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University of Southern California
University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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Student Blog


Dr. Martinez Coming Soon ⟩
May 13, 2019, by Melissa

Beginnings and Endings Community Getting Involved

Goodbyes are never easy, and the last couple of weeks have been a constant reminder of that. With all the chaos that comes with the end of the year — finals, comps, graduation — I haven’t had much time to think about the fact that graduation marks the end of a very important chapter in my life. Now that I’ve had a chance to catch my breath, I feel some sadness that it’s all over, but also excited for what’s to come. I’m walking away with a deep appreciation for the friendships I have made, the opportunities I was given, and the experiences that have helped to shape the clinician that I will be someday soon.

It was always my dream to be a part of the USC Chan family, and I can easily say that the last couple of years have surpassed my expectations. It truly feels like it was just yesterday that I was anxiously starting the summer session with my new classmates, so it’s hard to believe that this part of my journey is nearing its end. I will be forever grateful to everyone in the division, who truly go above and beyond to ensure that we have a great experience in the program.

I had dreamed of becoming a Student Ambassador since I first got exposed to the position at an information session many years ago, so looking back on this past year fills me with overwhelming pride and emotion. I have sincerely enjoyed meeting and corresponding with so many incredible students from all over the world, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to share my passion for our program with others. I’m also thankful for the incredible Ambassador and Admissions teams that I had the honor of working with, for they made the last year fun and unforgettable.

Like I said before, goodbyes are never easy, but I find solace in the fact that I’ll still be at USC for a bit longer pursuing my OTD in Clinical Research with Dr. Sharon Cermak. So for now, it’s not a goodbye but instead an “I’ll see you soon.”



Inspiring High School Students to Become Future OTs ⟩
April 17, 2019, by Melissa

Diversity First-Gen Getting Involved What are OS/OT?

One of my goals as an Ambassador has been to increase awareness about occupational therapy. In order to do so, we decided to reach out to high school students, as I often hear that people would have pursued OT a lot sooner if they had known it was an option. I’ve been lucky enough to present to a couple of high schools now, and the experiences have been both rewarding and challenging. When presenting to high school students, we really have to adapt the way that we approach them. We often present to pre-health clubs or OT-specific clubs as part of our job, therefore we go into our presentation with the understanding that these students already have an interest in OT or in a healthcare profession. Oftentimes, the students have already been thinking about graduate school and pursuing higher education, therefore we know we can tailor our presentation in a specific way. High school students, on the other hand, come from a variety of backgrounds, have different plans and aspirations, and varying interests. They are more difficult to engage, and may or may not be voluntarily attending our presentations. Before my first presentation to one of the high schools, I kept thinking to myself, “How am I going to engage them?! How am I going to give them all of this important information without putting them to sleep?!”

In an attempt to get some guidance, I approached one of my professors who had also given a talk to a group of high school students recently, and she gave me some great tips. The one that stuck out to me the most was her tip on making it RELEVANT to the students, which made total sense. I have since tried to find ways to make my presentation relatable, such as giving the students some information about my own journey, my experiences as an athlete (as there are often many athletes that attend these presentations), and what it has meant to me to be a first-generation graduate student using my bilingual skills in Los Angeles. I also like to take different types of adaptive equipment and sensory toys to show them how they are used, and why they are relevant in our profession. This gives them some interactive opportunities where they get a glimpse into what we do as well as an opportunity to ask questions. Lastly, I always like to take GIVEAWAYS. Nothing gets a group of high school students more excited than some free stuff they get to take home, and I think it’s a nice token to remind them of our presentation.

Fortunately, the students I have presented to thus far have been courteous and kind, albeit shy in the beginning. They seem receptive to the information we have to offer, and I have even gotten emails from students that are now interested in pursuing careers in OT! I’m so grateful I have had the opportunity to spread the word about our amazing profession and our wonderful program here at USC, and I look forward to the short time I have left in this position to continue doing so! If you ever have questions about recruitment or anything else in general, feel free to reach out!

