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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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Savi

Will I Have Time to Work During the Master’s Program? >

by Savi

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Classes Getting Involved

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As the Nov. 1 application deadline has just passed, I have been receiving many questions from prospective students about balancing a job and graduate school. Although this experience will vary from person to person, I thought it could be helpful to give you all a bit of insight into my experience balancing work and graduate school!

The Entry-Level Professional Master’s program begins with a jampacked 8-week summer semester in which you complete foundation-based courses like Kinesiology and Neuroscience in an extremely short amount of time. This makes for a high intensity and fast-paced semester with class from Monday-Friday 8:00 am-4:00 pm and a few hours studying upon your return home each afternoon. I, therefore, chose not to work during the first summer. I had also just completed my undergraduate degree a week before beginning the Master’s program and hadn’t even found a place in LA to live yet! I was grateful to have a few hours on the weekend or on Friday evenings to apartment search, find a job for the fall semester in my new neighborhood, and get to know the fun city I was living in.

During my Fall semester in the Mental Health Immersion, I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I was in class three days a week, completing my Fieldwork I one day a week, and had my Friday’s completely free! This allowed me more time to take on a part-time job as a gym receptionist and sales associate at a gym near my apartment. They allowed me to work extremely flexible hours, as they understood I was not available during most of the week. I worked the evening shift after school one night a week, the Friday afternoon shift, and a weekend shift, which all combined to approximately 20 hours a week of work on top of graduate school. Was this easy? No…it was really overwhelming at times and I did not have much time to participate in social or revitalizing occupations (such as sleeping a sufficient amount of hours every night!). I am very thankful that I was able to fit in some studying or homework during my work hours if we were having a slow day, that I loved spending time with my co-workers, and that I was allowed to take a free workout class during each shift. If this wasn’t the case, I do not think I would be able to commit 20+ hours a week to a job while completing my Master’s degree (also I wouldn’t recommend it regardless because it was TOUGH). I continued this workload during the following Spring Semester in the Pediatrics Immersion. It was nice to make some money and work on applicable skillsets for the OT field, such as adjusting your communication style depending on the customer, giving clear and concise directions, or staying organized and calm during chaotic or unforeseen situations.

At the end of my Spring semester, I was exhausted and I needed a change. I knew the Adult Rehabilitation Immersion was coming next and as a student interested in working in an inpatient hospital setting with adults in the future, I wanted to have more time to focus on all the valuable coursework. The Student Ambassador position became available and as a previous college tour guide, I was thrilled by the opportunity to step into a similar role for a program I love dearly. After applying and interviewing, I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the Student Ambassadors and was extremely thankful for the expectation that we were to work 10 hrs/week. On top of that, working for the Chan Division allows you a lot more flexibility with your hours, as the faculty you are working for understand the workload you are trying to balance. Thank you to Kimberly Kho, our AMAZING supervisor/boss, for being so flexible, understanding, and respectful of our busy and ever-changing graduate school schedules. Kim has always reinforced that academics takes priority and has allowed us to adjust our schedules to provide more time on particular weeks to study for exams, write big papers, etc. Visit Yna’s blog to learn more about what we do as student ambassadors!

From my experiences, you may have noticed a trend. Can you work in grad school…yes! It is doable depending on what job it is and how much flexibility it allows you. I am grateful to have had understanding bosses and incredible, fun, and kind co-workers in both of my jobs! Be sure to weigh the pros and cons of the job before you commit to it and make sure that you are prioritizing your physical and mental health! As Kim says…you are a student first.

Savi

Interview with Pediatric OT Dani Lurie OTD, OTR/L >

by Savi

Fieldwork

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This weekend I got the opportunity to sit down with my sister Daniella Lurie OTD, OTR/L, or Dani Lurie, and learn more about her time at USC and her journey to becoming a pediatric occupational therapist. Throughout my lifetime I have had the privilege of accessing my sister’s life experiences and advice. These have been integral to my success as a current student and I thought it would be valuable to share some of her words of wisdom with you all! Dani graduated from USC Chan with her Doctorate in 2017 and has been working in pediatrics ever since. She currently works in a pediatric occupational therapy clinic and conducts treatment sessions both in person and through telehealth. Below you will find Dani’s responses to my questions. A huge shout-out to my biggest role model for taking the time to share her valuable insight with me and with all the future occupational therapists reading.

