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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
What are OS/OT?


Dancing In the Rain >

by Teresa

Fieldwork What are OS/OT?

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In the Vietnamese language, there is a phrase to offer your condolences to someone when a loved one passes — “chia buồn” — which roughly translates to, “I share in your sadness.” I’ve always found it poignant and have yet to find a phrase in English which can succinctly convey the same sentiment; that if the weight feels too much for one person to bear, please allow me to help you carry it.

This past summer, my grandpa passed away, peacefully and surrounded by loved ones after many years of suffering many strokes. Recounting his life, I realized I had known him as ill for more years of my life than I had not. Growing up, most of my interactions with him existed within the confines of a skilled nursing facility. This past summer, I was also completing my first Level II fieldwork experience in a skilled nursing facility.

During his celebration of life, my family went around the room sharing stories about grandpa. After my dad retired, he took upon the role as an informal caregiver to my grandpa and shared how much grandpa hated my dad’s visits to the nursing facility because he knew that meant it was time for a bath. My mind went, “OT!” but everyone took the light-hearted story for what it was and laughed, including myself. A few weeks later during fieldwork, I was notified that a family member wanted my patient to work on bathing during OT that day.

My patient did not want to work on bathing during OT that day.

They were protesting against the task, bargaining with me, and apologizing for how their disability was inconveniencing my work. I thought of my grandpa and how I would want a therapist to approach the situation if it was him. In places like skilled nursing facilities, there is so much loss of control. People have little to no control in their routine, what and when to eat, what medications they take, and how quickly (or slowly) their body is changing. So when a bright-eyed young OT student comes knocking on their door, asking if they want to take a bath, they say “no” — and you let them, because it returns just a tiny sliver of control to their life.

On several occasions, concerned family members entered the rehab gym with questions about their loved one’s progress during therapy. While others avoided eye contact so as not to get flagged down with questions, I’d approach them and provide updates as best I could. Afterwards, therapists would say to me, “You’re a student — you didn’t have to do that” to which I would reply, “I wanted to.” Just as much as I want to share in victories with patients and their families, I want to share in their sadness with them as well because it’s how I would want my own loved ones to be treated by providers.

Dr. Rafeedie often says how “occupational therapists teach people how to dance” but I’d like to add a stipulation - that sometimes, we teach people how to dance in the rain. That sometimes, in even the bleakest of places, you can teach people how to flip their outlook on life, flip the way they move and feel, and flip the way the system works because as occupational therapists, you’re well-equipped to. OTs possess the impeccable ability to take an unfortunate situation and turn it into something wonderful.

I lost my grandpa this summer yet somehow, I still saw him a lot. I saw him through my patients and the cheesy jokes they’d crack during our sessions. When they encouraged me to work hard in school and finish strong, I heard my grandpa cheering me on. On their families’ faces, I saw my own family’s faces — the looks of desperation, of encouragement, of sorrow, of hopefulness. To whoever is reading this with a heavy heart: I share in your sadness with you, whatever it may be. The rain is clearing and the sunshine is coming, I can feel it. Let’s dance.

Black and white photo of Teresa's grandpa’s side profile while seated and smiling

In loving memory of Thomas Dương Đức Thanh


All roads lead to OT >

by Alyssa

Admissions What are OS/OT?

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The first time I heard the phrase “occupational therapy” I was standing in the freshman dorm room of my future best friend (+ former Chan student ambassador) Noelle; I had just moved in down the hall. She told me about the BS-MA program, and I thought, that’s cool and then did not think about OT again for 2 years.

That’s the simple start to my messy story answering the question “Why OT?” I think of it as driving down 3 roads at the same time. To help navigate, I’ve included some illustrations.

Road 1: Academic Life
While media studies and OT may seem unrelated, this road was the most direct.

Freshly graduated from a media-focused vocational high school, I was excited to don my new hat as a student at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Several of the classes for my Media Arts + Practice major focused on media ethics and the impact of technology on daily life, which built my interest in the use of media outside of the entertainment industry. I had a particular interest in media for healthcare and bounced around between a few different minors to explore this intersection. When I ultimately declared my occupational science (OS) minor, I knew I had found the perfect way to combine my interests in both arts and healthcare. For my undergraduate senior thesis, I prototyped an assistive device designed to help parents practice self regulation strategies with their children.

In the year following, I completed my OT school prerequisites and applications while pursuing my MA in Media Arts, Games, and Health. A natural transition between media and OT studies, I sharpened my research skills and broadened my understanding of technology use/gaming as an occupation.

