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over and OuT! ⟩
May 4, 2018, by Ali

Classes Externships Getting Involved

As of 9:30AM today I completed my last final of my Master of Arts Degree in Occupational Therapy. This realization just hit me and the nostalgia is real. Although I will be continuing on with the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy to complete me Doctorate of Occupational Therapy with The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens implementing inclusive programming for guests! I am so excited for this next chapter, but right now I want to take a moment to reflect on some of the great moments of this semester that got me to this point. 

1. Externship

As Caroline, Erika, and Kaitlyn mentioned in their blogs over the last months this semester we were given the chance to create our own leadership experience to build our professionalism, communication, and overall understanding of occupational setting in a new setting. A classmate and I continued the work we began in OT 537: Occupation-Centered Programs for the Community. We worked with The Painted Turtle, which is an organization that provides year round camp based programming to children with serious medical conditions. Over the externship I was able to observe new leadership styles in a non-clinical based setting that does not currently have an occupational therapy on staff. We were able to use our occupational lens in a new setting. This opportunity was formative in my decision to complete my residency at The Huntington because I was able to solidify my passion for inclusive programming and the value OT has in community settings.

2. The American Occupational Therapy Association Annual Conference

In April I was able to attend my first national occupational therapy conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. I had no idea how much I was going to enjoy the conference and the opportunity to attend presentations given by researchers and leaders in the field that I have been reading about for the last five years. The chance to network with occupational therapists all over the country across so many practice settings was inspiring as I go out into the profession. I know there are endless possibilities in how to create my own practice. I was impressed and honored to be an occupational therapy student entering the profession with so many passionate and hard-working leaders. I am excited to start my residency and hopefully become one of the leaders someday!

Fun at AOTA!

3. Comprehensive Exam

Although I have officially finished my finals, I still have the comprehensive exam left! This is an exam that is a compilation of content from the following seven courses: OT 515 Advanced Neuroscience, OT 518 Quantitative Research for Evidence-Based Practice, OT 525 Qualitative Research for Evidence-Based Practice, OT 534 Health Promotion & Wellness, OT 538 Current Issues in Practice: Adulthood and Aging, OT 540 Leadership Capstone, and OT 545 Advanced Seminar in Occupational Science. Although this is a daunting exam, it is also a very meaningful way to complete the program. As this is an opportunity to look back at the foundational courses that have built my occupational lens. I am confident that upon completion of this exam I will have the tools I need to complete my final fieldwork and pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.

4. Electives

I have appreciated this last semester of classes because I was able to take courses that I have a particular interest in learning more about. In addition to gaining a unique view into the theory and intervention of sensory integration I was also able to hone different styles of therapeutic communication. Not only were these courses full of interesting content, but also the opportunity to take classes with students from other cohorts and have professors for the first time. I loved that this semester was different from all the others and allowed me to meet new people and learn new concepts.

Finally, as this is my last blog post, I wanted to take a moment to thank you all for reading and emailing us such thoughtful questions. I am grateful for the opportunity to meet and speak with so many of you as you learned about OT! Fight On! 

Ready to receive another diploma from USC!


Australian Externship Reflections ⟩
April 17, 2018, by Caroline

Externships International

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I was given the opportunity to travel to Australia for my two week Leadership Externship. What an experience it was! We were hosted by Griffith University’s OT Program on the Gold Coast of Australia, known for its beaches and surfing competitions.

At Griffith, we were able to sit in on first, second, and third year classes, which was a cool experience, both to meet the students and faculty and to see what their curriculum is like! In Australia, the education required to become an OT is a 4 year Bachelor’s degree, whereas in the US it’s a Master’s Degree. The program there emphasizes the Canadian Model of Occupational Performance and Engagement as the lens through which they view evaluation, treatment, and client interaction. I was not very familiar with this model beforehand, but it was a very occupation-centered approach to OT, which I appreciated learning more about! In comparison, our program at USC introduces a number of different models, which we can choose to utilize when we feel they fit the clinical situation. The classes were very interactive and full of discussion and team-based activities, which reminded me of our classes at USC.