Why did you pick Occupational Therapy (OT)?
I have always been interested in working with people and was excited that OT combines both science and social science and focuses on mental and physical health. I volunteered in pediatric clinics during my undergraduate career at UCLA and that solidified my love for working with children and their families. All of my courses in college focused on developmental and abnormal psychology as well as statistics. I grew to love all of these subjects and was thrilled to realize how integrated all of these concepts were in OT. OT incorporates statistics into research and goal tracking, as you need to evaluate patients’ progress in a statistical manner. I enjoy that there is a quantitative reason for everything we do and there are science and research backing our treatment approaches and techniques. OT beautifully combines both my passion for science and my desire to work with people to help them achieve their goals.

Why did you choose to work in Pediatrics?
I worked with kids for my whole life. Whether it was tutoring, instructing dance classes, babysitting, or volunteering, I always found myself gravitating towards jobs that allowed me to work with children from high school onwards. I enjoy that children keep you grounded because they live in the present moment, whereas adults are always on the go thinking about what’s next. The goal for any type of work with kids is surrounding play and having fun. This emphasis was good for me emotionally, as it is therapeutic to surround yourself with people who focus on the present. It’s also really fun to play games all day and work on goals indirectly. Although I don’t consider myself the most creative person, I think working in pediatrics has stretched my imagination. I also enjoy working with parents because I get to utilize more of my psychology background from college by focusing on their mental health and their relationships with their children.

Why did you choose USC and how has that choice benefitted you after graduating?
It’s been really nice having students come from the program I went to because I can work to build their skills from a perspective of understanding. The Chan division has provided me with a nice network of people with common interests and pursuits. I decided to go to USC because the professors are outstanding, especially for my specific focus area interests. Dr. Erna Blanche has been the biggest inspiration for my whole career, and I am so grateful to have had her as a mentor and teacher. All of my Sensory Integration (SI) and pediatrics professors, including Dr. Joan Surfus and Dr. Janet Gunter, are so in love with what they do and that passion rubs off on their students. The pediatric professors have the ability to be in the present moment even with each other. In class, we would get down on the floor with our professors and play in order to understand what it actually means to have fun. We also focused on understanding why these things matter neurologically. Another big reason I chose USC was because the Chan Division is one of the top players in OT research. All of my professors participated in research and so we were taught the most up to date and relevant information in class. People come all over the world to take special topics in SI, a four-course series that I was fortunate enough to take during my time completing my master’s and doctorate. At USC I learned why it all matters and how to quantify what we are doing in therapy. I had an amazing experience receiving mentorship in my field of interest in order to become proficient in my practice.

Why did you pursue your OTD?
I am interested in teaching down the line and I wanted to specialize in SI. After I graduated from the Master’s program I was a competent generalist. I wanted to continue on to the Doctorate in order to focus on continuing education in SI to become the specialized therapist I wanted to be. During the OTD I researched the key components to effectively evaluate sensory modulation and praxis to become proficient as a clinician in this area.

Do you have any advice for current students?
Focus on where you’re at instead of worrying about where you think you are supposed to be. Once you graduate you will find a job that’s right for you. While I was completing my degree, I felt a lot of stress to figure it all out before I graduated, but you don’t have to. After I graduated, I got a job in both pediatrics and home health at the same time, so you have the opportunity to try different settings out and continue hopping between them throughout your life as your interests change. While you are at USC you are getting a broad skill set and if you trust the process you will eventually find a job you love!

Do you have any advice for students entering into fieldwork?
Keep an open mind even if you think you’re 100% focused on a particular practice setting…another setting might surprise you! I still look back on my adult rehabilitation fieldwork II rotation for some things I can utilize in my pediatric practice. There are different skills you gain while you’re there so you should definitely make the most of wherever you are. There is a reason why you work in at least two different settings before you graduate, so be present and learn as much as you can.

