My Fieldwork in a “non-traditional” setting >
February 12, 2021
My previous blog post was about being comfortable with uncertainty as I waited to learn where I would be placed for fieldwork this semester. Update: I have been placed and I have completed my first week! I am in what we would call a “non-traditional” setting. The work that I will be doing is not happening in a clinic or hospital and the clients do not have diagnoses. In fact, I will be completing my work remotely because it is research. I am at SOLA Peace Center working under Dr. Kristy Payne and regularly meeting with Dr. Gelya Frank. SOLA is a non-profit organization that has recently formed a collaboration with USC. SOLA’s primary goal is to create more peaceful and just communities. It is based out of South Los Angeles and primarily serves the economically disadvantaged. The organization recognizes that poverty is a form of structural violence and due to a lack of resources, children in these communities are often experiencing occupational alienation. As occupational therapists, we know the many benefits that occupation and occupational opportunities bring to our lives. Thus, we can imagine how detrimental the lack of occupational opportunities can be. Without proper tools, skills, and resources, children are limited in their possibilities. My role as a level II fieldwork student here is to strengthen the effectiveness and reach of SOLA in the community by attending community meetings, completing observations, and researching best practices. To be productive in the community, SOLA must be backed by evidence.
Though I am not writing treatment plans and submitting documentation, the work at SOLA is that of an occupational therapist. I ask the questions, “what is preventing children in this community from engaging in meaningful occupation?” and “How can I change that and help them be successful?” The overarching theme of occupational therapy remains – how can I help this person do what they need to do and want to do (despite disability, illness, and/or circumstance)? The work at SOLA is a combination of pediatrics, wellness, and mental health. Children learn ways to regulate themselves, life skills such as peaceful communication and conflict resolution, and goal-setting for self-improvement. Further, children learn how to be leaders in their community, how to take social action, and how to make their voices heard. There is no selection process—anyone that wants to join is able to do so. What I love most about SOLA is their focus on and integration of occupational justice. SOLA aims to give children exposure to new possibilities and the tools that they need for success in school, in the workforce, and in society. The mission is to help those in the community feel like they have agency, particularly the children that are often overlooked.
I am so excited to acquire and develop new skills while working with SOLA Peace Center! The insight that I gain will not only help me become a more thoughtful, well-rounded occupational therapy practitioner, I will be assisting in leveling an unfair playing field while doing so. Everything that we do with intention is occupation. That means that occupational therapy fits into much more than the distinct areas of adult rehabilitation, pediatrics, and mental health. We are a profession with so much value and so much to share. Let us continue to expand and bring our expertise where it is needed.
Being Fine with Uncertainty >
January 15, 2021
I am back and it is time for a new semester! Except I have no idea what I will be doing. Typically, we learn about our fieldwork placements at least one month before the start date. However, the pandemic has caused many changes. Several sites are delaying when they will take students, changing their format to telehealth, or they are not taking students at all. Already, our first level II fieldwork has moved from Summer 2020 to Spring 2021 but, as we all know, the virus has not slowed down. The fieldwork team has been working overtime but myself and nearly 30 other students still do not know when and where we will be. Any other time, I would be very anxious about the whole situation, but COVID-19 has taught me to take everything day by day. There are things that are out of my control therefore, I have no choice but to take a step back. *I want to acknowledge the privilege that I possess. I understand that my ability to not worry at a time like this means that I am in a very fortunate spot.
Being comfortable with the unknown did not happen overnight. Remember when we all thought COVID would be over in 3 weeks? I thought this would me a mini, much-needed break and that we would all return to school and work shortly. As time went on (long after 3 weeks), everything began to feel out of my grasp. I had no answers for anything. Now that we are less than 3 months short of it being a year and I do not have a placement, I have finally relinquished power and I have become more comfortable with not having an answer. To do that, I had to control other things in my life and be more intentional about them. For the things that were out of my hands, I had to create more things to hold on to. For example, I decided to read more books for leisure and to create a fitness routine. Within the past four weeks, I have already read three books. I have also gotten into such an exercise groove that I have to force myself to take days off. Additionally, I have been more intentional about checking on my friends and family. When I was busy with work, school, and research, I did not reach out often and I would take days to respond to their texts or calls. Now, I have more than enough time to build strong relationships and habits. Therefore, when I finally start fieldwork, these habits will be so engrained that I will keep them up.
