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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


Finals week! ⟩
April 24, 2011, by Helen

As we are in the midst of finishing finals in the second year of the program and studying for our comprehensive exam, everyone is getting increasingly anxious to graduate!

Several times I’ve been asked “are you ever worried about finding a job after graduation?” or “do you feel well prepared to start working once you graduate?” With a week left before graduation, and so many of my classmates mapping out their post-graduation plans, I am realizing how lucky we all have been for our time at USC. Nearly all my friends know what population they’d like to work with, what type of setting they prefer to work in, and are already interviewing — some are already employed. Others, like myself, are staying another year to complete the clinical doctorate program. Regardless of what path my classmates have chosen to take, I feel like the consensus is that everyone feels very excited to conquer the licensure exam and is anxious to begin practicing. In the past two years of the program we have been presented with so many opportunities to network and gain hands on practice experience that I do not feel any fear of being unable to find employment post graduation. This confidence in regards to future job opportunity stems from both the high demand for occupational therapists in various arenas and knowing that my education at USC has been great in providing my classmates and I a broad foundation to work in any OT setting.

I am very excited to be graduating in a week and am looking forward to starting the clinical doctorate program in the fall!


Electives! ⟩
March 2, 2011, by Helen


Graduation is quickly approaching . . .

During the last semester of the program, you are to take eight units of electives. Last night was our dysphagia final. 😊 Dyshpagia was an eight week, 2 unit elective I took this semester and I LOVED it! This dysphagia elective counts towards your advanced practice certification, if you so choose to pursue that within the next five years. As I was studying for the final exam, I realized how much I have learned in only the last eight weeks. Another elective I am taking concurrently is at University Hospital, where I am able to gain experience in both physical disabiltiies and mental health. As we’ve been seeing patients this semester at the hospital, I’ve been able to feel the difference in my knowledge of dysphagia on my interactions with patients. I am able to notice more as we do room visits about the quality of the patient’s voice, eating habits, posture, etc. While an eight week course may seem short and very intense, I have learned an incredible amount of information and am very grateful for having taken the course.

I am also taking a Sensory Integration elective that is four units which also works towards certification in Sensory Integration. While I am intending to work with adults in the future, Sensory Integration is a topic that impacts many populations and knowledge of Sensory Integration techniques can be beneficial in any setting. This past weekend, I attended a conference organized by Pediatric Therapy Network on Sensory Integration practices and it was great to see current research that is being done in the field and see some of our professors presenting. Having our coursework intertwine with our fieldworks and to attend conferences seeing how what we are learning is being implemented in research is my favorite part of this OT program. I enjoy this aspect of our graduate program because it really provides a sense of how we can personally impact current practice and research.

I have really enjoyed the electives I have taken this semester and really feel like I’ve gained so much insight into specific practice areas. As graduation is quickly approaching, I realize more and more how much we have learned in such little time!


The Program is Flying By! ⟩
January 3, 2011, by Helen

Classes Getting Involved What are OS/OT?

It feels like just yesterday I was in the application process for the master’s program, anxious to learn Occupational Therapy and to one day become a therapist!

As 2010 just came to an end, I cannot believe that I only have six months left of the master’s program. In the last year and a half, it is amazing how much information we have covered. The first year flew by, providing us with a foundation of knowledge about pediatric OT, OT in the field of physical disabilities, geriatric OT, and OT in the fields of psychosocial/mental health. This second year, we have focused on learning how to build a therapeutic relationship with our clients, improving our listening skills, and understanding the theory behind our practice. By focusing on learning the history of where our profession has been, what the current state of our profession is, and where our profession is going, we are able to more creatively think about our own areas of interest. By better understanding what there is a need for in our profession, ideas of advocacy, research, and leadership are emphasized.

As a result of having learned so much about health care access, the history of our profession within the medical model, and the progression of current research, I have an increased interest in political advocacy and occupational therapy. Last year, I chose to get involved with an organization called CAHPSA (the California Health Professional Student Alliance). Currently, we are a week away from hosting Lobby Day in Sacramento. On January 9th and 10th, 200-500 health professional students will be traveling to Sacramento to meet with assembly members and senators to discuss how Health Care Reform will impact our personal professions.

