Advice for Incoming Occupational Therapy Students ⟩
January 21, 2021, by Savi
Before beginning my journey as a student in the Entry-Level Master’s program, I remember being extremely overwhelmed. I, therefore, wanted to dedicate this blog to giving incoming students some advice I wish I would’ve known. To those who will be receiving their acceptance letters soon…congratulations on this huge achievement! I hope you keep these pieces of advice with you throughout your time at USC.
- A’s aren’t everything. Although it may be ingrained in you that grades are what measure your level of success, you must now focus more on the learning process instead of the grade outcome. The deciding factor for whether you will get hired over another candidate is your ability to be personable, your experience in the field, and the skills you are equipped with. You made it here, so now you can breathe and just focus on passing and learning all that you can! I speak more about this in my blog An A+ Doesn’t Define You, so be sure to visit this blog for more information.
- Lean on your classmates. This master’s program is not a competition so do not try to make it one. Your fellow classmates are most likely struggling with the same or similar things as you, so reach out to them and be honest. You will find that developing a study group can be VERY beneficial for your mental wellbeing as well as your ability to retain information. By saying things out loud, explaining a concept to a classmate, or hearing your classmate explain a concept to you in their own words, you will find yourself memorizing everything you need or want to know without having to study alone. This is also good practice for the clinical setting as you will be required to work with a variety of colleagues who have different strengths and weaknesses than your own. You can learn how to not only work together but also uplift each other. Build that foundation of support so that studying becomes easier and your coursework has more meaning.
- Take all the time you need to decide what organizations you want to join. Time is valuable in this program and you must make the most of it. Although it may be tempting, try not to join every single organization that you may be slightly interested in. Take your time learning about each opportunity and commit yourself to one or two. Throughout your two years, a variety of opportunities will arise for you to take advantage of. For example, becoming an ambassador was an opportunity that presented itself at the end of my first year in the master’s program. You want to give yourself enough time to fully engage in the organizations you choose to join, while also leaving time for future opportunities that may become available later on. Pick things because you are passionate about them not because they will look good on a resume. To learn more about the student organization options check out my blog What Student Organization Should I Join?
- Get to know your professors. The faculty members in the Chan Division are unbelievable. Each professor or instructor you will have is passionate about a different topic. Learn and ask about their passions and their experience pursuing OT in their field of choice. Most of their journeys were not straightforward and many may surprise you. This is an incredible opportunity to learn from some of the most distinguished OTs in the world…so take advantage of it. Ask them questions both inside and outside of the classroom and build relationships with them. These professors can and will be your mentors for the rest of your life.
- Be open to any opportunity that may come your way. During your fieldwork I clinical experiences, you will get the chance to practice OT once a week in three different settings (mental health, pediatrics, and adult rehabilitation) throughout your two years in the master’s program. You will also have the chance to choose two of these settings to focus on for 12 weeks as a full-time fieldwork II student each summer. Although one or two of these settings may not be ones that you are extremely passionate about, you must take advantage of the learning opportunities you are given by the fieldwork team. Maybe the fieldwork placement will teach you how to deal with conflict, become an independent practitioner, listen more intently, or stay organized. You may even surprise yourself and fall in love with a practice setting you never expected to enjoy! Whether or not you can see yourself as a practicing OT in this setting, make sure to walk into each placement with an open mind and your best foot forward. If you do not do so, then you will not only waste your time but also the time and resources of the clinical setting that has allowed you to come and work with their patients. Instead, use these opportunities to build relationships with the practitioners around you and harness the skills needed to be successful in your future dream job.
- Schedule in time for revitalizing occupations. Whether these occupations are as exciting as going to the beach, hanging out with friends, or skateboarding, or as “simple” as showering and sleeping, be sure to find time for what makes you feel happy and more like yourself. You will not be able to succeed in this program unless you take care of yourself because you will quickly lose steam (take it from the girl who worked two jobs and barely slept for two semesters in a row). Your grades will begin to suffer but more importantly, your ability to retain important and valuable information, be present in class, and maintain your mental and physical health will most likely begin to deteriorate. If that means that you have to block off time in your schedule to shower, eat, go on a walk, or phone a friend to ensure that it is included in your daily routine…do it. You will thank me later!
