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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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Student Blog
Getting Involved


USC’s Student Run Clinic: Providing Care to the Underserved in Skid Row >

by Erika

Getting Involved

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One of my top 3 enriching experiences in this program didn’t take place in the classroom and wasn’t at fieldwork. It was in a men’s shelter located in the middle of Los Angeles’ Skid Row. It was here where I met Ben*, a man who was living at the shelter that came to see us at the Student Run Clinic because he was complaining about itchiness on the bottom of his feet.

Hold up, what is Student Run Clinic?

Student Run Clinic is a student run organization that provides comprehensive healthcare to the homeless, chronically ill, and underserved populations in Skid Row. We work in an interprofessional team alongside students from USC’s Medicine, Physician Assistant, and Pharmacy programs operating two clinics monthly — one at John Welles CH (JWCH), a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) one Saturday morning a month as well as a mobile clinic that operates out of a men’s shelter on one Tuesday evening a month.

Gotcha, back to Ben.

Ben came to see us on a Tuesday evening in which we set up shop in the men’s shelter he was staying at. As part of the clinic protocol and as the OT student, I was the first to greet Ben and introduce him to what he was going to experience throughout the course of the night. I then gathered his social history — asking him questions about life before living in the shelter, how he occupies his time during the day, if he has plans for what’s next, who his support system is, what his current employment status or past employment history is, etc. We got to talking and because clinic was running a little slow, I had time to chat him up more than usual.

Ben was a biking barber. He spent his days making money cutting hair biking across Downtown Los Angeles and was proud of it. A couple weeks before I met him, he had traveled to a bike race in Northern California and during that time, his landlord rented out the apartment he was living in without telling him leaving him homeless when he came back to Los Angeles. Thus, his current situation of living in the shelter. Despite these setbacks, Ben was upbeat in demeanor — honoring the hustle, doing what he can do to work as much as he can, confident and capable. I really enjoyed meeting him. I asked all my curious questions about being a biking barber and he asked me about being a student. ::knock knock knock:: My time was up.

After I left the room, I briefly summarized what I learned to the team (2 med students, 1 pharm student, and 1 PA student). It was there turn now to go in and ask their questions specific to their specialties. Med and PA took Ben’s vitals and administered the physical exam on his feet. Pharmacy inquired about any current medications he was taking, whether he was satisfied with those medications, if the medications affect the itchiness on his foot, etc. :: knock knock knock:: Their time was up.

While Ben was speaking with the other students, I was busy consulting our faculty preceptor, Dr. Pitts about everything I learned about him to work through the case. She helped me clinically reason through the case and ensure we have all the information we need to inform the team on a potential treatment recommendation. At the time when I met Ben, Dr. Pitts proctored both clinics but now Dr. Erin McIntyre has taken over mobile clinic and Dr. Pitts focuses on Saturday clinics at JWCH. If there’s anything I can be grateful for in volunteering and serving on SRC board, it’s the unwavering guidance and experience of our faculty mentors.

Once all the other students returned from speaking with Ben, we engaged in “the Huddle” — the point in the night where we share all the information we learned about the patient and as a team, create a problems list and potential treatment plan accordingly. Once this was agreed upon, our attending physician, Dr. G, came in to hear us present all of our findings. As an educator and mentor, Dr. G provided us with feedback, constructive criticism on where we may have had some holes in our questioning or evidence, and a cohesive understanding of any next steps.

While Ben was a rather simple case of determining whether he had dry skin or a fungal infection, the experience was so much more than that.

  1. I was able to listen to Ben’s story firsthand and gain a tiny ounce of understanding of his experience living in Skid Row.
  2. I thought critically in an OT lens and assessed his living conditions, daily occupations, and motivation to inform us about his foot and skin condition and his ability to follow through on treatment.
  3. I was able to make new friends in other professions, delve into each others healthcare lens, and understand how each profession contributes to a primary care model.
  4. Lastly, I was able to advocate for Ben in providing the other health care professionals insight into Ben as a human outside of being a patient.

Being a part of Student Run Clinic has been a true privilege and one I would never pass up for anything in this program. It’s an experience that is unlike any other and if you’re currently a student in any of USC’s programs (Medicine, Physician Assistant, Pharmacy, or Occupational Therapy), I would encourage you to volunteer. You won’t regret it.

*All names mentioned in this blogpost are pseudonyms.


