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Liz's Blog

Liz

My First Level 1 Fieldwork in Permanent Supportive Housing >

by Liz

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The mental health immersion has been by far one of my favorites! Before grad school I had zero experience in this type of setting and I didn’t know what OT in mental health looked like. So, I was excited to learn all about it! A couple of weeks into my first fall semester, I learned that I would be completing my first level 1 fieldwork experience at a permanent supportive housing facility. The residents at this facility were all individuals who were transitioning from homelessness to permanent housing. This is one of the settings that you’ll get a chance to learn about in the immersion.

To my surprise there wasn’t an OT at my site, but I learned SO much. This was because there’s already a smaller representation of occupational therapists working in mental health settings. Fortunately, there were a couple of case managers and an event coordinator present who collaborated with each other to best support the residents. At first it made me really nervous that there wasn’t an OT at my site. I already didn’t know what OT looked like in a mental health context and the fact that it was my first fieldwork experience felt intimidating. However, I will say it was comforting to have one of my colleagues at the same site with me!

The site was relatively new, and most of the residents didn’t really know each other. However, a few of them did from seeing each other at some of the same shelters prior to obtaining housing. On our first day, we knocked on every single resident’s door to introduce ourselves. Even after we introduced ourselves, at first it was difficult for my colleague and I to interact with a lot of the residents. They preferred to stay in their rooms and only came down to the main lobby for coffee or snacks. So, my colleague and I asked ourselves: what would our goal be while we were there? We broke down some of what we had learned in class so far and decided that we wanted to establish a sense of community among the residents. We hoped to promote social engagement and wanted the site to feel like home. And of course we also wanted to encourage the residents to engage in meaningful occupations!

We discussed our ideas with the case managers and event coordinator to make sure it was okay to move forward and they were on board! After receiving the green light, we designed a monthly calendar full of different groups/activities the residents could attend which included gardening, bingo, cooking groups, exercise groups, and computer classes. We also got to use some of the money available in the budget to order some yoga mats, light weights, coloring supplies, and raffle gift cards for bingo.

Every week we would make a new flyer to promote the groups we would be hosting for the day, knock on people’s doors, and invite them to join us. What started with one person attending our first couple of groups turned into more than 10 people joining us! I had the chance to work with one resident who wanted to learn how to use a computer to type up his own songs. He loved music, and I showed him how to use Microsoft Word to type them up. I taught him how to use the internet to search up websites that help you practice typing on the keyboard. I also helped another resident type up a resume. She wanted to go back to work and wanted to get a resume ready. Being able to support these residents engage in activities they found meaningful was amazing.

Over time, some residents felt more comfortable coming down to the lobby even during hours when we weren’t hosting any group sessions. It was an amazing experience also serving as social support for them. Several residents didn’t have any family or friends, while some had simply lost touch with them. On some days we would just sit in the lobby, listen to music and just talk. We were able to order a speaker for bingo that had an aux, so I was able to take some song requests. Billie Jean was a HIT! But, hearing their stories was the best part.

My professional boundaries were also tested while I was at this site. I am a very petite woman, and one of the residents who was also around my size wanted to give me a USC sweater she said no longer fit her. We had talked about this in class and how we may have to make ethical decisions when at fieldwork and in practice. But, I didn’t know making those decisions would come so soon! This woman whom I had established wonderful rapport with wanted to gift me a sweater. How could I decline? I definitely didn’t want her to think it was because I didn’t like it or because it wasn’t brand new. Would this affect our therapeutic relationship? I knew the right thing to do was to decline the gift. So, I explained that I was not allowed to accept any gifts, but that I would take a picture with it and keep that instead. I could tell she was disappointed at first, but she was happy to see that I took a picture with it! This was definitely a difficult decision to make, but an important part of my learning experience.

Overall, I had a great time and learned a lot! As I am writing this blog post I can’t help but think about all of the wonderful residents I met at this site. I am hoping they are all doing well and full of health! If you are a student in the program who hasn’t taken the mental health immersion, I am certain you’ll have a wonderful experience too. And, if you’re a future Trojan you also have some exciting experiences to look forward to!