On this road, I ignited my interests in interdisciplinary research and excitement for OT studies.

Road 1: Academic Life

Road 2: Work Life
I’ve always been a bit of a workaholic. So, on top of all that school, I spent my extracurricular time trying on a bunch of careers.

I spent my freshman and sophomore years dream hopping from film editor to TV producer to website coder to themed entertainment designer. I worked intense hours at USC’s student TV station and explored my interests further with internships at a news station and a science museum. These were all incredibly interesting experiences, but none of them felt right for me.

In the off season, for 5 summers, I worked as a camp counselor at my local parks system. In my 6th summer, I transitioned into the therapeutic recreation division, providing one-to-one support for children with disabilities on general day camps. These were the first jobs that showed me that going to work doesn’t have to feel like work. The only other job I felt this way about was teaching Zumba at the USC gym.

On this road, I realized the commonality between jobs I truly enjoyed was forming connections and making a direct, meaningful impact on others.

Road 2: Work Life

Road 3: Personal Life
In the same semester that I declared my OS minor, I was supporting a loved one through rehabilitation following emergent open heart surgery. As I stayed involved in their recovery, I noted how their re-engagement in meaningful occupations, such as returning to work or playing basketball again, were what gave them and our family a sense of hope among the hardships. It was just like what I learned in my OS minor courses — that holistic healthcare is about more than survival.

I have also had exposure to the patient perspective through my experiences with chronic illness. After years of doctor’s appointments, I’ve seen the kind of provider I want to be — one that emphasizes the practices of listening, patience, empathy, and advocacy.

On this road, I saw the power of meaningful occupations and found my passion for providing individualized care.

Road 3: Personal Life

If I could go back in time to my first conversation with Noelle and tell myself to look into/pursue OT right away, I wouldn’t. The non-traditional path was the way for me.

That being said, it feels nice to keep my eyes on one road now. Can’t wait to see where it goes.


An OT walks into a bar . . . >

by Guy

Admissions What are OS/OT?

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In September about three years ago, I was bartending in Brooklyn, NY and a group of teachers, some regulars of mine, walked into the bar with their new colleague, an occupational therapist. This OT had just made the switch to occupational therapy from another career. Just like I was attempting to do! At this point, I had started the process of switching careers, I had just finished taking my first pre-requisite class for OT grad school at a local community college, and I had not really had the chance to have any long in-depth conversations with anyone who had gone back to school to be an occupational therapist. In many ways I was still in the dark not only about the profession but what exactly I had got myself into — pre-requisites, needing volunteer hours, grad school applications — what? Also, I had been wanting to get a chance to do some observation/volunteer work in adult inpatient acute settings and had been having difficulties securing any place that would allow me to do so. Fortunately, this occupational therapist turned out to be the friendliest, most helpful person. They broke down the next steps I would need to take to achieve my short term and long-term goals — great activity analysis. They then connected me to a volunteer opportunity at the local VA hospital in Brooklyn, where I first heard about the USC occupational therapy program (Thanks Anita K., USC Class of 2012) and learned so much about the day to day of an occupational therapist at the VA.

Over the next year whenever that occupational therapist walked into the bar, they would always give me what I now know was invaluable information about the profession of occupational therapy. To this day, I credit them for not only giving me a very clear idea of their own experience of changing careers and becoming an occupational therapist, but more importantly I am grateful for getting a first-hand view of what my future path might entail. Through interacting with this occupational therapist, I came to realize that it wasn’t crazy to be going back to school after being out of school for so long and that becoming an occupational therapist was what I thought it would be and more. In the end, I credit those conversations and that opportunity at the VA for helping me to learn so much about the profession and providing me with a fuller understanding of what I had got myself into. Before that occupational therapist walked into the bar, I thought I knew why I was making this career change but didn’t quite know how. I was becoming an OT because I wanted to work one on one with people to do those things that are important and meaningful to their lives, and I felt I could not continue to do the work I had been doing. Also, I have seen the beauty and impact of occupational therapy in action. I witnessed occupational therapists help students find the joy of being a student, and I have seen the transformative effect of occupational therapy in helping people like my proud mother, who had Parkinson’s, to maintain a sense of dignity while adapting to living with a degenerative disease. Despite this knowledge my ability to interact with an occupational therapist helped me to clarify why and also how I would make this career change. Being able to have conversations with an occupational therapist helped me to go into this new career with a sense of purpose and understanding which I carry with me to this day.

