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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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A Day in the Life of a USC Entry-Level Master’s Student >

by Erika

Classes What are OS/OT?

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Hi all!

Inspired by the Day in the Life of a Chan Student feature on the Division’s website, I thought I’d provide you with a breakdown of what a day may look like for me as a 2nd year Entry-Level Master’s student. My schedule is a little different everyday based on work hours as a student ambassador, my Level I fieldwork placement, and having Fridays off, but here is what a typical day may look like if I had a full day of classes. This is also similar to what a 1st years day would look like since they have the same 2 blocks of time carved out for classes.

A Day in the Life

7:20 — Alarm goes off! Snooze.

7:30 — Wake up! Get ready, make breakfast, pack lunch.

8:15 — Out the door!

8:35 — Look for parking around HSC.
Note: It’s LA! Parking will always be an issue. As a student, you do have the option of purchasing a parking pass on campus. If you choose to opt out of that option, you’ll have to do a bit of a morning hunt like I do to find free parking in the local neighborhood. I would say that after the first few weeks, you’ll get really good at figuring out the best places to park - not to mention know the street cleaning signs by heart! This option also allows for nice morning and afternoon walks to and from your car!

9:00-12:00 — Class
Note: Typically we will get (2) 15 minute breaks to stretch, reset, take a walk. During 1 of the breaks, you’ll probably see me at Eric Cohen Student Health Center getting free coffee, tea, or hot chocolate offered to all USC students!

12:00-1:00 — Lunch
Note: Many times, faculty, student orgs, or the health center may schedule meetings during lunch on various topics: Doctorate or PhD info sessions, Mentor/Mentee lunches, mindfulness classes, yoga on the lawn, etc. If I’m not at one of these, you may see me eating with friends on the patio or practicing transfers with them in the ADL lab.

1:00-4:00 — Class
Note: Afternoon classes can be tough so the free coffee break may happen at this point of the day. Good thing is, since our professors are OTs, they are very attuned to reading when the students are having attention difficulties or hitting an afternoon wall. They’ll break things up, encourage us to stand, take walks, or if we’re in the pediatrics classroom, swing on the swings for some self-regulation!

4:00 and on — Open!
Note: After class, what I do really varies depending on the day. I may have to work in the Student Ambassador office. I may have a meeting for Student Run Clinic. Perhaps I’ll hit up a yoga class, go to Barbara’s at the Brewery with a few friends for a beer, or visit my niece and nephew to play and have dinner! Either way, I find weekday afternoons as opportunities to decompress and chill after a full day of class.

11:30 — #sleepgoals

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, feel free to write in the comments!


Take a Peek at Pediatrics! >

by Caroline


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Whenever I give prospective students a tour of our facilities and classrooms during Information Sessions, the Pediatrics classroom tends to get a lot of “oohs” and “aahs.” Rightfully so! Half of the classroom is filled with colorful things to jump on, climb on, swing on, and crash into, which certainly looks a lot more fun than most classrooms I’ve seen! OTs who work in Pediatrics definitely try to make everything they do with their pediatric clients fun and engaging, and the same can be said for our Pediatrics professors. I spend 9 hours each week in my Pediatrics class, but it’s so much more than a lecture with my professors talking at me the whole time! The course integrates team application activities, case studies, and a lot of exploring and trying out different assessment and intervention approaches.

I’ve already told you about my Fieldwork experience in a school-based setting, but now let me give you a peek into my Pediatrics course!

I don’t have pictures for privacy reasons, but we had the opportunity to interact with children and with parents when learning about doing parent interviews and conducting standardized assessments. As a class, we got to practice interviewing a parent of a child who receives OT services, and he was able to give us feedback about how we did. Additionally, professors bring their children into the lab, so we can look at their primitive reflexes and learn about how to conduct standardized assessments. We learned that it’s a lot harder than it looks, but that it becomes easier as you get more familiar with the assessments.

Goldfish, pretzels, and other snacks used for a grasp analysis activity.

Different snacks used for a grasp analysis activity

When learning about different grasps (how we manipulate our fingers and hands to grab objects) our professors brought in some snacks. Grabbing yummy snacks and bringing them to our mouths was definitely an inherently motivating and fun way to review the various types of grasps. I realized that we grab a sunflower seed differently than we grab something bigger like a cheese-it, which is something I hadn’t thought about before. Next time you’re eating a snack, pay attention to how you pick up your food to eat it!

Play doh and connect 4 treatment activity

We planned a treatment using Connect 4 and Play-Doh

When practicing planning treatments that address different fine motor skills, our professors put random objects on the table and told us to come up with a fine motor skill treatment using those objects on the spot! My group had play-doh and Connect 4, so we decided to hide the Connect 4 pieces inside the play-doh. That way, by manipulating the play-doh, the child is building up strength in the small muscles in their hands. Then, we can address grasp when looking at how they hold the Connect 4 pieces. We also came up with ways to change the activity to make it more challenging and less challenging. It may look simple, but there’s a lot of thought behind each pediatric treatment!

Different games used for visual motor intervention.

Lots of different games can be used in OT!