Liz

What Might My Schedule Look Like? >

by Liz

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There’s so much that comes to mind when asking yourself, “what’s grad school like?” What will my schedule look like? Will I have time to do things I enjoy outside of school or is it super intense? Will I be able to work while enrolled in the program? Will I be able to take care of additional responsibilities? I wanted to share a little bit more about that through this post. To start off, here’s my Google calendar!

This reflects what my schedule looks like as a second year student. The pink squares are the times I am at work and the blue squares show when I am in class. The Hand Rehabilitation and PAMS courses are both the electives I chose for the semester. So, the schedule may look a little different for other students depending on their elective choices.

Google calendar

As you can see, for the most part my days start at about 9 AM, with 8 AM being the earliest. I am not really a morning person, however as I shared in one of my previous blog posts I took Lifestyle Redesign over the summer. Well, one of my goals while taking that elective was to switch my workout routine from the evening to the early morning in order to have more time to do other things later on in the day. Yes, it was definitely a struggle to try and do this, but staying active is something that is important to me! Anyway, I usually wake up at about 6:30 AM on Mondays and Wednesdays to get a little exercise in before class. I also work out on Friday and Sunday mornings, but wake up a bit later on those days to get some sleeping in. On the days that I do not exercise in the mornings, I wake up about an hour before class starts to make breakfast, tidy up my room, and get ready for class. So, be ready to start the day early in order to make it in time!

It’s only been two weeks since the fall semester started, and I already have a lot of readings to do for adult rehab. Adult rehab is one of the three practice immersions offered in our program. I’ve successfully completed pediatrics and mental health, so now I am tackling the final immersion! We have a quiz every week, which is first taken individually and then with our group. It’s important to get these readings done in order to be prepared for the quizzes, but also to get the most out of the learning experience. In addition to those readings, I also have readings for my other classes to get through.

As you can see from my calendar, I have Fridays and Sundays entirely free. I am also free Saturdays after 11:30 AM. I do most of my work during the weekend, but I also do some work during the week so as not to overwhelm myself. I would say I engage in roughly about 10 hours a week of study time. This includes reading for classes, any sort of presentation I have to work on, writing papers, reviewing class material and working on asynchronous assignments. This may sound like a lot, but it is doable. I will say, grad school is not like undergrad where you can maybe get away with not doing the readings! I find that actually reading for class has made me feel so much more prepared to engage during lecture and also to ask questions. Although I spend a lot of time doing stuff for school outside of class, I make sure to give myself little breaks throughout the day!

As far as work goes, as a student ambassador I am currently working 10 hours a week. Luckily, the job is very flexible. For example if I needed extra study time on Monday to review for an exam for Tuesday morning’s PAMS class I can shift my work time over to Friday. As I mentioned earlier, there is a lot of time that goes into studying during the week in addition to attending class. So, I think working while enrolled in the program is doable if your job is flexible and won’t interfere with schoolwork. I wouldn’t recommend working any more than 10 hours a week so that you don’t overwhelm yourself. But again, no one knows you better than you do and only you know what you can handle! If money is a huge stressor, there are several scholarship opportunities available within the Division, USC, and through outside sources that can help lift a little bit of that financial stress. There are also student worker positions available that can also help.

When I am not in class my schedule does allow me to spend time with the people I love! My partner and I enjoy ordering Shake Shack for dinner and watching movies. I also have time to visit my parents and my younger sister for a few hours during the weekend. I am also able to spend some time outside, watch Netflix, and hang out with my roomies. And as an update, I did get a new roomie, Max, who I am completely obsessed with! Here he is ready to take on the UCLA football team!

Maxy

So, to wrap things up, definitely expect to put in a few hours into studying outside of class. You really do get what you put into it! But, also keep in mind that there’s time for you to do the things you love. It’s all about time management and really planning out your week/month in advance. You can do this!