Another way that I have learned to be more comfortable with my current situation is by putting it all into perspective. I am not dealing with this alone. The pandemic has changed the lives of everyone. If you are struggling with inconstancy and unpredictability, your mood is lower than usual, or your motivation has dropped, just know that others are having these feelings too. There is no “normal” way to feel because we have not experienced anything like this.
I typically like to create bullet points of tips and tricks but this time, my main advice would be to construct some sort of structure to your day and create small, attainable goals for yourself. The outdoors still has a big question mark on it but having a routine and something to work towards is important. Maybe your work or school goals cannot be accomplished at this time, but there are plenty of other ways to find fulfillment. We are often told to do our best but It is also okay to simply do what we can.
Stand Out During Your Interviews >
November 20, 2020
Now that I have completed my OTD residency interviews, I want to reflect on that process and hopefully give some useful tips to those that are currently in an interview stage of their OT journey. This is not purely for residency interviews, but it is also applicable to job interviews and OT program interviews. In any interview, you want to put your best foot forward and show how much of an asset you are. But standing out is not about listing off all of your accomplishments. Despite the phrase of “standing out,” interviews are also about how well you fit in. From my personal experience with college interviews, job interviews, grad school interviews, and residency interviews, here are some important things to consider.
Why do you want to be there?
Biggest, most important question to ask yourself. Before you begin answering their question of “why should you be here?” is the question of “why do you want to be there?” I mean, why put yourself through the stressful process of interviewing if you have no reason to? When answering this question, it cannot stop at “because it pays the most” or “because it’s the top program.” That will not elicit any passion in your responses (unless you’re a really great actor). This is likely a place that you will stay for years so why pretend to like it.
When choosing places of interest, I would often ask myself these questions: What about this organization appeals to you? Where do you see yourself in the future and does this job or program align with that? Do you share similar values? Do you feel like you will be supported?
Once you answer these questions for yourself, you either get more excited about the idea of studying/working/training at that organization OR you lose interest. If you were excited, the next step is to show that enthusiasm and excitement during your interview. Being able to talk about why you value this place shows that you did your research and that you are serious about the opportunity. You should always have background on the place that you are interviewing for. Reading over their mission statement is a great place to start but it should go deeper than that. Did they hold any events that spoke to you? Is there a faculty member there that has done tremendous work to advance the field? What is this organization known for and how did that come about? Knowing more about a place will never hurt; it actually puts you at an advantage over the other applicants.
What can you bring to the table and what do you need to work on?
The famous “Strengths and Weaknesses” question. You knew it was coming! This is definitely a question that you should be prepared to answer *even if it is not explicitly asked. Whenever it is appropriate to do so, talk about your strengths. The interviewer wants to hear about how strong of a candidate you are. Yes, we are socialized to be humble (and in most instances, you should be) but now is not the time. What are your accomplishments and how do they fit into this role that you are applying for? This is your time to tastefully brag. Big emphasis on “tastefully” because you do not want to seem boastful. Afterall, you still need to show that you are collaborative and a good team-member. OTs do a lot of collaborating, you know.
If you are unsure about your strengths and weaknesses, performance evaluations from past supervisors can help you to determine this. During check-ins with teachers and bosses, there are some common themes that come up for me. This gave me insight to where I truly shine.
Something that we all probably know by now, but it does not hurt to say it again – your weaknesses should not be actual weaknesses. Do not self-sabotage! Yes, these are things that you need to work on but think of it as a strength in disguise. For example, one of my weaknesses is that I have a hard time delegating to others. I have difficulty in this area because I want to maximize everything to my standard. I would explain this to the interviewer and while it is a “weakness,” it indirectly says that I produce high-quality work.
You may be tired of hearing it. The idea of being yourself sounds so bleh. Like, is it really even a tip? But, it is! When you go into an interview, show your best SELF. Do not try to be someone else because it will become obvious. The only way to answer questions with authenticity, passion, and confidence is by being yourself and speaking to your OWN stories and experiences. Your values and what is meaningful to you should naturally pour out. They want to see your face light up when you talk about how you were introduced to OT, how your body language shifts when you discuss health disparities, or how your smile widens when you speak of your advocacy efforts. This is what they want to see. They want to see YOU—what matters to you, why are you the best addition to their team, what is special about you. You are very unique, and you bring your own unique skills. Make this known.