One of my favorite aspects of our program has been the emphasis on understanding the theory behind our practice and the value for being aware of our professional past, present, and future. This value for the history of our profession is what has inspired me most to impact the future of occupational therapy practice.


What makes USC’s program unique? ⟩
November 8, 2010, by Helen

The professors at USC support your learning in every way possible.

In the past couple weeks, I have held information sessions at UC San Diego, UC Davis, Sacramento State, and UC Berkeley. I am constantly being asked why I chose USC’s program and what makes USC’s program unique. From holding these information sessions and meeting so many ambitious and passionate future applicants I have had the opportunity to reflect more on the profession of Occupational Therapy. I have also had time to reflect on how attending USC’s program has influenced my professional future and outlook about the profession. The faculty at USC has such immense confidence in their students and provide the support for their students to not only be great clinicians, but to be leaders in their profession. This investment in the students is what has made my learning experience as a graduate student so unique.

In the last year, I have been provided with the opportunity to attend Lobby Day in Sacramento, advocating for Universal Health Care. Additionally, I was given the opportunity to do an international fieldwork in Ghana. I have also had the opportunity to attend OTAC conference in Pasadena, AOTA conference in Florida, as well as the student conclave in Kentucky. Attending these events, networking with current practitioners and leaders in the field, and learning what direction research is moving towards, have intertwined to inspire me about my profession. I am so proud to be an Occupational Therapy student at USC and am so grateful for being able to attend a university where the faculty truly supports your learning. The professors and faculty hold a holistic view of their students, emphasizing that it is not only valuable to be an excellent student doing well academically, but it is equally valuable to gain practice experience, leadership experience, research experience, and to be knowledgeable about the theory behind practice. By valuing all these learning components, I have a strong sense of the history of my profession, where we stand currently in our health care system, and what needs to be done in the future. The field of Occupational Science was founded at USC, Jane Ayres was a professor at USC researching Sensory Integration techniques, Lifestyle Redesign was established at USC, and our dean Florence Clark is the president of the AOTA. So to answer the question of why I chose USC and why I feel USC is ranked so highly for our OT program, I feel that it is because all these elements combine to create passionate practitioners who think broadly about the field of Occupational Therapy.


Ghana ⟩
October 11, 2010, by Helen

Fieldwork International What are OS/OT?

As a first year in the graduate program at USC, you have the opportunity to travel to Ghana and have a pediatric physical disabilities fieldwork experience. I had an amazing experience in Ghana and would love to return and work with the children there in the future. It was exactly this time last year that I was just deciding if I wanted to apply to travel to Ghana or not and I wanted to share some of my experience with those who are currently in the process of deciding whether or not they’d like to travel there this year. 😊 I learned more than I could have ever imagined from the children I met in Ghana and I highly recommend the trip to the first years in the graduate program.

After a long trek from the airport, we stepped off our bus at Mephibosheth and the quiet was immediately broken by the laughter of children from behind their boarding hall window. This laughter was my source of energy for the entirety of my trip to Ghana. I had difficulty sleeping the first couple days I was in Ankamu and the Gomoa District because I was so excited to be engulfed by this entirely new place and people. I wanted to know every child’s history, how they had come to be at this facility, and I was so anxious to implement a treatment plan with students of my own. Little did I know, these children who I would be spending the following days with, would forever impact my value of time, family, resilience, interdependence, and the immeasurable value of healthcare access and occupational engagement.

Mephibosheth is the only facility in Ghana that addresses the needs of children with physical and mental disabilities. Pastor Joe and his wife Andrea have created this boarding school in the Gomoa District as a safe haven and source of occupational hope for children who are otherwise often unacknowledged by their society. As a boarding school with minimal in home aid from the school faculty, the children have adopted interdependency as their form of survival.