Liz

A Little Piece of Normalcy >

by Liz

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The end of the summer semester is finally here, which means ahhhh it’s time for finals! It has been a rollercoaster ride switching to remote learning and adjusting to the changes that had to be made to our school curriculum. As wonderful as it is to learn from home and wear pajamas all day, there’s so much that I miss from being back on campus. My friends have been at the top of my “what I miss the most about being on campus” list.

As I previously shared with you all, after switching to remote learning I temporarily moved back home with my family in Santa Ana. Prior to all the changes made, my friends and I were lucky enough to find a unit that had enough space for the four of us to live together—our dream come true! Although we were really excited about finally getting the chance to be roomies, two of my friends went back home out of state and didn’t know if it would be the best idea to move back given that there was a chance a lot of what we would be doing would be done online.

After much thinking, they decided to move back to LA and we were able to continue on as planned! The main reason we decided to move forward with our plan was because we were all struggling to stay focused and get academic work done back home. When living close to campus there’s so many places to study like coffee shops, the library, or even outside on the patio. But with stay at home orders and trying to contribute towards getting everyone safe, those spaces where we were all able to focus and get work done were no longer accessible. So, moving back to LA with people who are working towards the same goal makes it a little easier to stay focused and get work done. I should mention that in order to keep everyone safe, we all decided to schedule COVID-19 tests to make sure we were okay before getting too comfortable with each other. Fortunately, we are all healthy and happy to be living under the same roof!

The move was stressful to say the least, and we had to switch gears and get into study mode. Although we’ve spent about 80% of our time studying and working on getting final projects turned in, we’ve made a little time to have some fun. Here’s a little bit of what I’ve done this past week:

We celebrated MA-II student, Renee, turning 24! Also pictured, MA-II students Lorelei Ritter and Stephanie Gomez-Rubalcava.

We celebrated MA-II student, Renee, turning 24! Also pictured, MA-II students Lorelei Ritter and Stephanie Gomez-Rubalcava.

Picked up some of LA’s best tacos -- Teddy Red Tacos and enjoyed them outside at Echo Park!

Picked up some of LA’s best tacos—Teddy Red Tacos and enjoyed them outside at Echo Park!

Started finals week the right way by picking up some delicious breakfast burritos at Azteca Tortilleria!

Started finals week the right way by picking up some delicious breakfast burritos at Azteca Tortilleria!

Although it’s been stressful getting settled in and starting finals week I am so excited that I get to end the summer studying with my favorite study buddies. I also wanted to share that even though it’s important to make time for studying and getting school work done, getting some time in for yourself and taking a break is just as important. Stay tuned to see how we transform our apartment into the perfect study space!

Liz

Summer in Lifestyle Redesign >

by Liz

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The summer semester is almost coming to an end and I thought it would be cool to share with you all about the Lifestyle Redesign elective course I’ve been taking for the past 9 weeks! As you may already know, Lifestyle Redesign was developed here at USC Chan. Pretty awesome, right? If you don’t know much about Lifestyle Redesign, it is an intervention approach that OTs can use with clients to help them manage chronic conditions by taking a closer look at their habits and routines in order to work with them towards building healthier lifestyles.

The coolest part about taking this elective is that we’ve had the chance to practice having our own client! So, one of our peers is assigned to be our client and in return we get to work on some goals ourselves by being another student’s client. We meet with our client once a week for 30 minutes (this is the target time). So far we’ve met for 6 sessions and now that summer is almost over we have two more to go! Here’s a little bit of what I’ve learned:

1. How to incorporate therapeutic techniques I’ve learned in class
We’ve gone over SO much this summer! I’ve been working on using principles of motivational interviewing, integrating coaching strategies, and using communication techniques during these sessions.

2. Paying close attention to your body language and facial expressions is so important
Our body language and facial expressions can say so much. Since we are doing this remotely, it’s been pretty cool to see myself on Zoom and pay close attention to what my client sees when they’re speaking to me. Of course, I wish I were seeing my client in person, but Zoom has been pretty helpful for getting started! We definitely want to make sure our clients feel like they are in a safe space and being mindful of the way we react to what they share is important for doing that.

