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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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6 Lessons from My First Semester as an OTD Resident


December 23, 2021

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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!