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When In Doubt, OT it Out! >

by Kayla

Life Hacks

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The holidays were amazing, not only because I got to travel back home to California, spend lots of time with my family, and see some of my friends. But also because it came with a much needed break. A break from classes, assignments, presentations and from residency. As amazing as this journey is, sometimes the load does get heavy. This past Monday, the spring semester started and I was admittedly feeling less than inspired logging into my first zoom class of 2022. As an occupational therapist, constantly surrounded by other occupational therapists, sometimes a light bulb goes off to practice what I preach. I call it “OT’ing myself”. While settling back into my typical workflow I’ve decided to focus on engaging in some of my most meaningful occupations to fill my cup and replenish my energy so I can be the best version of myself. This week I’ve been more intentional with:

Listening to Music:
My days have been filled with music and singing and dancing (badly) around my house after work. I play my favorite playlist when I wake up in the morning, look for new songs in my free time, and play my go-to feel good songs when I’m sitting in traffic.

As an ex-college athlete, I have recently found myself missing my playing days a lot more than usual. And although I can’t go to the gym and play pick-up games because of covid, I have been more diligent with getting some form of exercise everyday. Taking online cycling classes with my favorite instructor and a few friends has been helping to keep me in the right mindset!

I absolutely LOVE cooking, and I love trying to make new recipes even more-so. This week I searched my saved videos on TikTok to find those recipes that I saved and forgot about… and actually made one! It was delicious, if I do say so myself, and exactly what I needed.

I’m also starting to write down all of my favorite recipes to make and making my own personal cookbook. So stay tuned for that in a book store near you. 😉

New year, same me. Like I may have mentioned before, I am a self-proclaimed sleepy girl. I love love love sleep, but I am also a night owl so I can never seem to get enough of it. So this week I made it a priority to go to sleep earlier to hopefully set myself up to have more peaceful mornings and have more energy throughout the day. Next skill to master, waking up on time.

As we head into the first Friday of the semester, I am feeling more ready to take on the semester thanks to this wonderful profession that I get to practice everyday, and remember, when in doubt, OT it out!


6 Lessons from My First Semester as an OTD Resident >

by Kayla

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The first semester of my OTD year has come to an end, here are some lessons that it taught me. Let’s get right into it!

1. This is Not The Master’s Program Anymore
As a student in the MA-II program, I became so accustomed to (and honestly, reliant on) the structure; class four days a week and one day for fieldwork. It was so consistent that when I began the OTD and my schedule became so much more flexible it was a bit of a shock. In the OTD program, you have class 1 day a week and all other time is spent engaged at your residency site. Because I spent the majority of my time providing direct patient care, I found myself having to switch my brain from “clinical to classroom” in order to be in the right headspace for group discussions and class participation. I really had to adjust to the new flow of things..adapt to my new roles and routines, if you will.

2. You Won’t Feel Overwhelmed Forever
Beginning a new program, moving halfway across the country, figuring out my role as the first resident at my site, studying for boards, and tending to my mental and physical health……it was a lot. I remember attending a residency seminar entitled, “What Have I Gotten Myself Into”, where residents currently in their final semester of the program reflected on their first semester and assured us that even though it was going to get hectic, that we would make it through. On the other side of my first semester, about three things I am absolutely sure. First, I was 100% overwhelmed during the first few months of the semester. Second, I was not alone in feeling this way. Third, that feeling does not last forever.

For me, what helped get through the days where it felt like I had too much on my plate was to remember my why. Thinking about why I began on this journey in the first place, understanding how my current responsibilities fit into the bigger picture, and most importantly, taking a deep breath and giving my best effort.

3. Mistakes Are Going to Happen
I am no stranger to making mistakes, but over the course of this semester as I was beginning to come into my role as a new professional I, expectedly, made more than I was used to. I had to learn how to reframe my mistakes in a way that allows for growth rather than feelings of guilt and how to turn thoughts of “Why did I do that?” into, “How can I do better?”. Mistakes are a part of the process of learning and I had to learn to be thankful for the new perspective I gained along the way, after all…. perspective is everything!