The practice of occupational therapy in the United States is defined by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) as being a science driven, evidence based profession that enables people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health and prevent — or live better with — illness, injury, or disability (AOTA). Occupational therapists intervene to maximize quality of life at the early intervention, acute, or rehabilitation stages of development. As occupational therapists strive to promote independence and quality of life for clients experiencing an array of conditions, I was curious to see how therapy regarding independence in self-care would translate to the Ghanaian culture which so beautifully valued interdependence.

The day we sat quietly listening to Andrea, Pastor Joe’s wife, give us bullet points on each child’s medical and social histories, I mechanically wrote bullet points on the notes being dictated. My first notes read, “*Clara (name has been changed) — cage for six years, malnourished, Osteoporitic, estimated around 17-18 years old, has seizures, parents ashamed — guardianship given to German orphanage.” I couldn’t help but be in shock that I was just laughing for ten minutes outside with this same young lady about how she loves sunglasses and the ocean. I was quieted by the incredible confidence and happiness she exuded and humbled by how resilient this young woman who is actually 23 years of age is. My three pages of bullet form medical history notes about each child, have to this day not fully taken form in my mind.

I was baffled by the type of treatment plan I would create for our personal student *Kate, her bullets read “16-17 years, psych history, knocks doors to tell problems, taken to exorcism prayer camp, bit her breast/self mutilation, number one corn husker.” Knowing what resources were available to us, my partner and I attempted to brainstorm multiple activities we could do with her and made it our goal to give her as much positive attention as possible while trying our best to share our energy fairly between the two children we were assigned. Upon returning from Ghana, one of my most disheartening thoughts is that the entire two weeks I was there, I was unable to have a meaningful conversation with this young lady. I know that there was a language barrier in our attempts to talk to *Kate and that she was most likely not properly medicated and most definitely not in the most ideal place to address her needs, however I still felt a sense of responsibility to emotionally connect with this girl who would demand an apology from me every two minutes for looking at her, brushing against her, accidentally smiling a second too long at her, or not holding her hand when she wanted.

On the flight back from Ghana, I read our personal account readings about how practitioners should address mental health illnesses, emotional intelligence, and the value of having a trusted friend in the process of alleviating symptoms experienced by patients who have mental health disorders. As I read these personal account readings, I felt increasingly motivated to inspire change for people like *Kate who had suffered years of misunderstandings, physical and emotional trauma, and the trauma of social isolation. It seemed to me that everything these personal accounts told of what should not be done to address mental health needs was what *Kate had experienced and it breaks my heart to know that there is a very small likelihood that she will ever get the medical attention that the she truly deserves.

Pastor Joe preached on the value of being self-disciplined and having peer support. The value of leading a disciplined life was the topic of his three talks I attended at church. Leading a disciplined life means being able to practice self respect and through doing so and truly taking into consideration what is in one’s own best interest, is it possible to truly extend care and compassion for your neighbor. Pastor Joe preached that one must never forget that “there is always someone higher than you and someone lower. No one is above all.” This idea echoed in my mind as I observed the kids interacting with one another. Those who had increased range of motion helped the others get dressed, those who were able to read, helped pass out shirts with the proper labels, the kids who were doing better cognitively had the responsibility of passing out snacks. Everyone fed one another, wheeled one another, dressed one another, and shared every possession so openly. There is a set system of checks and balances among the kids at Mephibosheth. Each child has a role, character, and identity within their Mephibosheth family.

My last night at Mephibosheth, I had a conversation with one of the students that truly exemplifies the charisma of the children we worked with. I said to *Clara, “Your birthday is coming up! If you could do anything in the world for your birthday, what would that be?” and she replied with a smile “I would go to the beach and have a cola with my orphanage mother.” The children we worked with did not have the luxury of drinking soda and the beach was less than a mile away from their facility. The children travel to the beach once a year when the USC students visit, due to the need for adequate supervision/volunteers to travel with. The children I was so fortunate to have spent time with at Mephibosheth have forever influenced my thoughts, values, and ambition to decrease discrepancies in health care access.

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