Yet, I feel like there are limitations in my practice, and patients’ needs are not always met in the psychiatric unit, especially individuals with behavioral issues and sensory issues. So, I have decided to take a leap of faith and pursue further education for the above reasons. I have just started my OTD in Spring 2022 and am doing my residency in the Insp!re (Innovations in Neurodevelopmental Sensory Processing Research) lab for Dr. Baranek. Time to fight on!

Beach day with my SOTI buddies in sunny California.

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