We focus a lot on getting an offer but not as much on deciding between multiple. It is good to be prepared for that possibility. Even before hearing back, I think that it is useful to rank the places that you are applying to. It helps you to organize your thoughts and gain a better sense of what you are seeking from this experience. Maybe one residency pays more but it is also further away, and you have to factor in the transportation cost. Maybe one program is closer to home but the other has a faculty member that you would be interested in doing research with. There are several things to consider when weighing your options. Ultimately, you have to decide what is most important to you. It helps to write it out or talk it through with someone else. When I was deciding between two residency offers, I spoke to someone about it and she made me address questions that I had not even considered. Having someone else’s brain to help you sort out your list of pros and cons can truly help. After speaking with her, I received almost instant clarity and was able to make my decision.
A very special tip
About 10 minutes before an interview, I do this really corny thing where I stand in the mirror in a power pose and give myself a pep talk. It goes something like “Lamoni Lucas, you are so amazing! You are smart, dedicated, compassionate, etc. It shows because you did X,Y,Z. You are deserving of all great things! Don’t be nervous. This is an opportunity! An opportunity to show others how special you are.” I usually point at myself too. Words of affirmation is my love language, so this works especially well for me. If this is not enough and you need a daily reminder, you can write yourself a love letter and post it at your desk. Read it every morning or night. If your love language is physical touch, you can give yourself a big, tight hug. Maybe kiss the mirror. I don’t know. Whatever floats your boat, use it. Give yourself some extra love and remind yourself of how wonderful you are! Good luck to you all!
Being “First-Gen” >
November 9, 2020
This week is USC’s “First Generation Student Week.” USC defines a first-generation student as someone whose parents do not have four-year college degrees. At USC, roughly 20% of the students are considered “first-gen” and that includes me! Because this week is about highlighting first-generation students, I want to talk about what this experience (being the first person in my household to go to college) has been like for me. If I were to sum it up in a few words, I would say “challenging but rewarding.” I know how cliché and overused that phrase is, but it is true.
My mother was still in high school when she had me and though her and my dad regularly tell me how much joy I brought to their lives, they acknowledge the multiple challenges that come with being a young parent – one being completing higher education. Since I could remember, education, getting good grades, and going to college has been ingrained in my upbringing. After school, when my friends would play outside, I had to read “hooked on phonics” books first. Honestly, growing up in New Orleans with debilitating humidity, I was happy to stay indoors to read. My parents pushed education because they wanted me to have experiences that they did not. They instilled a hunger for learning because they figured it would keep me on the “right track.”
All my life, I strived for As. It started with getting incentives by the end of the week (a stop at Toys R’ US or extra money in my allowance) but then it was more long term – I wanted to get into a “good college” and make my family proud.
Before college, everything felt like a straight path. School had always been “easy.” I never had to think about financing my education or having a place to live alongside completing readings, meeting deadlines, studying for tests. What was expected of me had completely shifted. On top of that, I went to school out of state and had absolutely no family around me. I remember a couple of times when I would cry on the phone to my mom because I felt overwhelmed. The most difficult part was reaching out to my parents and them not being able to help me. As a child and sometimes as a teenager, your parents are your superheroes. In the past, I could reach out to them for anything and together, we could come up with a solution. But now, I had to figure out everything on my own. From difficulties in class, to being a student worker all the way to handling east coast winters. They had no answers. For the first time in life, I could only rely on myself. As someone that takes a while to open up to people and someone that does not like asking for help, there were moments when I truly struggled.
During those moments of confusion and exhaustion, what kept me determined was my family—specifically, my siblings. I did not know what I was doing but I was going to figure it out—for them. Because, then, they would know that it was possible. Though I always had what I needed (food, water, shelter), I was raised in a low socioeconomic class. I, and the rest of my neighborhood, grew up on food stamps. Though my parents sheltered me as much as they could, I saw a lot of violence growing up, I saw substance abuse, and I saw family members taken away to jail. I saw what happens when people are not exposed to better opportunities or lack proper support to obtain those opportunities. I did not want my loved ones to be in that position. My parents could talk about how college was the right route to go, but they could not show me. I could show my brothers and sister and I could make my parents proud along the way. This was an opportunity to pave the way.