Fight on!

Presentation at Leuzinger High School

Presentation at Leuzinger High School


Refining My Leadership Skills — Externship In LA ⟩
April 3, 2019, by Melissa

Externships Living in LA

Hey everyone! I’m a bit late to the game, as I have yet to post about my externship experience, but this semester has just been so busy! Nonetheless, I wanted to talk to you guys about my decision to stay local for my externship, since the rest of the Ambassadors went abroad! I split my experience into 2 different opportunities, so read on for the specifics of each one!

Shadowing Dr. Katie Jordan at the Chan Division of USC

Dr. Katie Jordan is one of the coolest and most inspiring people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting during my time at USC. She embodies the type of leader that I aspire to be one day, therefore I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see how she manages to do it all. Before I go any further, I’m going to list out all of her roles (and I’ll probably miss some): she is a professor in our program, the Associate Chair of Clinical Occupational Therapy in the division, the Director of OT and Speech Therapy at Keck and Norris Hospitals, she works at AOTA on the Relative Value Scale Update Committee, and is the Co-Chair for OTAC’s Practice, Ethics, and Reimbursement Committee. She is also a mentor to residents going through the OTD program, as well as students like me that have an interest in advocacy. On top of all of that, she is an amazing mother and wife.

My interest in meeting with her started back when I was a first year in the program. Whenever I would meet with my mentor, Dr. Jordan’s name would inevitably come up as someone that I should get in touch with. For one reason or another, it never happened, therefore our leadership externship seemed like the perfect opportunity to do reach out and shadow her! I’m so glad that I did, because I learned so much during the short week I spent with her. I went to most of her meetings, got to listen to conference calls, and got to see what each of her roles really entail. It was amazing to see her transition in and out of each of her roles so flawlessly. No matter how crazy her schedule got, she always remained composed, which is something I admired. She speaks with authority but isn’t rude, and represents our profession really well. She is incredibly knowledgeable on all things OT — even on things we all wish weren’t a part of our jobs like dealing with billing and Medicare — and has a great ability of explaining things in a way that’s easy to understand.

Shadowing Dr. Jordan taught me about where we can go as OTs as far as leadership goes, but I also learned a lot about the intricacies of her roles, and what it’s like working with large groups of medical professionals that may have differing thoughts on various issues.

Shadowing Terri Nishimura, CEO of Pediatric Therapy Network

I met Terri Nishimura when she was part of a Leadership Panel for our Capstone course this Spring. During the panel, she was very vocal about our responsibility to advocate for our profession, and how becoming politically involved is also really important. As someone who has stayed away from politics for the last couple of years, this was hard for me to accept. However, she made a compelling argument. As the CEO of a non-profit organization, the services she’s able to provide and the funding for those services are all impacted by legislation. Although our state and national organizations do a great job of trying to keep up with all of the political changes that are occurring and advocating for our profession, it is still important for us to be involved as well.

She gave the example of how decades ago, she started a friendship with one of the councilmembers in Torrance (which is where PTN is located). Over the years, he kept advancing in the political world, until he became one of our state senators. There was a bill that was threatening the services OTs could bill for in pediatrics, so she reached out to him and asked that he not only not vote for that bill, but that he help to educate the other senators on the reasons why passing this bill would have negative implications for OT. He happily did so because of their established relationship, and fortunately that bill didn’t pass. She stressed that advocacy isn’t a one-and-done situation, but that we have to put in the time to develop strategic relationships. This story was really impactful for me, because I hadn’t given much thought to what we could do, therefore I was eager to learn more. I approached her after class to ask if she’d be willing to host me for the second half of my externship, and she happily accepted!

