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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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Level II Fieldwork Part I: Almost Complete! >

by Liz


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I am so bummed that level II fieldwork is almost over—one week to go! 12 weeks literally flew by. If you read my previous blog post about my level II fieldwork placement, I’ve been having a blast the past 3 months. I can confidently say that I feel prepared to practice in a hand therapy setting! Here’s a little bit of what I’ve learned these past three months:

How to complete an initial evaluation
This is so important y’all. Not only is it key for knowing why the patient is coming in/what their primary complaint is, but it is the first interaction that you have with them. This is your chance to begin creating that relationship. At first I was a little nervous. I was so grateful for masks because it made it that much easier to hide how nervous I felt! But, I’ve done so many initial evals that now it’s a piece of cake. There’s so many important questions to ask: have you had surgery? Any steroid injections? How does this affect your ability to do things every day? Do you currently own a splint? Take measurements as needed. And yes, these are all super important, but so is the impression you make. This will determine how comfortable the patient will feel with—can they trust you?

How to explain to patients what in the world is going on
A lot of times patients will come in and have no clue what’s going on. This is why knowing your anatomy and familiarizing yourself with diagnoses is critical. You also have to keep in mind that patients will not usually know what in the world extensor carpi radialis brevis is. Explain in a way that the patient will actually understand! Practicing this is super helpful for when patients say “what is tennis elbow, I don’t even play tennis!”

Prioritize occupations!
I’ve seen folks who come in post surgery and also those who are trying to take care of their condition conservatively. In both cases, I’ve had people ask if they need to stop doing things they love. In some cases, the goal is to get them back to doing those things. I had a client who fractured one of his carpal bones and hasn’t been able to surf for months. Attempting to surf right now probably wouldn’t be the best idea. But, what we’ve been working on is getting his range of motion back and slowly working towards weight bearing so he can push off on his surfboard, wax it, put on his wetsuit, etc. 

We learned a little bit about this in the hands electives and in adult rehab as well. This is super important for noting what you did with the patient, how they responded to treatment/modalities, what happened, why do they need to continue coming to OT. This looks differently at each site, but to date I’ve written so many SOAP notes I already lost count! SOAP notes are used in several OT settings. It stands for: Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan. These provide information about what the patient said/what they’re reporting, what you observed/measured as a skilled clinician, why they still need to continue seeing you, how are they progressing?, and what the plan is for the next session. You’ll learned more about this when you practice writing SOAP notes in class. 😊 

How to actually treat people
Anyone can Google what a trigger finger is. But, what do you actually do when a client comes in with one? This is when I was super grateful for my fieldwork educator. There’s a reason why practicing in a hands setting is considered advanced practice. There’s so much! There’s a lot to know, and everyone’s conditions may present similarly but also be very different. I’ve had the chance to independently treat so many diagnoses including: trigger fingers, wrist fractures, Dupytren’s contractures, carpal tunnel, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, cubital tunnel, tennis elbow and even a couple folks who have had amputations—to name a few. I am very happy to say that I’ve felt completely comfortable treating these conditions.

Splints 101
Making splints is tough y’all! It is literally art. For one, there’s different materials to choose from. Some cool faster than others, some are more comfortable for night wear, others are more restrictive. I had the chance to make a couple short opponens splints and a few trigger finger splints as well. My fieldwork educator has so much experience and I’ve seen him create some amazing splints for different people. Making splints is great, but with that comes some client education. Can they bathe with it? Should they sleep with it? Skin checks! Tip #1: Don’t leave it in your car—it might lose its shape with the heat!

Being confident in myself
It’s okay to not know everything. It’s literally been only three months! At first it was rough to come to terms that I wasn’t an expert. But, now that I’ve really got the hang of everything I am so sad that this placement is coming to an end! I’ve learned that it’s okay not to know everything and asking questions is fine. My fieldwork educator once told me, “You might not know it all, but you definitely know more than the patient so believe in yourself”.

So, this is all just a fraction of what I’ve learned so far. After nearly a year of learning from behind a screen, I am so grateful for this experience. It exceeded my expectations of what level II fieldwork would be like. If you have any questions about my placement or want to know more about my experience please feel free to shoot me an email!