What is the hardest part of your job?
It is hard to say goodbye to kids at the end when they graduate because I never know when I’ll see them again. Another difficult part of my job is the quantity of paperwork I must complete on a daily basis. I love participating in evaluation and treatment sessions, but writing evaluations and notes is extremely time-consuming. Written evaluations and detailed notes are important and support our process, so it is pertinent to spend time ensuring that they are concise, thorough, and reliable. It can also be difficult for me to effectively communicate with everyone on the treatment team because they are not always in house, especially now that we are primarily virtual. I am definitely more of a face to face communicator.

What is the best part of your job?
The best parts of my job are the day to day little signs of progress. When a kid says “I can do it” or can all of a sudden write his name, I love seeing their excitement and watching how over the moon the parents feel. Even the smallest signs of progress can be life-changing for both the child and their parent.

Dani Lurie with Facemask

Dani Lurie showing off her decorated face mask and shield that she wears in order to work with children in person at the amid COVID-19.

On the left is a photo of me and my sister at her OTD graduation in 2017 and on the right is a photo of us at my White Coat Ceremony in 2019.

Savi

Savi’s Electives Experiences >

by Savi

Classes

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Over the past two semesters, I have had the opportunity to choose between a variety of elective courses to take in order to dive deeper into the subject matter I am interested in and begin my journey from an OT generalist to specialist. As a second year in the Master’s program, students are given the chance to take 12-14 units of elective coursework so that they can begin to focus in an area of interest.

When I began this Master’s program I was extremely interested in taking the OT 561: Occupational Therapy in Acute Care elective, as I have always been interested in pursuing a career in acute care. Unfortunately, this elective was no longer offered this semester as they wanted to keep all students, faculty, and patients healthy and at a safe distance. Although this was sad news for me, this decision also allowed me to explore electives I wouldn’t have otherwise! Now looking back on my decisions and experiences I could not have imagined it any other way! I love all of my electives and have learned such valuable information that will help guide me in whatever practice setting I choose in the future. Here is a glimpse into my electives and why I chose them!

OT 574: Enhancing Motor Control for Occupation
This semester I was fortunate enough to have been randomly selected to take the Motor Control elective at the California Rehabilitation Institute. This course has opened my eyes to so many unique and fun things OTs can do in an inpatient rehabilitation setting. Before beginning this course I knew that I wanted to hopefully work as an OT in an inpatient rehabilitation or acute setting after graduation, but was worried I wouldn’t have experience working with patients in either of these settings. This course provided me with four hours of weekly clinical experience with patients guided by an assigned clinical instructor, as well as lecture material focused on providing tangible methods for remediation of motor control problems following upper motor neuron lesions. In lectures, we spent half the time learning the theories and concepts of motor control and motor learning, and then the other half applying our knowledge and skills in practice. Through this class, I learned how to complete scapular and trunk assessment, facilitation, and mobilization, shoulder subluxation positioning and taping, inhibitory casting, neuromuscular electrical stimulation, edema management, and much more!  Check out the pictures at the bottom to see what these look like. I had a lot of fun working with patients and applying my knowledge in real-time with the assistance of experienced OTs. 

OT 575: Dysphasia Across the Lifespan
As a food lover myself, I have always listed eating as my #1 favorite occupation. After working in a few pediatric settings and seeing how impactful OTs can be in the feeding process, I wanted to learn more about our impact across the lifespan. This course has provided me with an immense amount of knowledge regarding the various assessment and treatment strategies used for patients and caregivers. I have also gained a greater understanding of the oral, pharyngeal, and esophageal anatomical structures involved in swallowing and how they relate to normal and abnormal swallowing. On the last day of class we all received a large box of delicious snacks to eat and test out. This helped us gauge the sensory qualities, understand the effects chewing has on consistency and texture, and brainstorm fun activities with each snack option to engage our future clients. 