Learning to Lean on Others ⟩
December 23, 2020, by Savi
I got a text last night from one of my best friends in the program stating, “If I ever come to you seeking advice and you don’t have the mental capacity just let me know! And I seriously am here whenever you need advice or to vent!” To give you context to this message, earlier that day my friend had overheard me sigh heavily after looking at my phone. She asked what was wrong, and I explained that sometimes I just get overwhelmed by the number of people I feel like rely on me, even if deep down I know that they will be alright if I don’t answer their text or don’t help them problem-solve a solution to an issue. If friends, acquaintances, or family reach out to me, I know they believe I can help them and I feel compelled to go above and beyond in order to make their lives a little bit easier. I felt weird saying this out loud and immediately felt a sense of shame about believing that there was a lot of pressure on me to fulfill a role no one actually expects me to fulfill.
As occupational therapists, we are tasked with making meaningful occupations more accessible to our clients. I love my job, but I do find it difficult to switch off my “OT” lens/brain when I leave work or school.
I sat and tried to process how I could prevent this from happening and I soon came to terms with the fact that I will never fully feel like me unless I am there to listen to my friends or assist with problem-solving a solution to an issue they are experiencing. I feel honored to be someone that people feel comfortable confiding in and I take great pride in being there to help them better understand their worth, capabilities, and strengths.
For that reason, I have decided to focus on the second part of my friend’s message: “I am here if you need me.” I am so willing to be there for others to help them overcome hurdles to participating in their meaningful occupations, but I rarely find myself reaching out to others when I need help myself. I immediately replied to my friend and told her that I will definitely take her up on her offer because I know she truly means it. I also know that every one of my friends and family would do the same and that I am not a nuisance to any of them. I am not myself without my meaningful occupations, and I typically refrain from participating in them if I am overwhelmed or stressed. If people in my life are willing to come and open up to me then I should be willing to do the same! That way we can all participate in the activities and occupations that make us feel whole again… I mean I am definitely not the best version of myself unless I go on a walk/run outside, take a warm shower, and get at least 7 hours of sleep.
So if you’re like me and you can’t seem to step away from the OT mindset even when you leave work, that is ok! Just know that you are surrounded by people who want to help you in the same way… even if they haven’t officially been trained to do it 😉. Know that you are not a burden and make sure that you are allowing yourself the opportunity to participate in the occupations that are most meaningful to you!
Overcoming Rejection and Feelings of Inadequecy ⟩
December 9, 2020, by Savi
As my last semester of classes has come to an end, I had anticipated feeling relieved. I now sit here, having passed all of the courses I need to graduate from this Master’s program, feeling immensely overwhelmed and discouraged. Up until this moment, everything had been mapped out for me. Each class that I would take and when I would take them were pre-determined. I knew that I just had to work hard and do my best in order to be successful academically.
I am currently studying for the COMPS (comprehensive exam) that I will be taking on December 15th with the rest of my graduating class and I am worrying about my future. This future is not pre-determined and it is scary, especially amidst a global pandemic. It is up to me to pave the way.
During this hectic time, I have also decided to pursue my OTD. After going through the interview process for the USC Chan Division residencies and being informed that I did not receive one, I felt extremely discouraged. I took this rejection as an indication that I was not good enough to get the opportunities I had been aiming for. I became anxious over the fact that I would have to find my own residency, especially because I was worried that my lack of experience in my field of choice would prevent me not only from getting a residency but also a fieldwork II experience.
This stress and feeling of inadequacy was something that was difficult to overcome. After sitting back and reflecting, I came to realize that I was letting one rejection skew my view of my self-worth and capabilities…just one rejection held that much power over me!
It wasn’t until I realized that if I didn’t believe in myself then who would!? I decided that if I didn’t try my best to go after the positions and experiences I feel like I deserve and want then I would regret it tremendously. I couldn’t let one rejection deplete my confidence and I knew that even if there were more rejections to come I would learn from them and keep moving forward.
I spent the coming weeks being polite and persistent. I began communicating with people who could help me develop the residency position of my dreams. Putting all the pieces together was tricky, and it took a lot of persistence to progress things further. Advocating for myself and my worth was key in progressing things forward, as well as acknowledging the work and effort the people communicating with me were putting in.
Your future is what you make of it. Be persistent, confident, understanding, and kind. Know that the person you are talking to will never know the mark you can make if you don’t advocate for yourself and your worth. Don’t let rejection take a toll on you. Sometimes putting in the extra work to make things happen really pays off! Advocate for yourself and believe in yourself because no one can do it better than you.
Will I Have Time to Work During the Master’s Program? ⟩
November 4, 2020, by Savi
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.
Interview with Pediatric OT Dani Lurie OTD, OTR/L ⟩
October 21, 2020, by Savi
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.