Fieldwork II: Saying YES to Taking on New Challenges >

by Savi


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As I enter into the third week of my level II pediatric fieldwork at Hiller Therapy, I am shocked by how much I have already grown as a practitioner. I was extremely nervous coming into this fieldwork placement because pediatrics had been the most difficult practice immersion for me. I never felt fully comfortable with the material and I didn’t believe that I had the right character traits to work with kids (creativity being an important one!).

Now I am sitting here, writing this blog post and realizing that I had underestimated myself. I feel as though I can create fun and engaging treatment sessions, help children meet their goals, and develop appropriate goals after doing an evaluation. All of this after just two weeks! You might be thinking…Savi…how is that possible? All it took was saying YES to any opportunity to be hands-on with clients and leaning on the professionals around me to look over my work and give me honest reviews.

In the first week, I said yes to taking on half a client load filled with children of all ages. This forced me to quickly pick up on developmental milestones and differing interests. After a few days, I became familiar with my resources and began developing more and more creative treatment plans. I said yes to running evaluations I had never tried before and taking on new projects – such as developing a school-based OT assessment. These were not things I was comfortable with initially, but by being honest with my OT about my perceived skillset and having her there to help me if I ever became confused or overwhelmed, I felt more confident taking on challenges in my first few weeks.

By saying yes to these opportunities, I quickly realized that I knew more than I thought I did and that I was WAY more competent than I had initially believed.

Do I have a ways to go to become a proficient pediatric OT…Yes of course I do! Although I have a lot to work on and a lot more to learn, I am now excited and not nervous walking into the clinic each day. I am becoming more comfortable with treatment planning and going with the flow because kids can be kids and you can’t always micromanage and control each session.

I say yes to opportunities I have time for and I am honest with my OT if I am feeling overwhelmed. This has taught me how to communicate openly with my co-workers and to learn from their years of pediatric OT experience to become an asset to them whenever I can.

If you are reading this before a Level II fieldwork experience in a setting that you might not be extremely comfortable in, know that it is ok to feel nervous and maybe even scared to fail. This is a learning experience so take advantage of the opportunities presented to you, say YES to taking on challenges you may not feel capable of overcoming, and lean on the brilliant OTs (or other healthcare practitioners) around you to get a few words of wisdom and support whenever you need it. You are more capable than you believe…trust yourself and enjoy the ride!


You Don’t Need to Be Perfect, You’re Still Learning >

by Daniel

1 comment

Admissions Classes Fieldwork Life Hacks

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Over the last couple of weeks, I have been talking to students that find themselves at different points in their OT journey. This is a busy time as many wait for updates from admissions, some still deciding whether to pursue the OTD, and others wondering what field of OT to pursue as they find themselves in the final year of their program. Being able to connect with students from different backgrounds is my favorite part of this position and it is a privilege to learn all your stories. Around this time in 2018, I was waitlisted for the Entry-Level Master’s program, and to be honest I did not have high hopes that I would get in because of my GRE scores. At the same time, I was working a lot and still trying to finish my Bachelor’s degree while struggling to do well in Chemistry (I know, what a fun last semester!). When I have these conversations with students it takes me back to these days, the good and the bad times. This is a time in my life when I thought I had to be perfect in order to be successful. Whether you are waitlisted, deciding on an OT program, just discovering OT and not knowing if this is the right choice or feeling overwhelmed with the overload of information coming at you, remember that you are not perfect. None of us are.

Make sure you are taking the time to breathe and engage in things you love to do, even if it’s a few minutes of your day. Take those minutes to spend it with loved ones, call someone, and eat! Remember to practice what we preach and try to find a balance. You cannot control everything, so focus on the things you can and take care of yourself. We want you to be at your best during class, when studying, at fieldwork, and with clients. You should always strive to give it your best, but it’s okay to not be perfect. When you know you gave it your best despite the circumstances, I believe you can be at peace with the results. This way of thinking and restructuring my thoughts has helped me cope with the demands of grad school. Remember that part of learning is to fail and try it again. Dwelling on it will not change anything, but what you can do is learn from those shortcomings. Maybe you had a practical that didn’t go as planned, perhaps a rough fieldwork or residency day, you know, it happens! And often those are the times that stay with you the most, when you make a mistake, when you failed at something, or when you didn’t know what to do.