The USC Chan Australia team at Griffith OT!

In addition to sitting in on some of the classes at Griffith, we also had the opportunity to see a number of different clinical sites in the area. Here, we gained an appreciation for their universal healthcare system and some of the unique programs they were able to put in place.

We visited Galleon Gardens, a residential older adult facility. One thing that stood out out to me there was the incredible attention to detail in their newly-renovated memory care wing. Each resident’s door had a different design to help them recognize it as their own. The floor panels ran the same direction throughout the wing to prevent residents from getting “stuck” or confused by the floor. Cabinets for the nursing staff had hidden latches so residents wouldn’t see handles and try to open them. An OT had been consulted when designing the space, so not only was it beautiful and homey, but it was purposeful. The other standout at Galleon Gardens was the work they’re doing with texture-modified foods for residents with modified diets. The staff uses molds to make the pureed foods look like their original form, making the food more appealing to eat; it’s unlike anything I’d ever seen before!

We spent a couple mornings at Gold Coast University Hospital (GCUH), meeting with staff, touring the floors, and observing fourth-year students in their placements there. We also spent a day at Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital (LCCH) [now the Queensland Children’s Hospital] in Brisbane. Both of these hospitals were quite new, so the facilities and design were incredible — both had really state of the art rehabilitation spaces. At GCUH, they had a simulated grocery store, kitchen, and apartment called the LIFE Space as well as a car (put on the roof by crane!) for patients to safely practice activities they’d be doing when they returned home. LCCH had a beautiful outdoor space with a wheelchair-accesible swing and rock climbing wall (great for kids who are able to get outside!) as well as some cool treatment rooms. My favorite was one of the craft rooms, which was designed so that kids could get as messy as they wanted and could paint the floor, walls, and ceiling; the staff could just hose off the entire room and the water drained out through the floor!

Finally, we got to visit a couple of mental health sites in the area. Headspace was an outpatient mental health site for adolescents and young adults. The space had a cool feel to it and the staff dressed really casually, so it felt like a very inviting space for the population that it served. We also visited with the Homeless Health Outreach Team, and learned about the work they’re doing in the community. In Australia, OT seems to have a larger presence in mental health than it does in the US at the moment. OT has its roots in mental health, and we’re definitely working on increasing our presence in mental health in the US. Seeing how well they’re doing it in Australia served as a great example for what we’re working towards here!

Not only did we learn from all of the students, faculty, and practitioners we met during our visit, but we also got to share what we know with the folks at Griffith. We gave a presentation that covered OT practice and education in the US (and how it differs from Australia), some highlights about our programs at USC, and we also gave some advice to students going out on their first long placement (as we’ve already completed our first 12 week Level II Fieldwork placements). We also covered the Summer Occupational Therapy Immersion program run by Global Initiatives here at USC Chan. Some of the students we met at Griffith will be coming out here this summer for the SOTI program, so I’m looking forward to reconnecting with them and showing them around LA!

Presenting to the Griffith students and faculty!

The two weeks of externship are conveniently scheduled right next to spring break, so I was able to spend that week traveling in New Zealand and Australia. I spent the first three days of spring break in New Zealand, which had the most beautiful green rolling hills (and lots of sheep!). I even drove on the opposite side of the road for one day, which was quite the mental exercise 😊.

The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. We spent a day touring their village, which included a cultural performance.

We also spent a day touring Hobbiton, which was used as the set for the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies!

I spent the second half of spring break in Sydney, Australia, where we saw the Sydney Harbour Bridge, toured the Opera house, and did the coastal walk from Coogee to Bondi Beach. With the beaches, the big city, and so much going on, Sydney actually reminded me a lot of LA!

Sydney Harbour bridge

Sydney Harbour bridge

The coolest pool, right next to Bondi Beach!

The coolest pool, right next to Bondi Beach!

The two weeks of externship were jam-packed with classes and site visits, but we also made time to do some sight-seeing! On the Gold Coast, we had some time to lounge by the beach, but my favorite excursion was to the Currumbin Wildlife Center, where we got to pet kangaroos, hold koalas, and see other wildlife unique to Australia (definitely checked off a couple bucket list items there!).