4. How To Navigate The “In Between”
As an OTD resident although you are a registered and licensed therapist, you still occupy the role of a student and mentee. This semester taught me how to embrace the duality of the unique position that we as residents are in. I was faced with having to define my role as an OTD resident, especially because my site has never had one before, and learn to be confident and accepting of changes as I encountered them. Biggest takeaway: be confident in the path you’re walking and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you’re unsure of your next step!

5. No Two Residencies Are The Same
This lesson is rather short, sweet, and to the point. Even if you share the same area of practice with another resident, no two placements are alike. Things between residencies may be different, but yours is specific to you and your interests and THAT is what matters. Remember: comparison is the thief of joy.

6. The OTD Really is What You Make It
If you have ever met with me either via office hours or one-on-one, I always harp on this sentiment. This program is what you make it, it is YOUR experience, YOUR vision, and YOUR year. For many of us, there will never be another time in our professional career when our only goal is to observe and to learn as much as we can. It is so easy to get caught up in all of the stress and responsibility (I am by no means exempt from this), that we forget to seek out and enjoy the experiences that come along with this program. This semester challenged me to not only be more mindful and present but to truly stick to the goals I set for myself to make sure that I am taking full advantage of the opportunity in front of me.

As this semester, and year, come to an end I can’t help but look forward to all of the experiences and new knowledge that 2022 holds. More importantly, I can’t wait to share them all with you. Happy Holidays!


The ABC’s and 123’s of NBCOT Prep >

by Kayla

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The NBCOT, the certification exam that solidifies new graduates as a ~real~ OT. For most, this is the last big exam in your academic career and a reminder of just how far you have come; quite literally everything has led you to this point.

So, let’s get right into it; as with many things in life, there is bad news and good news. Bad news first, studying is going to be stressful and require discipline and dedication; but the good news, you are NOT alone and it won’t last forever. During the process of studying I eventually gathered the sense that the NBCOT is like a rite of passage; not only because every OT has to take it, but because everyone remembers that unique time and the experience of it all. Everyone you speak to is going to have study tips and advice to give you ... so it would only be right to pass unto you the wisdom that was imparted on me. Without further ado, I give you, the NBCOT ABC’s and 123’s:

N — Nail Down a Study Schedule: One of the first things you’ll want to do is create a study schedule, including determining how long you want to study overall and how many hours per day/week. The next step I took was to determine my study schedule and luckily for me (and you) there are many readily available online. I chose not to reinvent the wheel and use a pre-existing study guide because that worked for me, but creating your own is also an option. This step is all about formulating a study schedule that meets your needs and makes sense to you!

B — Build Endurance: This exam is four, count them, four hours long. A huge component to success is training your body and mind to be able to tolerate sitting in a chair and more importantly focusing and thinking clearly for that long. One of the best ways to do this is to gradually increase the amount of time you are in complete focus/study mode. Consistency is key in building test endurance.

C — Choose Exam Materials That Fit Your Learning Style: There are so many study materials out there and so many different opinions on the usefulness, but ultimately what really matters is how they fit with your unique style of learning. Below I’ve listed some commonly used study materials and a little bit about them.

AOTA Exam Prep: This resource consists of practice questions, practice tests, informational PDFs, and flash cards on virtually every practice area and study topic. This resource also provides rationale for the correct answers to questions, I personally found this very helpful! The price of these materials is $149 for AOTA members and $209 for non-members. (Pro-Tip: USC professors normally send out an email to get a reduced group rate on this resource so be on the lookout for that when the time comes around!)

NBCOT Study Pack: This resource has a pre-test, domain-specific questions, mini tests, flash cards, and study games to help you along the way. The most valuable components to me were the practice test and the full practice exam. The consensus among my classmates was that this resource was most useful for getting the feel of how questions would be asked and the format of the exam. There is also a myth that you are likely to score within 10 points (more or less) than your score on the full practice exam; my score proved the myth right in my experience! This resource is $75.

OT Miri: On top of this being a completely free resource, it is so useful! The videos are a great way to learn or solidify the information you’re studying. Personally, I absolutely LOVE OT Miri, she’s so relatable, covers a wide range of study topics, and presents information in a way that’s easy to understand and easy to remember. I’ll be singing the Finkelstein Test song for a long long time (IYKYK).

