From Patient to Therapist: Rediscovering Occupational Therapy >
September 9, 2022
I first learned about occupational therapy from my cousin’s girlfriend, who was an occupational therapist. I was ten years old, undergoing chemotherapy for liver cancer, and spent most of my time in hospitals and at home. Besides feeling fatigued and nauseous, I had lost many of my occupational identities, such as being a student, athlete, and friend. My cousin’s girlfriend began to visit my home to teach me how to paint, and we would talk about schoolwork and life. I looked forward to her visits, motivating me to get up from bed, and I received a lot of comfort in starting to see myself as an artist. Following treatment, this experience stuck with me as I became involved in an oncology summer camp that uses occupations to provide healing and respite to impacted families.
Years later, I loved studying psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy during my undergraduate years. Due to my connection with cancer treatment, I continued to be drawn to health care positions and enjoyed my health science classes. Still, I had no idea what career I wanted to pursue.
Following college, I began working in permanent supportive housing. Because of my previous work in research, I thought I might want to be a clinical psychologist. I fell in love with working 1:1 with people and using occupations as a therapeutic means. Some activities I participated in with the residents included shared meal times, grocery shopping, laundry, resource seeking, dog watching, visiting the zoo, birthday parties, and bowling. My favorite part of the role was spending mornings in conversation and sitting in the lobby with residents. I became closest with the public health nurses in the building, and it continued to make me consider working in health care.
Because I was still pursuing clinical psychology, I began working as a research coordinator. While working at a Multiple Sclerosis clinic, I learned many things about myself, both good and bad. I loved working with the participants and often would talk with participants on the phone for far longer than necessary while completing assessments. I loved collaborating with an interdisciplinary team in the clinic when working with participants. I also learned that while researching was essential and exciting, I did not want to make research my career. I had a hard time in an office job and felt like jumping out of my seat every day.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I had a long conversation with my good friend from college who was currently at USC’s OT program. I shared all my doubts and hesitations about pursuing clinical psychology, and I realized my friend was describing my dream job. He discussed his love of occupational therapy’s holistic approach and the connections he had built during his fieldwork experiences. He then told me how he was about to begin his doctoral residency in an oncology hospital! I was overwhelmingly happy for him and a little jealous, so I decided to learn more about pursuing occupational therapy.
I then spoke with several occupational therapists over zoom/phone (hello pandemic!) about their roles as occupational therapists in hospitals, community mental health, and school settings. During every conversation, I felt myself light up and easily connect with the therapists about what I valued about working with people. Importantly, every therapist expressed satisfaction and pride in their work and the longevity in which they have enjoyed their job. I was drawn to the flexibility and scope of the profession. I reflected on my occupational identity and how vital my cousin’s girlfriend was to me during my medical treatment.
And now, I love my experience studying to be an occupational therapist. I spent this last summer in an inpatient acute adult setting. Next summer, I have my dream fieldwork, working in pediatric oncology at St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis, TN!
Thank You, Occupational Therapy >
August 22, 2022
by Leah Mary
The first time I heard about occupational therapy was during my Freshman Year (2016) in my seminar class with Dr. Jesús Díaz. One of our classes was dedicated to introducing us to occupational therapy. At the time, I was volunteering in different research labs studying the brain and thought I wanted to get my PhD in Neuroscience. I didn’t want to pursue occupational therapy (I know, what was I thinking!?).
Fast forward to the end of my Sophomore Year, I was pretty unhappy. While I found the research fascinating, something was missing. Most of the time, I was behind the computer, not interacting with individuals (and I’m a huge extrovert). I felt utterly lost. This was around the same time my grandmother was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer that impacted her overall well-being, requiring multiple brain surgeries and significant therapies.
