From Enemies to Friends . . . to Lovers: My Occupational Therapy Journey! >
September 22, 2022
(Spoiler: they fall in love at the end!)
When I tell folks that I’ve known about OT since before I even knew how to spell the words, they tell me how lucky I am to have discovered my passion at a very young age, especially in such a niche profession.
And don’t get me wrong, they’re totally right! I see how there is a perfect plan for me, part of which is to attend OT school to become an occupational therapist. However, like most people outside of the healthcare community who know what OT are: there’s a good chance it’s because they or a loved one have experience with receiving therapy services.
My love story with OT starts like this: OT wasn’t always a great passion of mine. In fact, at one point in my life I despised it so much I didn’t want to go into the healthcare field at all! (Here’s some context about me now: those around me can attest that OT is one of my favorite things to blabber about. In fact, someone I met recently asked, “So, is OT just like, your thing, Yoojin?” after I spent a good chunk of our conversation talking about my first Level II fieldwork this past summer. Well, maybe I should’ve dialed it down…he was a physical therapist after all 🤔).
Similar to a relationship between a pair of friends or lovers, it’s hard to remember the rockier parts of my relationship with OT because it’s at such a healthy state right now. But as I look back on my journey of grace, forgiveness, and love in my relationship with OT, I know it’s one that I really want to share. So here it goes….
I wouldn’t exactly say that I “discovered” OT, because that would imply that I was in search of something of the sort. Hm. So would it be more like I was “inescapably, involuntarily compelled into learning about OT”? That makes it sound like someone committed a crime against me. Well, that’s exactly how I felt throughout my childhood as a family member of someone who’s receiving OT services. I was too young to stay home alone, so I was forced to tag along. To almost every. Single. Appointment.
This meant I missed out on playdates and hanging out on the playground after class, both foolish, yet simple pleasures for a little selfish, elementary-aged Yoojin. But, I mean, why was I forced to play the third parent and the unpaid translator (shoutout to us first-gen children of immigrants!) rather than play tag or house? I cringe now at my shallow desires, but my years of frustration from holding such roles grew into a seed of bitterness in my heart toward OT and the clinic, the place where my childish dreams laid to rest. As much as I knew how much it strained my parents to be caregivers and parents, I pushed them away and continued to wallow in my self-pity.
It wasn’t until years later when it came to applying for college when things finally started to shift, and I took several weeks to reflect on what I really wanted to do. After countless talks with my mentors, late nights thinking, and tears spilled over wondering if I was destined to do nothing, I realized that OT was the only profession that I’d spent hundreds of hours observing and knew for a fact what I’d be getting myself into: a selfless, fulfilling, individual-oriented profession that works to improve the lives of clients by helping them achieve their personal goals.
During this time, my family and I exchanged so much grace and forgiveness. I fell more in love with OT as I rediscovered it on my own terms. Since applying and getting into the BS-MA (now the BS-OTD) program right here at USC, I’ve grown so much appreciation and love for this profession and never looked back. Love truly does conquer all! In my case, I was able to loosen my hardened heart filled with misplaced hatred for OT and foster it into a deepened empathy for my future clients’ needs. Give me all those cheesy pins and notepads that say “I ❤️ OT,” because I really, really do!
My road to OT and its many detours >
September 15, 2022
Growing up, education was always seen as a privilege. I knew I needed to do something with my life but never knew exactly what that could be.
So, I decided to fully explore everything I was ever interested in because what better way to spend my 20s? I tried EMT, but the gender dynamics and the low pay made me run away quickly. I tried CNA in an attempt to be an RN, but the burnout is real. I moved to an oncology lab, but the hyper fixation of looking at cells didn’t last too long. My all-time favorite was working at a morgue performing autopsies, but to my surprise, I do enjoy working with people who are alive. Then I decided to be an internship and career advisor but reading resumes and talking to different corporations entail long working hours. I also created a small business decorating sugar cookies, but I had to pause because the repetitive movements of piping exacerbated my carpal tunnel pain. Finally, I was a university counselor and while I enjoyed helping students navigate higher education, something was missing. I loved all my previous jobs but none of them fully cover what I was looking for. I thought to myself if only there was one career that could allow me to be in health care, allow me to be creative, and allow me to teach…
It wasn’t until my grandfather had hip replacement surgery that I learned about OT. As his medical director, I approved an occupational therapist to come over for a home visit. The OT came over and guess what was the first thing she pointed out during the inspection? If you thought RUG, then you are correct! The rug in the living room was a tripping hazard. As she inspected the home, I took the opportunity to have a conversation with her about her job. I remember her saying “think of OT as a combination between a doctor and a teacher.” My brain immediately lit up! Oh, what! my two favorite professions in one? She had very convincing arguments regarding having a profession in OT because well here I am today. I am so glad for my journey because finding what you love and loving what you do is amazing.