OT ExamPrepper Podcast: This is another free resource, this podcast is dedicated to helping students like us succeed on the board exam. The host explains study topics using pop culture references and creates clever mnemonics to help you remember information. There are even visual and study guides to refer to while listening to the podcasts; they’re great to listen to during a workout or on your daily commute!

TherapyEd: The TherapyEd book often gets a bad reputation because it is dense and has a lot of information. This is a very comprehensive resource that covers a lot of content and specifics within each study topic. I found the corresponding online questions and practice exams so useful because rationale for the correct answer is provided.

I started using mine about a week before my exam and I was so upset I didn’t use it sooner, the questions and rationale SO useful for my learning style.

O — Optimize Your Study Space: Here are some pointers to optimize and organize your study space/time!

  • Use the do not disturb/silent feature on your devices to decrease distractions
  • Find a quiet and comfortable place to set up your study headquarters
  • Have water and snacks nearby
  • Take meaningful breaks when needed
  • Study at the optimal time for you (I’m a night owl!)
  • Switch it up every once in a while (I did this by zoom studying with a friend!)

My friend Kim and I on a Zoom study break!

My friend Kim and I on a Zoom study break!

T — Take Practice Tests: Taking practice tests is SO useful because it combines all of the skills you need to be successful on the actual exam. They help build endurance, help determine how long you take to complete the exam, and illuminate areas for you to focus on during your studies!


Another huge component of NBCOT prep is making sure that you are taking care of yourself so that you have the energy and mental capacity to study! This is more easily said than done but hopefully these tips will help.

1 — Listen to Your Mind and Body
Honestly, some days are going to be better than others. Some days you are going to be studying and really understanding the material and motivated to keep going… Other days, you may be tired, overwhelmed or busy with other things, or just not have the energy to study. And guess what, that’s OKAY! The process of studying for this exam is just that, a process, and the results will be a culmination of the effort you put into your preparation. That means, if one day you feel like you just cannot focus or are too exhausted to study, give yourself some grace and rearrange your study schedule. I promise it is 100% better than trying to push through and burning yourself out. Extra Tip: schedule rest days into your study schedule! It can help ease the apprehension that can come with taking a day off!

2 — Do Your Self Care!
This counts for during your studying as well as before the exam. This is a great time to practice what we preach, take time to do the small things that make you happy and the things that make you feel like your most authentic self. It is easy to assume the identity of “studying for the NBCOT” and let that and the stress consume us (guilty as charged) but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Extra-Extra Tip: The day before your exam, don’t touch any of your study materials and schedule some R&R activities for yourself. Spend some time with family or friends, grab your favorite latte, just do things that make you feel good. I promise, your brain and body will thank you.

3 — Affirm and Reaffirm Yourself … and Reaffirm Yourself Again!
Mindset is EVERYTHING and this starts way before test day. While you are studying it is easy to get down on yourself or doubt your abilities but it is important to reaffirm yourself that you can do this! Positive self-talk and reframing how you’re feeling will go miles farther than putting yourself down; it could even be the extra edge that helps you pass.


I’m So Happy That I DIDN’T Get It >

by Kayla

Admissions Fieldwork

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Let’s start off by setting the scene. It’s 2019, I’m in my first semester of the Master’s program and I just got my very first Level I fieldwork placement. I was so excited to be placed at Keck Hospital of USC and even more excited to experience the acute care practice setting. It was absolutely everything I could have hoped for and more, I learned so much from my clinical instructor and had amazing interactions with my patients and before fieldwork came to an end I had made up my mind. I needed to be a Keck OT resident.

Jumping forward to September of 2020, the time had come to apply and interview for the USC Chan Residencies. I was so excited to start taking steps towards something that I wanted for SO long. I did my best to prepare; I edited my personal statement for hours on end, I prepared answers to every possible interview question I could think of, and being selected for that residency was all I could think of. October comes, applications are due and I participate in residency interviews. November comes and residency offer letters are sent out…but mine never came.