OT 566: Healthcare Communication with Spanish-Speaking Clients
¡Hola! Mi nombre es Savi y yo soy su terapeuta ocupacional. I am extremely passionate about developing a comfortable and safe environment for all my clients. During my time completing observation hours in San Diego and fieldwork in Los Angeles, I have noticed that a large quantity of the patients and clients I have worked with are primarily Spanish speaking. Because of the language barrier, I felt as though I am not able to make them feel as comfortable as I could. I, therefore, wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to learn how to communicate in Spanish at an elementary level in a therapeutic context. By doing so I have learned how to say common OT phrases and terms in Spanish, to facilitate better connections and relationships with my future clients. Dr. Delgado has brought in OTs from a variety of settings to help us learn context-specific and cultural terms and phrases. Gracias, Profesor Delgado!

OT 564 Sensory Integration Theory
I decided to take sensory integration (SI) theory because I wanted to get a better understanding of the neuroscience backing and foundation for sensory integration. After completing the pediatrics immersion, I didn’t feel confident about the level of understanding I had regarding SI in comparison to other students I had spoken to in my cohort. This made me extremely nervous since SI is so important and prevalent in OT practice across all settings. I, therefore, wanted to get a better grasp on the neurobehavioral principles of Sensory Integration Theory before entering into my Level II fieldwork and eventually sitting for the NBCOT exam. This class did just that!

shoulder taping

Showing off my shoulder taping, which is used to assist with realigning and supporting a shoulder joint with subluxation.

casting

Practicing serial casting on classmate Alana Schoenhals to manage tone. We even got to saw off the cast we made!

edema taping

Classmate Alana Schoenhals and I showing off our compression bandage treatment after doing retrograde massage on one another for edema management.

Savi

Tips to Stay Organized >

by Savi

Classes Life Hacks

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During my time in graduate school, I found that success is closely tied to organizational skills. Towards the beginning of each semester, I typically become overwhelmed by my new schedule and all of the combined assignments. I, therefore, have discovered a few simple ways to help ease my concern and make it ALL seem a little more manageable. Here is a list of a few tips you may find helpful to assist you with staying organized throughout the semester:

  1. Weekly Schedule: Develop a weekly schedule PDF, Excel, or Word document that you can always refer to when you need to schedule a meeting, a study session with friends, a doctor’s appointment, or time to engage in a meaningful and rejuvenating occupation such as exercising. This weekly schedule can be color-coded and can include everything that you have committed your time to on a continuous weekly basis. This will allow you to view your weekly class, volunteer, fieldwork, and work schedule in one location, making it easy to see what time you have available in order to schedule events or utilize and assign your free time to activities and assignments. I also add in blocks for driving and eating to better understand what time I have completely free and what time I am filling with other necessary occupations. Here is my weekly calendar example:
  2. Savi's Weekly Class and Work Schedule on Excel
  3. Excel Assignment List: At the start of each semester I go through every single syllabus and note the assignment with the due date on an excel document. I color-code each class and then use the sort tool to organize the assignments by the due date. This way I can scroll through at the end of each week to see what I need to do over the weekend, plan what I can complete during my free time allotted in my weekly schedule, and check to make sure I have completed the all of the assignments before I go to bed each night. This is a quick and easy way to have all the assignments and exam due dates listed in one location! You can also delete the row or change the color of the assignment once it is completed to feel a sense of relief and instant satisfaction. Here is how I created mine:
  4. Savi's Assignment's in an Excel List

    To get from the first color-coded list to the second list organized by date due follow these instructions: 1. Highlight the “B” column as demonstrated in the picture on the left. 2. Select “Data” from the drop-down menu at the top of the screen. 3. Select “Sort” and choose the “expand the selection option”. 4. Select “Column B” option from the column drop-down and select the “January, February, March, April…December” option from the order dropdown. This option may be listed under “custom list” if you haven’t recently selected it. 5. Select the “ok” button at the bottom of the pop-up box and the excel sheet will sort your data!