Because I am the first to get my bachelor’s degree, I will also be the first to get my master’s and later, the first to get my doctorate. While I am immensely proud of myself, I am not the only person that I do it for. As mentioned, I do it for my family. But, I also do it for other first-generation students. It is very difficult to go through such an extreme transition without guidance from your guardians. People discuss college as something that everyone must do—like it is some sort of “no-brainer” but they do not talk about how hard it is, and the resources to get through it is not readily available.
I love that there is a First-Generation Student Week because it acknowledges the challenges that first-gen students experience, congratulates us on our triumphs and provides resources so that we can continue moving forward. To all of the first-generation students, I am so proud of you. You have accomplished so much and you will continue to accomplish so much more.
To see what USC has in store for students this week, click here
Working with Real Clients (not actors) >
October 23, 2020
During your time in the Master’s Program and in the Adult Rehabilitation immersion, specifically, you will have several opportunities to work with actors that will serve as your client. This allows you to practice the techniques that your instructors and textbooks have been talking about. It is pretty nerve wrecking in the beginning because you do not want to “mess up.” But this is technically what they are there for. If you do it incorrectly the first, second, third time, it is okay. Each time that you practice, you get closer to using the correct form or using the correct language. The great thing is that the actors give you feedback too! You do not have to wait until your professor comes over. The actors will let you know if your directions were not clear or if your position was awkward and what you should try next time.
While it is great practice to have those actors as clients, it definitely does not compare to working with actual clients. During my Level I fieldwork at a hospital, I was presented with new challenges that I had not thought about. Clients would ask questions that I did not have the answers to, they would get off track and sometimes it was difficult to redirect them, and there were times when they said things that were a cause for worry. However, my clinical instructor was always right there to guide those situations. For the most part, I was observing and taking mental notes.
Due to COVID-19, the structure of the program has changed. Instead of doing my first Level II fieldwork during the summer, I will not be starting until the spring. That means that I went a couple of months without seeing a client (whether real or an actor). I was feeling rusty. However, I have had the perfect opportunity to work in the middle ground during this semester! My elective, Enhancing Motor Control for Occupations, has in-person sessions and involves volunteer clients!
We began this course by discussing what we would cover and how everything would be laid out. The purpose of the course is to provide an in depth understanding of “principles and methods for remediation of motor control problems following upper motor neuron lesions” (OT574 Syllabus, 2020). The perspective of the course is to examine the ways that occupations are impacted for adults with hemiplegia. Our first two classes covered pelvic and trunk assessment, scapular assessment, and shoulder alignment. We had practiced facilitations and mobilizations on our assigned partners which were other students in the class but because everyone had normal strength and movement (and none of us were trained actors), it felt rather… easy? It took some time to get the proper form but other than that, the client (ourselves) was simple.
After those first two classes, our volunteer clients arrived! The client that I was assigned to had a much different presentation than my classmate. While my partner is 5’6 and no more than 130 pounds, my client, Chuy, was 6’1 and over 300 pounds. He had a stroke a couple of years ago and presented with left side hemiplegia that caused weakness in his arm and flexion in his hand. He wanted to be able to tie his shoes and zip up his jacket independently. He had very functional goals and it was time to help him achieve them! Our interventions were completed through both in-person and Telehealth sessions. Every week, we had an entire two hours to work with our clients. Afterwards was the lecture portion by our instructor Remy Chu.
The last session with clients ended this week; we wrote discharge notes and gave them home exercise plans. Spending time with clients in this environment was an amazing opportunity. Everything we learned in lecture was being applied on the spot. And none of the clients had to pretend that they had weakness or impaired sensation or limited range of motion because it was actually the case. Therefore, by the end of our time with them, we were able to see real progress! We started and ended our time with clients by recording their movement and the how they performed their goal. We were able to compare them at discharge to how they were at baseline. In our last session which was through Telehealth, Chuy independently tied his shoes and with a big smile, asked “did you see that?!” It was such a rewarding feeling! I almost shed a tear. That feeling is not something that actors can provide. When working with clients, I am constantly reminded of why I chose this field.