I take pride in being honest and transparent so I would be completely lying if I say that I wasn’t devastated and felt like everything I had worked for up to that point had been a waste. I would also be lying if I said that it was an easy task to pick myself back up and figure out what was next for me. This was the first time in my academic career that I had to deal with not achieving a goal that I set for myself and it was a hard reality to accept. After a period of allowing myself to feel my emotions authentically and grieving what could have been, I accepted that this was not the end of my journey and that there was a path for me. I just had to go out and find it!

This experience gave me the opportunity to take a step back and be honest with myself and make a conscious effort to work on areas that needed some extra TLC. Although this insight came at the cost of not being selected for the Keck residency, I was on the path to being better equipped for future experiences. I learned how to communicate more efficiently, I learned to have more confidence when interviewing for positions, and most importantly, I learned how to advocate for myself and ask for what I wanted! On top of the opportunities to develop these invaluable professional skills, I had some amazing experiences that would never have happened if things had played out differently. I was able to complete an out-of-area Level II fieldwork over the summer, I have the opportunity to design and tailor my residency experiences to my specific interests, and I have the opportunity to define myself and begin my career in an entirely new city!

So rather than choosing to see this experience as a rejection, I have chosen to reframe it to see it as a redirection; one that I am so thankful for! I am a VERY firm believer that everything happens for a reason and that the things we go through are set in our path to help us become better versions of ourselves. I fell right into where I needed to be and I promise, you will too.

With all of this said, as residency offers begin to roll out and whether or not you receive the outcome you are hoping for I want to remind you to give yourself some grace, give yourself some extra love, and to reassure you that you are more than enough.


So You Made The Decision…. Now What? >

by Kayla

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Am I Really Doing This?:

I’ve always found a reason to stay pretty close to home; for undergrad I only strayed about 45 minutes down the 210 (including the time added on by traffic) and then I thought I was really stepping out on my own when I moved to LA for grad school at USC. So with that background information, you can imagine the shock that my family and friends felt when I said the words, “I’m moving to Chicago.” I had a hard time wrapping my head around the reality of the decision I had just made as well. Truth be told, I was in denial for a while, but after the denial came acceptance…..then came stress.

Feeling All The Feels:

Stress. It doesn’t discriminate between positive and negative things, it just happens. So while I was excited that it was almost time to actually set off to Chicago, my mind was constantly racing thinking about all of the things that I still needed to plan/organize/do.

Anxiety. It can happen even if we can rationally think through our problems, sometimes that alone just isn’t enough. The OTD program follows a traditional schedule, beginning in late August; I was not set to start the clinical portion of the program until September 20th! And while I knew that the program is designed to be flexible to these very situations, I was worried that I was somehow falling behind. I had to remind myself that this is MY journey and that comparison is nothing but the thief of joy.

During this phase, I really had to believe that everything would come together, be confident that I was prepared to handle the changes coming my way, and more than anything remember the reasons why I decided to complete the OTD.

Strength in Goodbyes:

As the time came closer for me to load up a moving truck and drive across the country, I started reflecting on all of the reasons WHY I stayed so close to home for so long. The two most prominent being my family (including my two nephews that I absolutely adore) and the remarkable group of people I get to call my friends. I made sure to be intentional about spending time with my loved ones (and eating as much delicious California food as possible) before I left. The love and support they poured into me made it so clear that no matter where I went, or how far I was, I would not be going through this year alone.

Lunch in Santa Monica with Guarina

Lunch in Santa Monica with Guarina

A polaroid with my classmates, Kim and Alex

A polaroid with my classmates, Kim and Alex

No Turning Back:

2,000 miles, 35 hours, 7 states, 3 days, and 2 AMAZING parents that dropped everything to traverse the country with me in a moving van. As we put more miles behind us and got closer to Illinois everything became real and (despite a quick moment of apprehension somewhere in the middle of Oklahoma) I finally felt ready.

Last day of our road trip!

Last day of our road trip!

I wanted to share this with you all because I know that this is the time when you are making some pretty big decisions about your future and it can feel like there are so many unknowns ahead of you. If there is one thing that I have learned thus far in this experience is to not let that stop you from taking a chance on yourself. As deadlines are approaching keep that in mind, because you never know, it might be turn out to be everything you hoped for, good luck!

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