  5. Digital USC Folder: I created a folder for all things USC on my desktop. Inside this folder, I have created subfolders to save and organize my documents into. For example, I have folders for each semester. Once you open my semester folder you will find a folder listed for each class I am taking. This makes it extremely easy to find my notes, study guides, online textbooks, or anything else I need for each particular class.
  6. Photo of Savi's USC Folder Organization System
  7. Sticky Notes: I utilize the sticky note tool on my desktop to write down small to-do lists each day, reminders, and zoom links for class that aren’t linked through blackboard to make them easily accessible. If you do not have the sticky note tool on your desktop you can do this by hand in a planner, on your phone in a notes section, or in a word document that you can continuously update.
  8. Shared Calendar: I have developed a monthly calendar that is linked to my computer and to my phone. That way if I add anything on one device it will automatically link to the other. This is helpful if I am out of the house and have to organize a meeting, event, or group project. You can do this on Outlook, Google Calendar, iCal, etc. I add my classes, any breaks or holidays to that calendar, and any appointments or future reminders in this calendar.
  9. Savi's Monthly iCalendar

I hope this list has provided you with at least one technique that can help you stay organized this semester. Be sure to tailor these items to fit your particular needs!

Savi

Crafting a Personal Statement >

by Savi

Admissions

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During my application process, I wanted to make sure that I would stand out. I spent weeks worrying about what I could do to make the admissions team stop and say “WOW” when reading through the hundreds of applications they received that year. This was stressful, to say the least. I felt as though everyone else applying also had good grades and GRE scores. I volunteered in a variety of clinics, held leadership positions in multiple organizations, and participated in an OT research lab throughout my undergraduate career but I knew that most applicants were also very involved. Despite all these achievements I continued to worry about how I could stand out! What would grab the admission counselor’s attention? I soon realized it would have to be my Personal Statement.

The USC Chan Personal Statement was my time to shine. I spent weeks drafting different ideas about what I thought the admissions team wanted to hear. I spoke about my leadership, my academic success, etc. Each time I would read over the new version I didn’t think it was good enough. After speaking to my sister about my dilemma and having her read over my outline she turned to me and said, “Savi we all know you are successful. Now tell them who you are beneath all the success. Who is Savi and why are you built to be an OT?” This quickly made me realize that I had been spending my time writing a personal statement with the sole purpose of impressing the admissions team. Instead, I needed to focus my energy on finding one story that exemplifies who I am and how I fit into the Chan community.

I deleted my list of achievements and started fresh. I brainstormed ideas of when I had implemented techniques similar to OT intervention in a non-traditional setting. I did this because I wanted to demonstrate that my imagination would benefit me as both an OT student at USC and as a future OT practitioner. I landed on my experience as a Human Resources intern at a start-up tech company after my freshman year of college. During my time at this company, I noticed that employees led a primarily sedentary and ergonomically insufficient work lifestyle. I, therefore, focused my time as an intern on developing an innovative approach to educate and enable the employees on adopting a healthy and ergonomically sustainable lifestyle in the office. I used the company’s core values, personalities, and goals to develop the perfect “interventions” based on their needs, including a wellness competition, games to engage in physical activity, and workshops on how to set up their workspace to promote sustained engagement and success.

Looking back on this internship I realized how aligned my innovation skills were with OT techniques. Naturally, I found myself understanding the importance of exploring clients’ situational context, personality, and environment in order to develop innovative treatment plans that promote engagement in meaningful occupations. This story exemplified that even before I decided to pursue a career in OT I utilized the leadership and career opportunities I had to use my creativity to help others…sounds kind of like an OT right!? Was this internship the biggest success I have ever achieved? No. Does everyone else applying also have work or internship experience? Yes. Although the experience of being an intern may seem common and unoriginal, I was able to dive deeper into how I utilized one of USC Chan’s core values to demonstrate who I am and what kind of OT I want to be. So dive deeper into those “regular or unoriginal” experiences in order to demonstrate how you made it extraordinary just by being yourself!

You can find more application advice from our Director of Admissions, Dr. Arameh Anvarizadeh in this video!

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