OT Chronicles Chapter 8: First Semester

OT Chronicles Chapter 8: First Semester

Winter break has arrived!  In retrospect, the first semester of grad school was a whirlwind.  It FLEW by, just like we were told it would.  I’m not quite sure how to begin this post or how to dive into reflecting on my first semester because there was so much, yet so little, jammed into three months…

I feel like September and October were the awkward months for my cohort.  We didn’t really know each other and we were all trying adjust to the new demands and stressors of grad school.  I know personally that I felt like I was kind of just doing my own thing.

Doing my own thing was fine until we got assigned a bunch of different group projects. At one point in time, I remember being on five different Google docs with five different groups of varying size.  It was extremely difficult trying to keep track of who was in which group and when due dates were for each project.  This is where I began to fully depend on my planner for EVERYTHING.  If it wasn’t written down, there was a good chance I would forget to do it.  My planner organized my life!

One by one, projects were submitted and crossed off the to-do list.  Each project came with its own personal bundle of stress.  The Colombia project still makes my blood boil.  Don’t even get me started on the Lifespan Task Analysis project!  I never ever ever want to spend hours trying to analyze someone clicking a computer mouse ever again.  Never.  On a brighter note, I enjoyed our health literacy project and occupational profile project.  Those were manageable.

The exams required dedicated studying.  Even though I often went into each exam nervous, I always left feeling confident…. except that time I got a 78% on a group process exam because half the material on the exam we never even covered.  That time I was pissed.

By November and the beginning of December, I had found my niche of friends.  United spontaneously by a 28-page paper on obesity, I can truly call Michelle and Jess my confidants.  Becoming friends with them opened up another door to become friends with friends they were friends with (so much usage of the word “friends” in one sentence). Finals week we were gathering for study groups, just trying to survive together.  On our last day of our first semester a group of us went out to IHOP to celebrate!

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The hardest transition for me to make wasn’t the 55 minute commute to/from school everyday (although the morning my car got flooded out by a puddle I drove through was one of the most stressful mornings of my semester).  The hardest transition for me to make wasn’t the “lack of sleep” (pretty sure the littlest amount of sleep I got all semester was 7 hours because I am a nervous wreck as a sleepy driver).

There have been three really hard transitions for me to make since starting grad school.  The first two are sitting for long durations of time and sacrificing a normal running routine.  My core, back, and leg muscles have atrophied.  This is due to sitting for 85% of the day (between studying, 4+ hour classes, and driving 2 hours/day) and not having time to get out for runs to move those muscles.  These two things have crushed me time and time again the past 3 months.  My back hurts all the time.  I don’t feel confident in my body like I did before. My ankles are weak (hence why I sprained my ankle a few weeks ago).  I miss running so very much.  I am working on coming up with solutions to these two challenges so that I can strengthen my back/core/ankles and maintain my sanity through running.  It’s just been a really challenging transition for me to make.

The third difficult transition has been sacrificing time with Josh & my family.  I used to be able to consistently spend the weekends with Josh spending time together or going out for runs/mountain bike rides.  With an excessive academic workload, I’ve sacrificed part of my weekends to study rather than spend time with loved ones.  I’ve politely declined invitations for socializing with others.  I’ve tried to balance socialization as much as possible by allotting at least one day each week to spending time with loved ones and that has helped keep my mind fresh and my stress in control.  There’s just days that I miss not having schoolwork always lurking in the back of my mind.  Days like that will pass though – these sacrifices are temporary and my support system knows that I just need to push through these next two years until I graduate.

This semester was primarily foundational classes that have prepared us for the next three academic semesters.  I finished my first semester with 4 A’s and an A-.  To say I’m ecstatic would be an understatement. I am proud of myself and my success proves that all my hard work paid off this semester.

Next semester we will be immersed in pediatric classes, my Level I fieldwork placement in a pediatric setting and…… *insert dramatic drumroll here*.. neuroscience.  Oh boy!