I know the pressure of needing to figure life out, especially as a first-generation student, but I am here to tell you that taking a break in between undergrad and graduate school is fine, changing careers is fine, not getting all A’s in school is fine, and not knowing what specific area of OT you want to work in is fine! Don’t place extra stress on yourself thinking that you must figure every single detail out. I’ll let you in on a secret, no one has everything figured out in life, some are just better at pretending!
First-year students, you will have the next few years to decide what you would like to focus on and second-year students you will have your career to figure that out. Give yourself grace because being in grad school at USC is already stressful enough.
So What Now? >
July 29, 2022
So you just discovered OT. Maybe your overly excited roommate shared with you the major or you heard about the amazing occupational science minor classes, like Creativity Workshop from a classmate. No matter how you discovered OT, the field piqued your interest.
Now you may ask yourself, how can I learn more about OT and/or get involved at USC as an undergraduate student? Well, here are some ways you can do just that!
The Pre-OT Club is a great way to learn more about OT through presentations, networking opportunities and guidance from current OT faculty members. The club is open to all USC undergraduate students interested in OT. From collaborations with other health profession clubs on campus to providing advisement for applying to OT graduate school, the Pre-OT club explores ways to dwell deeper into the field of OT.
Whether you have extra units, are ambitious to pick up a minor or are committed to applying to OT graduate school, pursuing an OS minor may be the right choice for you. Minoring in OS prepares you for the career of OT as well as exploring its uniqueness and versatility. Classes like Doing Social Justice and Creating a Sustainable Lifestyle are some examples of such versatility and how anyone can find their path to OT. I never miss an opportunity to recommend an OS class to my friends looking for a fulling class. One of my favorites to recommend is OT 100: THRIVE: Foundations of Well-Being. I took OT 100 online as a freshman and was able to foster vulnerability with my small group as we explored what it meant to thrive in all aspects of life. It’s a great course to learn more about well-being from an OT lens!
Getting hands-on experience is a great way to further your understanding of OT and the daily tasks of a therapist. Because of the many settings OTs can work in, consider volunteering at various sites and/or with different populations/communities. Click here to find a site!
The “Trojan Family” doesn’t just describe the relationships you build with other USC students, but also the relationships between faculty and students. Consider conducting an informational interview with a faculty member. After a coffee chat or zoom call, speaking with a current OT professional can provide you with relevant information about working in OT, expand your knowledge of the unique pathways, and provide guidance to your journey in OT. One of the ways I was able to network with USC Chan alumn was through the Trojan Network. During my time in the first-generation mentorship program, I was able to connect with current OTs who shared with me their journey to OT and her advice. Alum, Dr. Joyce Yoo, shared with me the importance of getting to know my colleagues and peers “as they are peers as they too are doors of future opportunities.”
In short, your journey to OT doesn’t start at the graduate level! The opportunities here at USC allow you to pursue OT at any point in your undergraduate experience.
As an undergraduate student myself, a rising junior in the BS-OTD program, I love to talk to other students about my passion for OT and always pitch the idea of exploring OT for themselves. If you need any more convincing, let’s have a chat!
Learning and Applying >
July 15, 2022
Coming to USC, specifically to USC Chan, my passion for OT grew as I became more immersed in my classes and the opportunities for learning more about the profession. One of the ways I was able to explore my desires as a professional was through the Summer Institute.
I attended the Summer Institute in the summer of 2021 in the hope of gaining a clear direction in my journey as an OT student and exploring the unique disciplines. Throughout the six weeks, we explored our goals academically and professionally, gained mentorship, and the ways in which we can reduce health disparities in minority populations.