I recently read a quote from my assigned class reading about an immigrant woman that says, “I may not remember everything I have learned, but it has made me who I am today”.  This is the quote I needed last week as I found myself struggling through my busy days. The long days and nights, assignment deadlines that feel impossible to meet, back-to-back meetings, the endless information introduced every week, etc. At times, it may feel like you’re just on autopilot, going through the motions. We can get so caught up in not knowing enough for an upcoming exam, for fieldwork, or for your residency setting. And of course, I do not know every single thing that was ever taught to me in school, but I have learned lessons from it all along the way. The Master’s program and now the OTD program, they have both challenged me in different ways. They have both made me question my abilities and have tested my motivation.

If you are reading this now and find yourself with doubts about what to do next, remember that you don’t need to be perfect. As you proceed to the next step in your journey, remind yourself that perfection is an unrealistic expectation that should not be put on anyone, you are a person and student that is still LEARNING. Take the necessary steps to learn from the particular experience you find yourself in, and with a little perseverance just keep going. Use the resources available to you, reach out for help, and don’t ever be afraid to ask questions. Lastly my virtual door is always open for those that may relate to this notion of perfection or if you have questions about OT and higher education (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)). I also invite you to make comments below if you would like 😊


Why I Chose to Attend USC >

by Savi

Admissions Classes Fieldwork Getting Involved Living in LA

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During the past few weeks, a plethora of admitted and prospective students have reached out to get a student’s perspective on why we chose to complete our Master’s degree at USC. This simple question has made me reflect on all the wonderful reasons I have enjoyed my time in the program. I have decided to create a list of the reasons I chose to complete my Master’s degree at USC below. I hope this list helps admitted students reading with your decision during this overwhelming and exciting time! This list can also be a great resource for students deciding whether or not to apply to this program in the coming years.

  1. The USC community and connections: Going to USC immediately connects you to a very large group of OTs around the world. With around 130 OT students graduating from the Master’s program each year, the quantity of USC OT alumni is exuberant. This allows current USC students the opportunity to have resources and connections both within and outside the division. Whether you are looking to find a job after graduating or get advice about your career path, you have an extremely high chance of finding USC alumni in your field of choice. This can be really helpful since OTs can work in such a wide range of practice settings and it can get tricky deciding what path may be right for you. During your various fieldwork placements, you are also bound to run into or be mentored by USC alumni and it is great to make those connections with other trojans who understand the curriculum, program structure, etc.
  2. The faculty and resources: As a student, you get the opportunity to learn from some of the most amazing and world-renowned OTs. All of the faculty members have dedicated their lives to OT through clinical work, teaching, and research. These clinicians, researchers, and educators all have an open door policy and capitalize on any opportunity to chat with and get to know students. You can go to them for casual conversation, assistance with schoolwork, guidance in life and your career, and more. This team, along with all of the outstanding cutting-edge research being conducted within our division, gives us the unique opportunity to be some of the first to learn about the most up-and-coming techniques and discoveries. This environment encourages every student to challenge themselves, work hard, and become a leader in the OT field.
  3. The students: As mentioned before, USC admits around 130 students into their Master’s program. This larger class size has given me the opportunity to meet a plethora of different learners and future practitioners. After spending the first summer semester learning from all of these different perspectives in a larger class setting, everyone is split up into three different cohorts of about 40-50 students. The cohorts are small so you get to know everyone really well, but you also get the chance to socialize with the larger group of around 130 students outside of the classroom to learn about their experience in different practice immersions before you take them. The cohorts are further split into 2 groups to make lectures and labs even smaller. The two groups will switch off the order in which they attend lectures and labs, which allows for more individualized attention from the professors during class.
  4. Hands-on work: USC integrates fieldwork into each semester. As an extremely hands-on learner, I was really excited to discover that USC allows students to work at a fieldwork I site once a week during each practice immersion semester. We, therefore, get the chance to go into class three times a week and then apply what we learn in real-time with clients. We can come back each week and debrief with each other and our professors. By doing so, I didn’t feel like I was just a student sitting in class trying to absorb information. I really got the chance to take that knowledge and apply it every week. On top of that, we also are provided with the typical fieldwork II experience, in which we work as full-time OTs for 12-weeks during each summer in a setting of your choice. We have connections with over 950 fieldwork sites across the globe, so the opportunities to work in any field of your choice before graduating are endless. Students also have access to Keck Hospital of USC and USC Norris Cancer Hospital Occupational Therapy and the Faculty Practice, which is the birthplace of Lifestyle Redesign®. Students, therefore, have the opportunity to be mentored in a number of existing and developing practice areas at the outstanding USC hospitals and at the Faculty Practice in order to gain clinical experiences during their program of study.
  5. Los Angeles: Los Angeles is a city with endless OT opportunities. Whatever you may be passionate about in the OT realm…you can find it in LA. Outside of OT opportunities, LA is an amazing place to live. Anything you want to do, see, or eat is in this city. You can go hiking in the morning, sit on the beach in the afternoon, and grab a bite to eat in downtown all in one day! Comedy shows, outdoor adventures, etc…It is ALL here.