My grandmother had a PhD in education, was a biology teacher, and my best friend. I was devastated seeing such an incredible person go through something so terrible. But my grandmother was determined and motivated to stay strong and healthy as long as possible. That summer, she went to inpatient and outpatient therapy at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. This was the second introduction I had to OT, however, this time in its most authentic form. I witnessed how OT positivity impacted her life. The therapist used meaningful occupations to motivate and connect with my grandma (she loved OT the most). And because the therapy was embedded into her daily life, she could continue at home when discharged. OT changed her life.
Right then, I knew that pursuing a career in OT was my calling. I loved the therapist’s interactions with their clients, the creativity involved in incorporating meaningful occupations, and their impact on people’s lives.
Fast forward again to now. I just completed my last II fieldwork at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab (on the same floor my grandmother was on) and graduated from the Entry Level Master Program. OT changed my life. It’s weird, but every time I engage in fieldwork or OT courses at school, I feel connected to her, so thank you OT.
My Enemies Are After Me >
March 2, 2022
Recently, I watched the stuff on Netflix about fraudsters and all I could think was “Wow, what I wouldn’t give to have their confidence.” Not to get anyone to send me $50,000, but because sometimes, it does feel like my enemies are after me… and by ‘my enemies,’ I mean the little voice in my head otherwise known as the “imposter.”
I felt like the biggest imposter ever when I was applying to OT school and when I started this program. If I had to rate my imposter syndrome on a scale of 0 (none) to 10 (worst) around this time, I’d put it at a 10. It was exacerbated both by being waitlisted and being fully remote. As I read the student ambassadors’ blogs, started meeting my classmates on Zoom, and learned from our amazing professors, I was simultaneously romanticizing this image of them in my head – that everyone else was so incredible and had it all figured out while I knew I always felt lost. I’d say I felt this way intermittently throughout my entire first year in the program.
In the past year, it’s resolved a lot. After 12 weeks of level 2 fieldwork, I felt my confidence increase as my competency in skills grew. Once we fully returned to campus last semester, I was comforted by hushed whispers from my peers who shared my confusion during classes. And then came two pivotal experiences this semester which mitigated my imposter syndrome significantly:
- An esteemed faculty member spoke to our class and shared that she still experiences imposter syndrome. That was just mind-blowing to me. There… was simply… no way? Not with all her achievements, success, and publications. Anyways, in OT, we love evidence-based practice, right? This individual urged us to search in our own history for evidence that we are indeed imposters in order to support the voice telling us we’re not good enough, don’t belong, or not ready for something. Here’s the punch line–you won’t find anything. You’re here at USC, doing the thing you set out to do, against all odds that might have stood in your way. The evidence speaks for itself.
- I heard this advice when I needed it most because it came at a time when I felt like other people were doing the romanticizing thing to me which I had been guilty of doing to others in the past. I had never seen myself as someone worthy enough to be looked up to, so to be placed in those situations felt… weird. Anyone who knows me knows that words of affirmation make me uncomfortable, which is something I am actively working on receiving better because it’s not me rejecting kind words, it’s the imposter. I want to see myself the way others see I have the potential to be, not in the distorted way the imposter tries to convince me of.
Going back to the baseline established at the start of this blog (which – you guessed it – we LOVE in OT), I’d say I now teeter around maybe 2 or 3. I entered “imposter” into the search bar on our website out of curiosity to see how I should frame this blog post and it returned ten blog hits from ambassadors past and present. They each approach it from a different perspective, which shows how pervasive imposter syndrome can be when you find yourself in a new or different environment that you’re not used to. But I think this also means you’re putting yourself in situations that challenge you to learn things you didn’t know before, experience growth throughout your life, and continue to prove people wrong, including that imposter telling you you’re a fraud. Sometimes, I hope I never rate my imposter syndrome at a 0 out of fear that it will indicate I’ve reached a threshold in my learning. Anyways, what I’m trying to say is you aren’t alone in this feeling. It can be difficult, but try not to compare yourself and your journey to others because we are only able to see what they choose to present to the world. Just give it some time. Both your confidence and competence will increase and with that, maybe you’ll learn to befriend your ‘enemies.’