I could have spent all afternoon lounging with these kangaroos!

The Kangaroos were SO soft!

Meet Yorkie the Koala — he’s a popular fella

Overall, this experience made me think about OT in new and different ways. The healthcare and education systems in Australia are quite different from the systems in the US. Despite those differences, occupational therapy as a profession was quite similar, which was very cool to see! I’m so grateful this opportunity was part of my OT education, as it encouraged me to think more globally about my future profession. It was really incredible to hear about my classmates’ diverse experiences when we all got back together, which reminded me that there are OTs doing incredible work across the world! Make sure to check out Kaitlyn’s blog post about her experience in Denmark and Erika’s blog post about her externship in Ireland.


Adventures in OT in Ireland ⟩
April 4, 2018, by Erika

Externships International What are OS/OT?

As part of our Leadership Capstone course that rounds out our final semester at USC Chan (boy, did time FLY!), we are given an opportunity to build our own externship experience during the two weeks leading up to Spring Break. In recognition that OT is a broad field that can work with populations across various settings and life stages and that each students’ journey through OT is highly individual; this is a great opportunity for students to pursue their individual interests and curiosities about the profession while demonstrating their own knowledge and leadership in OT.

The creativity of my fellow classmates’ externship experiences was inspiring! Some students stayed local and observed ergonomic and lifestyle changes that their friends could implement to prevent work-related injuries at their desk jobs. Other students chose to shadow faculty in order to see what goes into working in academia. Still, others expanded upon their community-based OT programs that we crafted last semester and furthered their research and execution to make these programs viable and one step closer to becoming realized.

Additionally, a great number of students went international. As Kaitlyn mentioned, our Global Initiatives office offers organized trips to places like Denmark, Japan, Ghana, Korea, and Australia where you can go with a group of your classmates to visit various OT facilities and universities abroad.

I chose to go international as well! I ended up going to Ireland and with the help of a few classmates and colleagues who were either from Ireland or had previously gone to Ireland during their externships, I was able to set up 8 independent site visits with OTs in 4 different cities across the country. In choosing Ireland, I really wanted to understand what the strengths and barriers were in practicing OT within a public healthcare system, explore interventions that prove successful in Ireland that may not be in America and the cultural implications of that, and gain a sense of the student experience and curriculum for those currently learning OT in Ireland.

My overall experience exceeded any of my expectations and goals. Here is a map and a list of sites I was able to visit:

Map of Externship in Ireland
(Note: Yellow Points = OT Site Visits)

Co. Dublin

Dublin City University & Trinity University
I spoke with OTs and OT students who work in Student Disability Services.

National Rehabilitation Hospital
Inpatient Rehab observation of their Prosthetic Orthotic Limb Absence Programme, Rehabilitation Training Unit Group, Brain Injury Program, and discuss the student experience with Trinity fieldwork students that were placed there.

Co. Galway

Galway University Hospital
I observed OTs working in acute care in the following areas General Med (renal, infectious disease, and endocrine), Med Surgery, and Cardiac ICU.

The lovely OTs (Kirby & Gillian) who graciously let me shadow them on their rounds at Galway University Hospital

The lovely OTs (Kirby & Gillian) who graciously let me shadow them on their rounds at Galway University Hospital

National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG)
I met with the Practice Education Coordinator who graciously set me up with many of her OT contacts in Ireland.

Co. Westmeath

Clonbrusk Resource Centre
I spoke with American OTs who have been in Ireland for over 15 years practicing in pediatrics and observed an OT evaluation with a new client.

Co. Cork

St Finbarr’s Hospital
Spoke with an OT working in the hospital’s Inpatient Rehab Geriatrics unit.

Joe and I playing visuospatial and memory games on the big screen TV at the inpatient Geriatric unit at St. Finbarr's Hospital, Cork

Joe and I playing visuospatial and memory games on the big screen TV at the inpatient Geriatric unit at St. Finbarr’s Hospital, Cork

University College Cork (UCC)
Along with my classmate, Joe, we presented on our community-based OT programs to graduating OT students at UCC. Additionally, I was able to sit in in a couple of lectures about interventions that are being introduced into Ireland from other parts of Europe as well as a lecture on working with transgendered clients in Ireland.