OTAC in Sac: Attending the 2017 OTAC Annual Conference >

by Kaitlyn

Getting Involved

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This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending our annual Occupational Therapy Association of California (OTAC) Conference in our state’s capital, Sacramento. This year we are celebrating 100 years of OT, so naturally, this conference was going to be a big celebration. In even more exciting news, this year we had over 80 Trojans presenting and speaking and 8 receiving awards! It was very humbling to be among fellow USC students and alumni who had put in so much hard work to be where they are now.

A warm welcome from Sacramento

At this particular conference, two of my favorite sessions were coincidentally presented by faculty from USC. One of the sessions I attended was titled, “Positive Psychology and Meditation: Clinical Applications and Beyond!,” which was facilitated by Dr. Don Gordon. In this session I learned about the supporting evidence of positive psychology, research related to the effectiveness of meditation (including neurobiology and how it builds psychological coping skills), how to engage in exercises like meditation as a form of coping (which can be applied to patient interventions if appropriate!), and so much more.

USC Booth at Exhibit Hall

A sneak peek of USC’s booth at Exhibit Hall!

Another one of my favorite sessions was titled, “The Shared Governance Model of Participatory Decision-Making: An Opportunity for the Development of Occupational Therapy Leadership, Power, and Voice,” which was led by Dr. Katie Jordan, Dr. Samia Rafeedie, and Dr. Bryant Edwards. In this session, I learned about the importance of “shared governance,” which is an organizational structure that enlists participatory decision-making models of leadership. For example, we discussed the importance of involving front-line staff (e.g., nurses) in making decisions so that they too feel empowered, appreciated, and respected.

When I was not in sessions, I was working either at our USC Exhibit Hall Booth (as a part of my Student Ambassador role) or completing any OTAC Student Delegate tasks that were needed of me (as a part of my OTAC Student Delegate role). It was definitely a busy weekend, but it was EXTREMELY rewarding and wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Featured as OTAC Student Delegate

The other student delegates across California and I were featured on this poster board at conference!

On Saturday, the Keynote Speaker at the Awards Ceremony was none other than Frank Kronenberg, who is the director and co-founder of Shades of Black Works, a Cape Town-based social enterprise with a triple social mission: strengthening places of origin, forging connections, and supporting collective story-making. Kronenberg is also a prominent global activist and the co-founder of the movement “Occupational Therapists without Borders.” Frank Kronenberg’s speech, which was about humanizing praxes and its relation to OT, was nothing short of inspiring. I may or may not have shed a tear (or two… or three…) during it. At the end, he proposed that we modify Mary Reilly’s infamous statement, “Man through the use of his hands as they are energized by mind and will, can influence the state of his own health” to the following: “Humanity, through joining hands, as energized by ubuntu and political will, can influence the health of the human condition.” 

Set up for Trojan Family Reception

Setting up for the fun Trojan Family Reception on Saturday night!

Overall, I can confidently say that attending conferences like OTAC is what revitalizes and recharges my soul in my own OT journey. Being surrounded by so many kind, accomplished, and hardworking occupational therapists inspires me to be better and do better not only in the realm of OT, but also in life in general.


More Than Just Classes: Interprofessional Geriatric Curriculum Program >

by Ali

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As part of our course curriculum in the second year, all three cohorts take OT 538: Current Issues in Practice: Adulthood & Aging. This course addresses the shifting demographics of society with the worldwide phenomenon of aging and occupational therapy’s role in caring for the aging population. One option for this course is to engage in an interdisciplinary experience with USC students in other fields of study, which include: pharmacy, dental hygiene, social work, medical, physician assistant, physical therapy, and occupational therapy students! One aspect that drew me into occupational therapy was the potential for interdisciplinary collaboration and community outreach, which this program blends together seamlessly, so I was eager to sign up.

We had our first site visit this week where we prepared for an hour before meeting with our older adult living in the residential community building. The focus of the week was on pharmacy and social work as well as to generally get to know our older adult. My interprofessional team does not include a social work student or a pharmacy student, so the other healthcare professional students and I stepped up to coordinate our session in a collaborative way. We ensured we remained within our respective scopes of practice while also obtaining all the information we needed. The older adult that we get to work with is so welcoming and open about her life.

The different professional students on my team and I took turns asking various questions, about everything from her family, where she is from, what she did for a living, and what she currently does with her time. She was open about her medical history, concerns about age related illness due to family history of diabetes and Alzheimer’s. She showed us photos of her grandchildren and years of travel. She opened up about her peers and how she views aging as something she is in control of by maintaining a social life, physical activity, and engaging in activities that give her life meaning (occupations!).