The most impactful week for me was when we held a student panel. It was a space where current students provided honest insight into their journey into OT as it related to their identities — first-generation and/or POC. Hearing from each panelist about how they were introduced and came to love their professions was definitely a highlight. The diversity in their journeys was a reminder that everyone has their own set path.
Some aspects that I continue to utilize even after the program are the tips on how to seek mentorship and professional development. Seeking mentorship can be a daunting task, but I was able to understand that it can be a process. It’s not always that the first person you cold email will respond. Being a mentee in any program requires flexibility, following up, and good communication. I utilized these skills in my sophomore year in the USC First-Generation Mentorship Program with my own mentor which better prepared me as a mentee. Learning how outreach to OT professionals was a skill I gained confidence in.
As the current cohort for the Summer Institute of 2022 is in the midst of their program, I encourage you to invest in fruitful connections within your cohort and faculty. Each person in that zoom call has a passion for OT and the ways we can impact our communities. Through my experience in the Summer Institute, my passion for serving the Latinx community was solidified and my confidence in my own journey was strengthened. The growth and learning don’t stop at the end of the six weeks, instead, it only marks the beginning of your journey as a healthcare professional.
The USC U don’t C >
April 21, 2022
No todo es color de rosa. Like my friend Rolly says, “There is a USC that you don’t see.”
Holistic admissions? I love it. I am all in for decreasing barriers and increasing access for students to enter spaces of higher education. Do you know the percentage of Latinx individuals in higher education? There is not many of us, but that is changing. We are changing it.
As the new director of admissions, Dr. Anvarizadeh and her team pushed for a holistic process that would view applicants as whole individuals—considering their core values, thoughts about equity, diversity, and inclusion, etc. — and not just as a set of test scores or GPAs. Let me tell you why this has been a game changer, but more importantly, why the work can not stop only with holistic admissions.
In 2018, I graduated from Cal Poly SLO with my first collegiate degree. The time that I had to rejoice in that feeling of being the first in my family to graduate college was short lived as my dad would be losing his job shortly after. I was quickly reminded of my role and my identity as a Mexican daughter, the eldest child in a family of eight. My educational and career goals were put on pause because as I was raised, in my Mexican culture, family comes before and is above everything. Naturally embracing that role, I texted my brothers to figure out how we were going to pull through, like we always do.
For the next year or so, I worked Monday-Sunday and gave my dad more than half of my paycheck. When I began considering the possibility of furthering my education and applying to graduate school, I felt guilty. I felt selfish. How could I be thinking about myself and what I wanted when my dad was still not 100% back on his feet? It is ironic because even the decision of going back to school was based on helping my parents. I needed this degree to be able to get a job in my field of interest and so that I could earn more money to give back to my family. That is how collectivist cultures like mine work.
The thought of resuming my role and identity as a student was great, but with what money and what time? What money was I able to save for grad school? What money did I have to spare to take the GRE more than once or to spend on study materials, for that matter? What time did I have to sit for a 4-hour exam more than once? I didn’t. Talk about the barriers that USC Chan’s holistic admissions addressed for me. In my application video I stated the occupations that got me through the difficult time my family faced: work and prayer.
That is my story, but I write this blog to highlight the fact that there are stories behind the BIPOC students being admitted into the program that you do not see. Holistic admissions have opened the door for us to be able to step into higher spaces, but to quote my friend Miriam De La Torre, “don’t invite us into the room if there is not a seat at the table open for us.” You see the faces and numbers that represent diversity but are ignorant to the adversity attached to them. If the work is not to be performative, we cannot continue to casually disregard that the “E” in the new JEDI curriculum stands for equity vs. equality. You can’t allow us into the room to watch us stand. Students need to be supported beyond admission.
Se tenía que decir y se dijo.
All this to say that many of us BIPOC student and allies are here to keep the momentum going to make sure we continue to do the work past holistic admissions. Like Dr. Anvarizadeh said at COTAD’s “Springing into Action” virtual event, we cannot do this in silo — we have to lock arms to see it through. I hope y’all are ready for what is to come as we continue to collaborate, work together, and build community.