3. How to pace myself
As I mentioned before, the sessions are meant to be 30 minutes long. It’s so easy to get caught up talking about one thing, and although it would be amazing to have all the time in the world to talk to our clients that isn’t the reality. So far I’ve made some progress—my last session was 33 minutes long! 

4. How to document
Documentation is so important! As Dr. Rebecca Cunningham has mentioned this summer, it is a love letter to your future self! Documentation is how OTs communicate patient progress, it supports how we are reimbursed, and shows why our clients are benefiting from our services. During the process I’ve practiced using appropriate language, writing long-term goals, and writing short-term goals for my client. We also receive feedback that we can then implement into the following week’s documentation. It’s great to be able to practice and make mistakes and learn from those mistakes in a safe space!

5. How to switch gears
Sometimes what we had in mind for our session doesn’t go as planned. So, it’s important to be able to switch gears a little bit and tailor the session to best meet the needs of our clients. It won’t always go our way and that is completely okay!

Although I am looking forward to that week off before fall semester starts, I will definitely miss this course! Our program offers a variety of elective options for students to take and I am so happy I chose to take this one this summer. I’ve learned a lot of useful tools and have developed skills that will definitely be useful when out in practice!

Liz

I’m waitlisted…now what? >

by Liz

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Prior to being admitted into the program, like several other applicants, I was waitlisted. After feeling as though I had tried my very best to look like a competitive applicant, it was definitely discouraging to know that I didn’t make the cut. Not to mention, being placed on the waitlist feels like you are waiting a lifetime. After religiously checking my email with the hopes of receiving some good news, a spot did not become available for me that year. So, that meant a whole year of “what now?!”. I had just graduated from CSUF, quit my tutoring and campus bookstore jobs, and felt completely lost. I was supposed to get into grad school—that was the plan! After about a week of feeling upset and wondering what I was going to do, I decided to take a closer look at how I could improve and strengthen my application for the following cycle.

First, I decided to find a job. I looked into OT related jobs that would give me more experience. Working with kids was something I was interested in besides hand therapy, so I applied for a job as a behavior therapist. Although ABA is not the same as OT, I thought it would be a good way to get more comfortable working with kids and their families. My experience working for that company was amazing! I worked with kiddos 1:1, joined in on OT consults and was also able to lead a social skills group for children of different ages. Fortunately, I was also able to get a second job working as an occupational therapy aide for a hand therapy clinic. If you’ve read my previous blog posts you’ll know I have a personal connection to working with individuals with hand injuries. Getting some hands on experience (pun intended) by working at that hand clinic really solidified my passion for that area of practice! If I would have been admitted when I applied, I wouldn’t have had either experience. So, long story short—you never know what you’ll learn! You may discover a new passion within OT that you didn’t know was for you or a passion you already had can become that much stronger.

Another tip is to reach out to the admissions team and talk to them about your application. I personally didn’t reach out, mostly because I didn’t know it was a thing. As I’ve mentioned before my parents never pursued a higher education, so unfortunately they couldn’t provide much guidance there. However, my good friend Calvin, was able to get in touch with admissions when he was waitlisted himself. Feel free to connect with him to speak to him more about his experience with that.

Although you may be feeling a mix of emotions, don’t be discouraged! Take this as an opportunity to grow and keep working towards your goal. As cheesy as it sounds, everything happens for a reason. Another thing I should mention is that the first time I applied for the program I applied with one of my great friends from undergrad. We spent hours working on applications and our personal statements together. To my dismay I was waitlisted, but my friend was admitted. Although I was happy for her I couldn’t help but feel sad! However, what I later discovered was that there was a reason we didn’t get admitted together. There was a chance we would have felt comfortable with each other and closed off socializing with new people. Now that I have started my second year in the program I couldn’t be more grateful! I met some of my best friends from not being admitted the first time and I will be moving in with them this fall.

It’s important to note that everyone’s situation is different. Marilyn put together a wonderful video featuring two other students, one of them being Daniel Padilla—who is now our OTD student ambassador! Feel free to check out her video. And again, don’t hesitate to send me an email if you have any questions or would like to connect!

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