My Fieldwork in a “non-traditional” setting >

by Lamoni

Fieldwork What are OS/OT?

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My previous blog post was about being comfortable with uncertainty as I waited to learn where I would be placed for fieldwork this semester. Update: I have been placed and I have completed my first week! I am in what we would call a “non-traditional” setting. The work that I will be doing is not happening in a clinic or hospital and the clients do not have diagnoses. In fact, I will be completing my work remotely because it is research. I am at SOLA Peace Center working under Dr. Kristy Payne and regularly meeting with Dr. Gelya Frank. SOLA is a non-profit organization that has recently formed a collaboration with USC. SOLA’s primary goal is to create more peaceful and just communities. It is based out of South Los Angeles and primarily serves the economically disadvantaged. The organization recognizes that poverty is a form of structural violence and due to a lack of resources, children in these communities are often experiencing occupational alienation. As occupational therapists, we know the many benefits that occupation and occupational opportunities bring to our lives. Thus, we can imagine how detrimental the lack of occupational opportunities can be. Without proper tools, skills, and resources, children are limited in their possibilities. My role as a level II fieldwork student here is to strengthen the effectiveness and reach of SOLA in the community by attending community meetings, completing observations, and researching best practices. To be productive in the community, SOLA must be backed by evidence.

Though I am not writing treatment plans and submitting documentation, the work at SOLA is that of an occupational therapist. I ask the questions, “what is preventing children in this community from engaging in meaningful occupation?” and “How can I change that and help them be successful?” The overarching theme of occupational therapy remains – how can I help this person do what they need to do and want to do (despite disability, illness, and/or circumstance)? The work at SOLA is a combination of pediatrics, wellness, and mental health. Children learn ways to regulate themselves, life skills such as peaceful communication and conflict resolution, and goal-setting for self-improvement. Further, children learn how to be leaders in their community, how to take social action, and how to make their voices heard. There is no selection process—anyone that wants to join is able to do so. What I love most about SOLA is their focus on and integration of occupational justice. SOLA aims to give children exposure to new possibilities and the tools that they need for success in school, in the workforce, and in society.  The mission is to help those in the community feel like they have agency, particularly the children that are often overlooked.

I am so excited to acquire and develop new skills while working with SOLA Peace Center! The insight that I gain will not only help me become a more thoughtful, well-rounded occupational therapy practitioner, I will be assisting in leveling an unfair playing field while doing so. Everything that we do with intention is occupation. That means that occupational therapy fits into much more than the distinct areas of adult rehabilitation, pediatrics, and mental health. We are a profession with so much value and so much to share. Let us continue to expand and bring our expertise where it is needed.

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