After the session we debriefed as a team and it was amazing to hear all of the different things that each professional student found significant and would affect their treatment or intervention, if we were to treat our older adult. The physician assistant and the medical student found the vitamins that our older adult is taking to be a great fit for her and her needs. The dental hygienist student noticed a tooth that she was in between appointments on getting it fixed. The physical therapy student noticed bruises on her knees and handles on the walls, which lead her to want to know more about her balance. I wanted to know more about her roles, routines, and habits in order to get a better idea of how she occupies her times.

I love the chance to get to ask each of these different students questions to learn more about their professional lenses as well as the chance to connect with an older adult. Being a student at USC opens the door for opportunities such as this with so many other professional programs and connection to the community. The Trojan family spreads into all of the schools within the university and community members. I look forward to my next site visit to continue my interprofessional growth and building a relationship with our older adult.


Bachelor’s to Master’s in Occupational Therapy: A community not just a major >

by Ali

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We just hosted our OT Welcome Back Dinner for the Bachelor’s to Master’s Degree Program students. With 9-11 students per graduating class, the Accelerated BS to MA community is a very small and connected group. Dr. Joanne Park and the rest of the admissions team organize events, such as this dinner, as an opportunity to share a meal with all the OT majors who can make it. We organized dinner, games, and the chance to meet their mentor/mentee groups for the first time.

Each student is assigned a mentor group, which consists of at least one freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior as a resource to ask questions and help support one another. We encourage these mentor groups to engage in their favorite occupations together or study together on campus.

These events are designed to foster the community, or OT Family, of progressive degree occupational therapy students throughout their five years with the program. As these students are on a fast track professional degrees, we want to ensure they feel a part of the Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. It is important to note the BS degree does not permit students to be licensed therapists, but they will be ready to sit for the national board exam and become a therapist even sooner because they only have one more year of school to complete their Master’s degree.

This is a picture of everyone who was able to come out for the dinner!

This is a picture of everyone who was able to come out for the dinner!


From Undergrad to Grad life >

by Ali

Getting Involved Life Hacks Living in LA

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Although I am a second year in the graduate program, I technically completed my undergraduate degree in May 2017. Therefore these first few weeks of classes have been full of transition and adjustment from living on the University Park Campus to living on the west side of Los Angeles and commuting to the Health Science Campus. Here are some things I have learned:

  1. Moving to a new neighborhood in a familiar city
    This is my fifth year living in Los Angeles, but this is my first time living off campus in an apartment. I live in Culver City, which is a thirty minute drive from the Health Science Campus. This change of neighborhood has provided me the opportunity to find all new running routes, coffee shops for studying, and even a favorite laundromat. This move has opened up a whole new side of Los Angeles to my life.
  2. The value of a planned social life
    Moving off campus means that I now live on average fifteen to twenty minutes away from my friends. I can no longer just drop by my friend’s apartment unannounced or walk to the library together late on a Sunday night. I have quickly learned the necessity that is planning in advance to go out to dinner or try a new ice cream shop with a friend. These things cannot be as spontaneous as they used to be, but that just means I get to have something fun on my calendar to look forward to.
  3. The abundance of USC hosted graduate student events
    In just the first few weeks back to school, I have already seen the benefits and fun of being a graduate student. I went to the occupational therapy and physical therapy tailgate for our first football game. It was an easy way to be social with classmates as well as the physical therapy students, who we share a lunch patio with. I love that all the graduate school students have just as much Trojan pride as my undergraduate friends. I also attended a Los Angeles Dodgers game for five dollars organized by Graduate Student Government. There are always fun events for graduate students to opt into!
  4. Everything we learn is valuable and relevant
    One aspect of graduate school that has only been solidified over the past few weeks upon returning from level II fieldwork, is just how relevant all of our coursework is to our future practice. Regardless of what area we specialize in or get advanced practice in, the Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy has created a curriculum that molds us into generalists of the field of occupational therapy. Each course has its own value. Readings and assignments are all important because they are informing and building our occupational therapist lenses. It is motivating to know everything we are doing in and out of the classroom is valuable.
  5. Classmates in graduate school have a lot in common
    Finally, as some of my undergraduate friends have moved away and out of Los Angeles, I have become closer with graduate school occupational therapy classmates. It is wonderful to be a part of a program that has students with diverse interests and backgrounds. We are all so different while simultaneously have a common interest entering a profession centered around helping people live their healthiest and happiest lives. Lunchtime is always a good time with the occupational therapy students.

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