I am looking forward to enjoying this much deserved and hard-earned winter break before starting the daily grind again.  But for now, I will enjoy time with Josh, friends, and family, stress-free & guilt-free running, and maybe a few glasses of wine. Cheers to the first semester!

OT Chronicles Chapter 6: Week 1

OT Chronicles Chapter 6: Week 1

Our first full week was way more overwhelming than our half-week, rightfully so.  We had three more “1st days” which is probably why I’m feeling a little more overwhelmed with everything that needs to get done.  However, I am continually reminding myself to take it one day at a time.

One highlight of the week included having our first SOTA meeting where we discussed upcoming conferences, volunteer opportunities, fundraising ideas, and elections.  I decided to run for a position but I wasn’t elected.  The election did not include speeches or even introductions; therefore, most votes were based on first-impressions or a game of eenie-meenie-minnie-moe.  I’m ok honestly with not being elected.  I started this blog without being elected with the full intention of advocating for the OT field.  I will advocate on this blog, my social media pages, and to anyone that wants to listen to me talk about what I learned in class so far.  Here, I can voice my opinion on my own time, in my own way, and with intrinsic purpose to self-reflect and teach others.

This week I also attended an adult autism support group where I interacted and played board games with the attendees.  It was a very relaxed environment and I know that the individuals enjoyed seeing a new face in their group.  I plan on trying to volunteer at the support group 1-2 times per month because I know how much they enjoyed having new people to play board games with!

This week we were assigned an activity log in which we have to record every activity we do in a day and how much time we spend doing it.  We then categorize each activity into one of the eight occupations listed on The Framework.  Once they are categorized, we have to make a pie chart.  A lot of my time (obviously) is spent doing educational occupations.  This has been a tedious assignment but it’s helped me become more familiar with The Framework.

Also noteworthy is that our professors have forced us to change where we are sitting every class and who we are sitting next to.  They’re teaching us not to get comfortable all the time with routine and to get to know our classmates better.  I was a little hesitant at first because I liked sitting on the left side of the classroom, but after moving to the other side/middle, I’m ok with it!

We also had two guest speakers who worked at a community-based mental health organization nearby to the university.  We participated in a “Hearing Voices” activity for about one hour to gain a better understanding of what individuals with schizophrenia experience on a day to day basis.

For an hour, we all wore earbuds and listened to an audio recording of voices that individuals with schizophrenia have heard themselves.  The guest speakers rotated the class through three distinct activities – an individual 10-question test on a packet of information we were given on hurricane preparedness, a 20 minute game of Scrabble with four classmates, and an interactive task with someone on campus.

This experience resulted in empathy and a better understanding of what individuals with schizophrenia experience daily.  It was very eye-opening for me because it can be very hard to relate to someone who experiences auditory hallucinations.  This activity provided me with a hands-on learning opportunity to gain insight on how difficult it can be for individuals with schizophrenia to socially interact or complete necessary tasks on a day to day basis.  A few days later, I spent at least a half hour teaching Josh all about schizophrenia to bring better awareness and understanding of the disorder.  (If anyone is interested in learning more about “Hearing Voices” please reach out to me!)

This weekend I have been overwhelmed by readings to prepare for next week’s classes.  I have tried to find occupational balance by taking mental/social breaks.  I went for a bike ride today because I wanted to spend 30 minutes outside on a beautiful day.  I set aside time at the end of my day to write this blog.

Tomorrow I plan on going through the remainder of a Powerpoint recording I need to finish for Monday’s class, reading more for Monday’s Group Process class, going for a run/bike in the morning, and finishing all supplemental material for the beginning of the week.

My Friday & Saturday nights aren’t going to be very exciting for the next few weeks but I’m ok with that.  This aspiration of mine requires a lot of sacrifice, persistence, and determination and I’m fully committed to succeeding.  I’m living my dream.

 

OT Chronicles Chapter 5: The Half-Week

OT Chronicles Chapter 5: The Half-Week

I STARTED OT SCHOOL THIS WEEK!!!  CRAZINESS!