12 Weeks of Fieldwork >
December 16, 2021
Welcome to a special edition of student blogs! For the next 12 days, we will be sharing a blog every day. To kick us off, I’m excited to tell you about my 12 weeks of fieldwork.
Level II fieldwork is a full-time 12-week clinical experience in any occupational therapy setting. As part of the Entry-Level MA, you do two of these in the 2nd and 3rd summer. I felt set on doing one of my Level IIs in a pediatric hospital, but many of those want someone who has already done a Level II in an adult hospital setting. So here was my criteria for searching for my first Level II: (1) Adult hospital setting (2) In a new and interesting place.
That was it really. I had little sense of what I wanted to get out of working with adults. In fact, I was terrified of working with adults. I had only ever worked with children and knew I loved it, so it never crossed my mind to pursue something else.
We can request fieldwork sites anywhere in the country, so I browsed the map of sites and picked Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital as my top choice. No one from USC had done their fieldwork there before, but it hit both of my criteria. It is a hospital with inpatient, outpatient, and day rehab programs in Wheaton, IL, a suburb of Chicago. And luckily - I got placed there! So after a lot of scrambling to find housing in Illinois, a state I had never been to, I packed up all my stuff and moved for the summer of 2021.
Here’s what my 12 weeks looked like.
Week 1: Observation, Loneliness, Exhaustion
To start out, I experienced a combination of excitement, overwhelm, and imposter syndrome constantly for the whole week. I was thankful that my site had weekly objectives for their fieldwork students, and week 1 was mostly observation. Even so, it was hard not to freak out knowing I would be actually doing what I was watching in a few short weeks.
It was tough adjusting both to a new role as a fieldwork student and to a new city at the same time. I only knew two people in the area, all the grocery stores were different, and I felt like a foreigner. I was subletting an apartment in Chicago and commuting 45-90min to and from the hospital. My hours were 6:30am - 3pm, but I tried to get there by 6. By the time I got home around 4:30/5, I’d eat dinner and immediately get ready for bed so there was no time to socialize. In all senses, I was exhausted.
Week 2: Leaning on Other People
By week 2 I was starting to feel more comfortable with the other people at the hospital. The OT schools in the Midwest had a different schedule, so the other fieldwork students were already halfway done when I came in. The conversations I had with them were the reassurance I needed that I was going to be fine.
The other therapists, nurses, and hospital staff were incredibly welcoming. I somehow picked a random site off a map and ended up at the nicest hospital in the country. It put me at ease knowing they were used to having students around and weren’t judging me for asking questions.
Above all, my fieldwork educator could not have been a better match for my learning style. He was great at giving constructive feedback in a way that was encouraging and he boosted my confidence when I was clearly very anxious.
Week 3: Sweaty
Each floor of the hospital was sectioned into different clusters of patients. I was placed in the inpatient brain injury rehab unit, where each therapist has about 7 patients on their caseload that they see mostly every day. At this point, I was expected to take on a couple of my fieldwork educator’s patients onto my own caseload. There was a lot of sweat, but I was really enjoying getting to connect more closely with the patients.
Week 4: Getting Into the Groove
As I gradually built up my own caseload each week, I started to feel more competent in my own skills and useful as a teammate to my fieldwork educator. Plus, after 4 weeks, I had finally adjusted to my new normal of being asleep by 9pm and waking up at 5.
Week 5: Emotional Support Ice Cream
Weeks 5 and 6 looked a lot like week 4. I added about 1 new patient to my caseload each week and spent more time planning/documenting/reviewing with my fieldwork educator. Objectively, the workload was increasing, but it was a comfortable pace and I was feeling good.
I was also improving my life balance, including prioritizing meal prepping and making more time to socialize (especially weekly Bachelor/ice cream nights with friends).