Thank you Sadie, that OT that walked into the bar, and to all of the occupational therapists: Maurice, Anita, Leah, Heather, Elena, Ryan, and so many who took the time to talk to me about how to become an occupational therapist. You not only helped to clarify why I was becoming an occupational therapist but helped to get the process started. I wouldn’t be here in my second year of graduate school without your freely given insight, advice, and much needed guidance.


You, Me, and the OTD >

by Kayla

Admissions Fieldwork What are OS/OT?

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Being a Master’s student at USC Chan was an amazing experience filled with lots of learning, involvement in an amazing community, and one-of-a-kind experiences. So there’s no surprise that making the decision to apply and complete the Post-Professional OTD was quite simple. To me, this program means more than continuing my course of study or earning the distinction of “Dr”. To me, this program is all about personal and professional growth! Over the course of this next year I hope to work to reach a place where I will be prepared to achieve my professional goals and transform into the best therapist that I can be.

Along with choosing to complete the OTD with the above in mind, I could not pass up the opportunity for the amazing mentorship opportunities that are built into the program! Through my fieldwork experiences during the Entry-Level Master’s program I learned that I really really (really) love acute care OT. As I did my research on the different residency tracks offered, I was looking for an experience that would allow for specialized mentorship. I wanted a track that could support me while I work on my weaknesses and amplify my strengths to help me become a better therapist within my specific setting. The advanced clinical practice track consisted of everything that I was looking for and proved to be the perfect fit for me.

In the time preparing to embark on this journey and in the very short time since classes have begun, I have gained a deeper understanding of what I want to get out of this experience and ultimately made important decisions about my future career. That is honestly the biggest difference between the Master’s program and the OTD program. As a OTD resident you have the opportunity to decide and design your experience, from the practice context to your focus during your doctoral year. This freedom to tailor your residency plan is what makes this experience so meaningful and unique. And don’t worry, if the sound of that much freedom is off-putting to you, you are not alone during this experience!

Through all of the moments of feeling overwhelmed, doubting myself, and wondering if I would be able to find a residency site that was everything I wanted, I am so grateful that I stayed the course and found the site that is perfect for me! I have already gained so much so early in this journey and am excited to see where it takes me. More than anything, I am excited to be your OTD ambassador and be a part of your OTD journey as well!


Occupational Therapy, but Make it Dramatic >

by Silvia

Admissions What are OS/OT?

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I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t dramatic but being dramatic is what got me here, kind of.

You see, the moment I decided I wanted to go to college in the first place was very movie-like. I was a junior in high school when my family drove to Tijuana, Baja California for a weekend trip. I sat in the back of our Yukon with my head leaning against the window staring into the distance, probably contemplating my life, when I saw it. There it was written on the building: “UCSD School of Medicine.” I don’t know if you believe in signs, but this was mine. I was destined to become a doctor.

When college application season came around, I had no idea what I was supposed to do — I didn’t even know what a major was (the first-generation in me was showing). One day I was randomly talking to a girl in my class about what school she was applying to and what “major” she had chosen. This is when I discovered kinesiology and loved everything about it. Naturally, I changed my mind and decided I wanted to be a physical therapist, which was fine right? After all, it was still a career in the medical field. So, there I went applying to Cal Poly SLO and declaring kinesiology as my major. I was really going to college you guys.

When I got to college, we had an orientation into the major. That’s when I first met Dr. Clark. Dr. Clark began his introduction by telling us that we were going to start off wanting to become physical therapists but would leave the program wanting to be occupational therapists. I didn’t believe him until I failed chemistry. Imagine this: I get into my dorm, log onto my student portal, check my grade, and begin crying as I slide down the door in slow motion thinking I’m going to be kicked out of the university for failing a class. I could have won an Emmy or an Oscar. After I got it together, I realized that I was fine, everything was fine, and I didn’t need chemistry in my life anyway. I decided to change my academic track to one that didn’t require me to take the organic chemistry series and that is how occupational therapy popped up once again.

The more I learned about occupational therapy through my own research and volunteering experiences, the more certain I became that it was what I wanted to do. Occupational therapy highlights the humanity of an individual and recognizes that they are more than a label or diagnosis. We help individuals identify what is meaningful to them and their lives and develop a holistic approach to meet their goals and needs. I’ve come to understand that it’s not about what I do (i.e., deliver medical services) but about how I do it (i.e., being client-centered) that draws me to this field.

So, be a little dramatic, for all you know you may stumble upon your dream career.

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