This week was met with a lot of nervousness, a lot of excitement, and so much gratitude!  I spent my Labor Day weekend before classes started stressing over the anatomy & physiology competency exam scheduled for Day 1.  I busied myself with organizing my binders, books, backpack, and checking emails repetitively.  I reviewed the A&P information religiously until Tuesday night when I turned to Josh and said “I just can’t keep looking at this”.  So, instead of staying up late studying feverishly, I spent the night before classes started relaxing, preparing my belongings for the morning, and spending time with Josh who insisted on sending me off on my 1st day of grad school (side note: my parents were in Utah visiting my brother so they weren’t home all week so I am extremely grateful that Josh was willing to be my support system for my 1st day jitters!).

Wednesday morning Josh & I were up early because he had to leave my house early in order to get to work in time.  My mom insisted she needed a 1st day of school picture so before Josh left my house he was snapping awkward 1st day of school photos at 6 o’clock in the morning.  I stood next to a smiley face balloon that Granny had given me the day before.  Quite comical if you ask me!

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After Josh left, I ate a hearty breakfast and packed my lunch.  I kissed the dogs goodbye and headed out the door for my 50-minute commute.  I left my house two hours before class started because I was worried about finding parking and didn’t want to feel rushed.  Five minutes into my drive, I approached an unexpected detour.  Just my luck!  I found my way around the detour and continued on my intended route.  I also took the wrong jug-handle at one point in my drive.  Oops!  Nevertheless, I arrived before 8 AM, there was plenty of parking, and I wandered through campus to calm my nerves.

I got to class 30 minutes early, sat next to a classmate I remembered from orientation, and settled in.  We all chatted amongst ourselves which was a wonderful way to distract ourselves from the looming competency exam.

We took a class picture (the most awake and put-together we will probably look all semester).  We did an ice breaker activity called “speed dating”.  This was super fun!  We also reviewed for the exam in an untraditional way which I enjoyed!

By mid-morning, we were taking the competency exam.  This was pass/fail scoring.  You either passed or you didn’t.  After turning in the exam, I knew my weaknesses and what I needed to improve on moving forward.  I was confident I had passed but knew that I still had plenty of room for growth!

We had an hour lunch break so I printed a few things and relaxed outside.  The remainder of the day included a review of the class readings we had already been assigned.  Also…. I had passed the competency exam!  YAY!

On the second day of classes, we reviewed the syllabi, discussed our reading assignments, and began a case study on schizophrenia.  I am excited to continue to learn about my cohort and the material for each class.  I know it will be challenging but I know it will all be worth it!

I also met with my professor for my graduate assistantship.  I was given some of my responsibilities for the semester and I’m excited to get started on this!

Our professors also continuously reminding us that the cohort & faculty are a team.  Three-hundred people had applied to the program but only 30 were given seats.  We are no longer competing against each other because we all deserve to be where we are.  We will help each other succeed and overcome challenges.  We will work together because we all share one common goal – to become occupational therapists.  The faculty wants us to succeed so they will help us when help is needed.

We’ve only had two days of classes (hence why this blog is titled “The Half-Week”).  I spent today developing a weekly “agenda” (basically a check-list for each class) of readings, assignments, quizzes/tests that are “due” the upcoming so that everything can be somewhat organized.  I am using this as a supplement to my planner for the time being so that everything is organized in a clear and concise way.  I’m not sure if this is something I’ll stick with in the long-term, but with so much information in the last two days, I feel this is the best way to move forward.

I have so much gratitude the start of this new, exciting adventure.  I can’t wait to continue to learn, be challenged, and develop strong relationships with my cohort and professors!  I am grateful for Josh being there for my 1st day of grad school and the support of my parents/family from afar.

I’m sure that this blog posts won’t always be this lengthy, but for now, I hope that you’ve enjoyed my rambling!

