Advice for Incoming Occupational Therapy Students
January 21, 2021
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!