Joe and I presenting on our community-based OT programs to UCC OT students

Joe and I presenting on our community-based OT programs to UCC OT students

Sitting in on a lecture about working with the transgendered community in Ireland

Sitting in on a lecture about working with the transgendered community in Ireland

On top of this, I was able to travel and sightsee the gorgeous countryside in between site visits. From the terrifying adventure of learning how to drive on the left side of the road to observing Irish families playing in the snow on their first snow day in 10 years to exploring the towering Cliffs of Moher and the teeny artist town of Dingle to celebrating St. Paddy’s day in Dublin, Ireland was nothing short of extraordinary and this was most often shown through the warmth of its people and culture.

Biking the Greenway from Achill Island to Newport

Biking the Greenway from Achill Island to Newport

Climbing Croagh Patrick

One of my biggest achievements: climbing Croagh Patrick, the mountain behind me!

The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher. Breathtaking.

My rental car Bertie and me

My rental car Bertie and me. I fell in love with teeny cars.

St. Paddy's day at the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin!

St. Paddy’s day at the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin!

Sláinte! (Cheers! in Irish)


Making Our Mark in Denmark: My Leadership Externship Experience ⟩
April 2, 2018, by Kaitlyn

Externships International What are OS/OT?

Denmark has been one of my top places to visit for the past few years now, as I knew that they were consistently ranked one of the happiest countries (if not the happiest) in the world. I was particularly interested in their efforts in eco sustainability, health care system, biking culture, and “hygge”. Thus, when I was offered to go to Denmark for my leadership externship for two weeks in collaboration with USC Global Initiatives and Southern Denmark University, I knew that 1) I had to go and 2) it was meant to be (duh!).

Views over Copenhagen

Views over Copenhagen

During the two weeks, our schedule was jam-packed with presentations, activities, and cultural exchanges! In the first week, my team and I presented to Metropolitan University College, Southern Denmark University, and University College Lillebaelt on how education and healthcare systems function in America, what USC’s OT program looks like specifically, and some of the research being conducted at USC. As much as we were the ones providing information to Denmark’s school departments, students, and faculty, they also provided an abundant amount of information about themselves, their research, and their culture in return.

During the second week, we visited Hammel Neurorehabilitation and attended an Ergo Symposium hosted at Southern Denmark University, where Dr. Renee Taylor, one of the authors of a textbook we use in the program, was a speaker! In that same week, we had the amazing opportunity to shadow occupational therapists at Odense University Hospital in various departments (i.e., hand therapy, pediatrics, TBI, trauma, oncology, etc.). While shadowing at Odense University Hospital, it was evident to me that the free healthcare system adopted by Denmark affects the way OTs practice there.

Visiting Nyhavn!

Visiting Nyhavn!

Throughout the two weeks, we were completely immersed in Danish culture and ways of living, and I can honestly say that it has changed my perspective on life. Here are just a few of the things I learned along the way:

The importance of work-life balance
In Denmark, employees receive 6 week paid vacations (which does not include sick days) and 1 year paid maternity leave. Speaking of sick days, it is actually looked down upon if you go into work sick (if you’re sick, you’re sick . . . Don’t be selfish and contaminate the work environment, they say!). Overall, the Danish really embody the idea that when you leave work, you actually leave work and live your life.

The importance of saying what you mean and meaning what you say
Here in America, it is so common for me to say to almost everyone, “Hi! How are you?” In Denmark, however, this customary greeting does not equivalently translate. We were told that you do not ask someone, “How are you?,” unless you are prepared to get an actual answer about how they are doing. In short, people in Denmark do not say things unless they mean it. For example, they will not offer to do something they do not want to do, and will not sugarcoat things or beat around the bush. 