Week 6: Midterm Eval
Woohoo halfway through! Anxiety no more! Just kidding. You get evaluated at the end of week 6 and I was really worried for nothing. I had been getting consistent feedback from my fieldwork educator, and the evaluation session was helpful for us to elaborate on that feedback and set goals for the second half of the summer.
Weeks 7-11: Full Caseload, Feeling like I Belong
The gradually-building-up-to-a-full-caseload part of fieldwork was over. I was still working closely with my fieldwork educator, but the goal was for me to lead all the sessions. Even though I had become more comfortable with treatment planning, the nature of brain injuries is unpredictable and you never knew what the next patient would be like — which was both challenging and exciting as an opportunity to get creative working in a hospital.
The role of a fieldwork student at this point of the experience was an unfamiliar middle ground between student and professional. Obviously, I was still learning and building my skills, but at the same time I felt like I was really in it and working. I got to collaborate with an amazing PT and SLP, my documentation required minimal review, and I got such kind comments from patients who were surprised I was a student. I really felt like I belonged.
Week 12: A Tearful Goodbye
I am a sprinkler when it comes to saying goodbye. On my last day, I cried on the way there, I cried saying goodbye to everyone, and I cried on my way home. I never thought I would love working in this setting so much, and it was so hard to think about it being over and going back to school for a year before my next Level II. Looking ahead, I still can’t wait to try out pediatric hospital work, but I’m happy to know there’s a part of me that likes working with adults too.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! TLDR: My Level II fieldwork was expectedly challenging but unexpectedly awesome.
I’m So Happy That I DIDN’T Get It >
November 4, 2021
Let’s start off by setting the scene. It’s 2019, I’m in my first semester of the Master’s program and I just got my very first Level I fieldwork placement. I was so excited to be placed at Keck Hospital of USC and even more excited to experience the acute care practice setting. It was absolutely everything I could have hoped for and more, I learned so much from my clinical instructor and had amazing interactions with my patients and before fieldwork came to an end I had made up my mind. I needed to be a Keck OT resident.
Jumping forward to September of 2020, the time had come to apply and interview for the USC Chan Residencies. I was so excited to start taking steps towards something that I wanted for SO long. I did my best to prepare; I edited my personal statement for hours on end, I prepared answers to every possible interview question I could think of, and being selected for that residency was all I could think of. October comes, applications are due and I participate in residency interviews. November comes and residency offer letters are sent out…but mine never came.
I take pride in being honest and transparent so I would be completely lying if I say that I wasn’t devastated and felt like everything I had worked for up to that point had been a waste. I would also be lying if I said that it was an easy task to pick myself back up and figure out what was next for me. This was the first time in my academic career that I had to deal with not achieving a goal that I set for myself and it was a hard reality to accept. After a period of allowing myself to feel my emotions authentically and grieving what could have been, I accepted that this was not the end of my journey and that there was a path for me. I just had to go out and find it!
This experience gave me the opportunity to take a step back and be honest with myself and make a conscious effort to work on areas that needed some extra TLC. Although this insight came at the cost of not being selected for the Keck residency, I was on the path to being better equipped for future experiences. I learned how to communicate more efficiently, I learned to have more confidence when interviewing for positions, and most importantly, I learned how to advocate for myself and ask for what I wanted! On top of the opportunities to develop these invaluable professional skills, I had some amazing experiences that would never have happened if things had played out differently. I was able to complete an out-of-area Level II fieldwork over the summer, I have the opportunity to design and tailor my residency experiences to my specific interests, and I have the opportunity to define myself and begin my career in an entirely new city!
So rather than choosing to see this experience as a rejection, I have chosen to reframe it to see it as a redirection; one that I am so thankful for! I am a VERY firm believer that everything happens for a reason and that the things we go through are set in our path to help us become better versions of ourselves. I fell right into where I needed to be and I promise, you will too.
With all of this said, as residency offers begin to roll out and whether or not you receive the outcome you are hoping for I want to remind you to give yourself some grace, give yourself some extra love, and to reassure you that you are more than enough.