When learning about visuomotor integration (how our vision and perceptual skills work with our fine motor skills to help us interact with our environment efficiently), we got to try out a lot of different games and think about how they could be used in treatment. One of my professors said something that really stuck with me: generally, the children that OTs work with may have a hard time playing a game exactly as it is designed or following the exact direction. This means that it’s the OT’s job to adapt the game and make it the right challenge for each child, allowing them to work on certain skills, but feel successful and have fun at the same time. OT treatment with children can often look like play, but there is a lot of work going on at the same time!

Handwriting Without Tears materials

Some of the materials used in the Handwriting Without Tears Program. I practiced using the wooden blocks to put together a few letters!

When learning about handwriting interventions, we got to explore the Handwriting Without Tears program, which aims to do exactly what the name sounds like! For children who have a hard time learning to write or making their writing legible, working on handwriting in therapy could start to feel boring and like work, so a couple of OTs created the Handwriting Without Tears program to make handwriting intervention more dynamic and fun. Children can practice writing on an etch-a-sketch and chalkboards and can form letters with play doh and wooden blocks. This program uses a multisensory approach and has a lot of different options to make treatment fun and different. I’ve used this program used at my fieldwork site, and the kids definitely enjoy it!

Sensory Integration swing

Getting a little vestibular input from one of the swings!

SI lab

Check out some of my classmates on other swings!

Finally, last week we were learning about Sensory Integration theory and intervention, which was actually developed by A. Jean Ayres, a former OT faculty member here at USC! We learned all about our sensory systems, how they’re supposed to work, what it can look or feel like when they’re not working as they should, and what Sensory Integration can do to help. My professor reminded us that you should always try out an activity yourself before having a child do the activity in therapy, to ensure that it’s the right level of challenge and actually addresses what you want the intervention to address. So, we did exactly that! We explored the lab space and got on different swings and equipment to see what it feels like, how challenging they are, and how our bodies feels afterwards. It was such a fun day!

SI Ball pit

Just two peas in a pod getting some tactile input!

I’m so appreciative of all of the time and effort my professors put in when planning the course and the time spent in the classroom. I’m definitely a learn-by-doing kind of person, so I love when I get to be hands-on in the classroom. My pediatrics midterm is coming up next week, so I’m definitely starting to reflect on everything I’ve learned this first half of the semester. Wish me luck!


Standardized Patients: the Good, the Bad, and Becoming the Hulk >

by Erika

Classes What are OS/OT?

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One of the best opportunities our program offers is the chance to practice transfers with standardized patients in our Adult Rehab immersion.

What’s a standardized patient?

It’s a person carefully recruited and trained to take on the characteristics of a real patient providing students with the opportunity to learn skills in a simulated clinical environment. Neat, right?

So far in my adult rehab immersion, we’ve practiced with standardized patients “recovering from hip replacements, back injuries, and stroke.” We’ve learned how to transfer them from laying in bed to sitting then to a wheelchair or walker! From there, we’ve also practiced how to mobilize and transfer these patients to the shower, tub, and toilet.

It’s been ADLmania!!!

Our Adult Rehab lab was designed to simulate common practice locations where we would actually conduct transfers and treatment sessions. On one side, we have an exact replica of what a hospital room looks like at Keck Medical center — from the beds to the toilet and shower. On the other side, we have a standard bedroom with access to a tub and toilet. Lastly, we have a fully functioning kitchen where we can practice various occupations like meal prepping, washing dishes, and cooking. What’s better than practicing real life occupations in a real life setting?

Hospital Room, USC ADL Lab

Bedroom, USC ADL Lab

Bathroom, ADL Lab

Readers, can I just say, the first time I practiced with standardized patients, I. Was. Terrified.

“I have NO clue what I’m doing. Are they going to be nice? Are they going to be painfully dramatic? Am I going to drop someone and break their hip a second time?”

My stream of consciousness spiraled into the dark depths of the unknown but of course, with all new experiences, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.

Sure, I think all of us students will admit that the first time, there was a lot of “uhhhhh….”s, big perplexed eyes, and unnecessary overexplanations of the protocol running through our heads and out our mouths. After that though, you realize that the standardized patients aren’t there to give you a hard time or to give Oscar-worthy dramatic performances but are there for you and your learning experience. While at times, they were committed to simulating pain (which was intimidating at first), they were incredibly kind and open to providing feedback on why they felt pain or felt discomfort. They were gracious in giving us as many opportunities to try again to make sure we get a specific transfer or handling right.

Transferring a standardized patient who has a T8 spinal cord injury from bed to wheelchair

Working on long sitting dressing with standardized patients with spinal cord injuries

At the end of the day, that’s what makes the opportunity of practicing with standardized patients valuable — it gives us the opportunity to spiral into our own fears then build ourselves back up with the support and feedback of our professors and standardized patients to reveal our own capabilities and strengths — all within a safe learning environment!

I want to close with some advice I was given while working with a standardized patient named Mel*. After I had transferred him, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “You have to commit. If you don’t commit, I won’t commit.” I’m not sure if this was a reflection of his practices as a method actor, but it completely changed how I transferred after that point. I became more confident. You know when Bruce Banner becomes the Hulk? It was like that without all the rage. Mel’s words transformed my identity from being a timid inexperienced OT student to a potentially strong, capable, and committed OT practitioner. Thanks Mel.

*All names mentioned in this blogpost are pseudonyms.

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