The importance of humility
In the working world of America, we like to rack up all of the accomplishments we can so that we can put them on our resume. This is something we have to do in order to be a competitive applicant. Interestingly enough, they do not do that in Denmark. For the Danish, it is actually looked down upon if you try to upstage the people around you and/or try to make yourself stand out and look better. Showing off how much money you have, how great your career is, etc. are big no-no’s in Denmark! This idea relates to Denmark’s emphasis on equality (see: below bullet point).

The importance of equality
The emphasis on equality is reflected in so many ways in Denmark. For example, education is completely free (as a university student you also get a monthly stipend), and so is healthcare (it doesn’t matter if you’re homeless or if you’re the richest person in Denmark, as both will get the same level of care).

The importance of trust
They trust everyone in Denmark. On one particular day, we walked by a restaurant and there was a peaceful child sleeping in a stroller outside without the parents! It is probably safe to say that would not happen here in America, but it’s refreshing to know that there is so much inherent trust within the people in Denmark.

Walking along the infamous rainbow panoramic skywalk at ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum

Walking along the infamous rainbow panoramic skywalk at ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum

Taken altogether, this experience has been a highlight in my time here as a USC OT student. I’ve always loved traveling, and this trip was confirmation why. The world is so big, and there is always more to explore. It is so incredibly easy to simply go through the day-to-day motions and be stuck in the bubble of Los Angeles, but traveling always grounds me and forces me to expand my ways of thinking. There is more to life than the life lived here in LA.

Mange tak (many thanks) to Dr. Danny Park, Benedict of the Global Initiatives Team, the kindhearted students and Dr. Jeanette Christensen of Southern Denmark University, and my wonderful team of 7 for a life-changing international experience.


Externship Excitement ⟩
February 20, 2018, by Caroline


In a couple of days, I’ll be leaving for a two week stay in Australia — and it’s part of a class assignment! The leadership externship is part of OT 540: Leadership Capstone, which all second year students take during the spring semester. The leadership externship is a two-week, student-driven experience designed to build leadership, communication, and professionalism skills, and further explore topics covered in OT 540.

The vision of the Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy states: “Our vision is to be one of the world’s leading academic programs in occupational science and occupational therapy — and to develop expert, compassionate leaders who improve the health and well-being of individuals and society.” Not only does USC teach us how to be occupational therapists, it also teaches us how to be leaders in the field of occupational therapy, and the leadership externship helps get us there.

I think it’s incredible that the faculty is willing to give second year students a break from classes in the middle of the semester in order to accommodate this unique learning experience.

Students can design their externship to fit their interests and career goals. I have classmates who will be shadowing university and hospital directors and administrators, working with advocacy or cultural groups, and volunteering for a special interest group. Other students choose to take the AMPS (Assessment of Motor and Process Skills) certification class, which adds a tool to their evaluation toolbox as an entry-level practitioner out in the field. On average, 1/3 of the class chooses to plan an international externship experience to learn more about OT in the global context. I have friends preparing to travel to Ghana, South Korea, Denmark, Japan, Peru, Ireland, and more — how awesome is that?!  The Global Initiatives Office, headed by Dr. Danny Park, has connections with a number of OT programs across the world, and provides a lot of support and resources to students interested in planning an international externship experience.

The opportunity to travel and learn more about OT internationally is unique and was one of the reasons I chose to study at USC. This is an opportunity I’ve been looking forward to since starting in the program, so I’m really excited that it’s finally here! I’ll be spending two weeks at Griffith University in the Gold Coast of Australia, along with 5 other classmates. While there, I hope to learn more about their OT curriculum and Occupational Science, visit various clinical sites in the area, make presentations to the students, faculty, and practitioners, and build lasting professional relationships.

Our one week spring break immediately follows the two weeks of externship, so a lot of students are capitalizing on this timing and stay abroad the extra week for personal travel. I’m using the extra week to visit Sydney, Australia and Auckland, New Zealand! It’s been a busy couple weeks planning for this three-week excursion (How many clinical sites can we find time to visit? How many Koalas can I hold?!), but I’m getting more and more excited as it gets closer. I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences and reflections on the blog after I return. Australia, here I come!!

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