During my time with Terri, I got to learn a lot about what it’s like to be a CEO, as well as a leader in the pediatric community. I got to help Terri plan for a legislative reception for OTAC, where I got to meet with many OTs that hold leadership positions within OTAC! I learned who my local, state, and federal representatives are, and how to find that information if I ever need it. Before this experience, I felt like the world of politics was just something I did not want to get involved in. Even if I did, i felt like I wouldn’t know where to start. Thanks to Terri’s guidance, I now have a much better understanding of what we can do and how to do it.

Ultimately, there are pros and cons to going abroad and staying local for our externships. Going abroad can be expensive, but we get the opportunity to see what occupational therapy and healthcare look like in different countries! Staying in LA is not nearly as enticing as going abroad, but the connections you make are hopefully some that will last for a lifetime, and can help you when you’re venturing out into the real world as a new grad! In the end, the choice is up to you, but just keep in mind that there are plenty of wonderful opportunities no matter where you go.


Senioritis . . . Senioritis Everywhere ⟩
February 20, 2019, by Melissa


Hey everyone! This is our last semester in the program, and things definitely haven’t slowed down. As a result, I’ve realized that a common theme amongst our class is exhaustion and senioritis. After I graduated from undergrad, I thought that senioritis was a thing of the past, but boy oh boy was I mistaken. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still enjoying my time in the program tremendously, and taking electives this semester keeps things interesting, but I am also feeling the burnout. Thus, I wanted to share some of the things that help to keep me going!

Clinical opportunities and seeing OT in action
Although there is no Level 1 fieldwork associated with our Spring Semester, we still have the opportunity to shadow OTs in specific settings depending on the electives we choose to take. I talk more in depth about these opportunities in my previous blog post, so check it out if you’d like to learn more. Getting the information we need during class is always great, as our professors are incredibly knowledgeable and they are experts in their given area of study, but there’s something invigorating about being able to see it play out in a clinical setting. For example, we learn all about the difficulties associated with treating medically fragile patients up the hill at Keck Hospital, but having the opportunity to see what that looks like is hugely beneficial to my learning. It also helps to remind me why I chose to be in this profession, as the OTs we shadow are GREAT at what they do, and the patients truly appreciate them.

Meeting with my Mentor
USC does a great job of providing us with opportunities for mentorship, and we are often encouraged to seek out faculty or staff that we think would offer mentorship in an area we are interested in. I myself have sought mentorship from several faculty and staff members, and I can happily say that we are still in contact today. However, apart from being encouraged to approach mentorship on our own, our program actually assigns us a mentor depending the area of study we’d like to pursue! I personally love the mentor I was assigned, and I am truly grateful that clinicians, faculty, and staff all take the time to mentor us. Things aren’t always going to be rainbows and sunshine, and having someone that I can go to when things get rough is truly comforting.

In addition, I have been lucky enough to work alongside 2nd year and OTD students throughout my time in the program, and they have provided great mentorship as well. As students who are ahead of you in the program, they can offer some great information on what to expect, and even some tips based on their own experiences! I’ve found it really beneficial to have a student perspective as well. Ultimately, seeking mentorship from leadership within the program or students that are ahead of you will help to ease your anxiety, and it can help with your own career planning! 

Assisting with interviews for the incoming Ambassadors
This has been a particularly fun experience, as it reminds me that not too long ago I was also going through this process and hoping to be a part of the Ambassador team! It was so refreshing to see the passion, commitment, and talent in our program, and we had some very strong candidates. This position is something I knew I wanted to pursue even before I started in the program, therefore interviewing the incoming ambassadors reminded me of the excitement and NERVES that surround the application process. Now that my time as an ambassador is nearing its end, the interview process has prompted me to reflect on everything we’ve done, and all that we’ve accomplished these past months. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the chaos of everyday life, therefore taking a step back to appreciate these last two years has helped me get the energy to push through the last couple of months in the program.

Admitted Student Reception
For those that don’t know, there is an Admitted Student Reception that we host in the spring to welcome all of our admitted students. It’s such an exciting, emotional, and invigorating experience, and serves as a great opportunity to meet your future classmates and professors! I personally had such a great time, and getting to experience it again last year and this year reminds me of the excitement surrounding our admission into the program! Working the event and meeting the newly admitted class is so fun, and I find it hard to believe that my time as a Master’s student is almost over. It’s a surreal feeling, but it serves as a reminder to enjoy the time I have left!

Ordering our regalia for Graduation!
We were recently notified that we could begin to order our regalia and sashes for graduation! Although graduation is a little over 2 months away, it’s exciting to begin to plan for it. It definitely makes it feel more real, and it’s a reminder that we’re so close to the finish line. We also get to personalize our sash if we want to, which makes the process more fun! Because this semester has been so busy, it’s hard to remember that it’s not an ordinary semester, but our last one! Even that small reminder has been enough to excite me to push through the rest of the semester and finish strong.

Being tired and feeling burnt out is not a bad thing. It’s just a sign that you’ve been working really hard for a while! However, it is important to take some time to reflect and remember why you started. It’s crazy to think about how quickly my time in the program has gone by, and I’m excited to push through these upcoming months to walk the stage with my classmates!


And So It Begins . . . One Last Time ⟩
February 4, 2019, by Melissa


Hey guys! This semester is now in full swing after a wonderful and restful break. For those of you that don’t know, our final semester in the program consists of a variety of electives that allow us to specialize/customize our academic experience! I talk about what that entails in one of my previous posts, so check it out if you’re interested in knowing more!

In this post, I want to talk a bit more in depth about the courses that I am taking, as I find it fascinating that we get this opportunity to customize our learning experience. Although I’ve found our curriculum thus far to be incredibly useful and important for our foundational knowledge of the profession, being able to take courses that I have chosen based on my own personal preferences is amazing! Although I am interested in both pediatrics and adult physical rehabilitation, I chose to focus more on my interests in physical rehab. Thus, I’m taking courses in Primary Care, Acute Care, Neurorehabilitation, and Dysphagia, in addition to our Leadership Capstone, and Occupational Science course. It is definitely a full course load, but I’m enjoying it tremendously.

My Primary Care and Acute Care courses have an additional clinical component in which we get to shadow an occupational therapist in those respective settings. For the Acute class, we get to go across the street to Keck Hospital, where we get to see some incredibly complex cases. The medical complexity surrounding some of the cases we see really adds an additional layer to the problem solving we have to do in our career as OTs. Learning about all of the medical conditions we might encounter in class, and then immediately seeing some of those conditions during our clinical experiences is pretty surreal, but it truly helps to solidify the information that we are learning.

Occupational therapy in primary care is an emerging area for our profession, but it makes complete sense to have OTs in that setting! We learn all about the complexities associated with primary care — particularly surrounding the constantly changing policy and reimbursement challenges — and how that impacts our ability to be included as part of a patient’s care in that setting. For our clinical experiences, we have the option to shadow an OT providing direct care in a primary care setting, or to see what consultative OT looks like as well! Again, being able to apply what we’re learning in class to a real-life situation is amazing, and so helpful for my learning.

Although the Neurorehabilitation and Dysphagia courses don’t have a clinical component, there is still a lot of hands-on learning involved. In Neurorehab, we get to practice different assessments on each other, which is useful because a sense of mastery is necessary to execute these assessments well. In Dysphagia, we learn all about the anatomy associated with swallowing, and also practice swallowing assessments on each other to aid in our knowledge. Another cool thing about the Dysphagia course is that the hours in the course count towards our certification in that area! There is a certain amount of hours that have to be completed as part of that certification, therefore it’s great that we get a head start.

In addition to all of the exciting things going on related to my clinical experiences and electives, I get to look forward to completing my externship in March, welcoming the incoming class in April, and of course graduation in May! I had heard from other students that the Spring semester is a whirlwind that goes by very quickly, and now I definitely know what they mean! If you have any questions about the elective process, any of the specific course, or anything about the program in general, feel free to reach out!

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