Summer Self-Reflection

Summer Self-Reflection

Where has this summer gone?!?!  Time felt like it was standing still until about two weeks ago when I realized the start of grad school was rapidly approaching.  The last two weeks have included a staycation, several family/friend/social events, a mountain bike race, and studying for classes.  I doubt that this blog post will have much flow because I feel that my thoughts have been scattered for weeks now.  I’ve felt the need to blog out all of these thoughts but haven’t committed to typing them until right now.  I have no prediction as to where this post might go.  Here we go!

For over a year now, my life has been “on hold” for grad school to start.  The application and acceptance process was tedious and lengthy.  In the interim of deciding I wanted to go to grad school and actually starting grad school has been a whirlwind.  The whirlwind has included many successes, many failures, and many opportunities for personal growth.  I think it might be valuable to “vocalize” these experiences for my own personal self-reflection and your own… “enjoyment”.

First, I launched health coaching services as a means to utilize my undergrad degree and ACE certification.  I created a logo, a Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter page, and business cards to establish myself and to try publicize what I had to offer.  I spent hours developing material for the Facebook page in order to showcase what I had to offer.  I created giveaways to engage the community.  I did all of this with the hope that I could make people live healthy, successful, satisfying lives.  Despite my good intentions, I was given unenthusiastic reactions.  Yet, I persisted because I was passionate about trying to help others.  My services didn’t expand the way I had envisioned and that’s ok.  I still got to coach a handful of people that did trust my beliefs and values.  I saw them achieve goals they didn’t think they could achieve.  At the end of the day, if I hadn’t persevered, I would have come up short on one of my meaningful aspirations.

Second, in attempt to prepare my bank account for tuition, I worked retail for several months.  It was miserable.  I felt degraded and purposeless.  I sacrificed time with my family on holidays, time with Josh on weekends, and time with my clients. I knew deep within my heart that this job was temporary.  I knew that soon I would be pursuing a meaningful career aspiration.  I tried to stay positive for as long as I could but with each passing day, I became more and more frustrated and impatient.  So, I resigned.  I was told by Josh, my family, and my dearest friends that I would soon be moving on to something bigger and better.  Don’t ever feel stuck.  Sacrifices are temporary.  Some sacrifices can be minimized when you have a strong support system; for that, I am eternally grateful.

It’s so cliche, but when one door closes, another door opens.  I closed the door on retail and walked through a door labeled “wine”.  This brings me to experience #3.  A winery 2.4 miles from my house needed help at festivals and in their tasting room.  I am fortunate enough to have a mutual connection with the owners which kind of gave me an “in”.  I knew little to nothing about wine which scared the heck out of me.  I asked questions, I took notes, and I spoke to customers with the knowledge I had accumulated.  Working at a winery can actually be quite satisfying.  Wine makes people happy.  I like making people happy.  I pour wine; therefore, making people happy!  Winery work isn’t stressful to me and after working there over the summer, I really took a liking to it!  Trying something outside of my knowledge realm was stressful at first but I realize I had nothing to be worried about.  It has given me the courage to try other new things.  I walked through a “new” door because I was brave enough to try something new.

Fourth:  I unprioritized running.  I know what you’re all thinking:  “you did what?!”.  Read it again if you need to.  I ran the Green Monster 50k which is still one of my top proudest running moments.  I trained for a trail series in the mid-Atlantic region but found myself unmotivated and rather uninterested.  I probably averaged 20 mile weeks this summer.  I still enjoy running.  I still LOOOOVE going out for long runs on the trails.  BUT… I’ve stepped away from the regimented aspect of running.  I usually just run whatever distance I want, whenever I want to.  I use my watch once per week.  I don’t have any races on my calendar which is saddening but freeing at the same time.  I still want to run an ultra but I know that time for training will be too limited.  Instead, I’m going through this “freeing” period of running in my running career.  I don’t have anything to train for but I still like to run at least 5 days per week.  I usually forget to record my miles in my training log and then I scramble to remember how far I ran two weeks ago on a Tuesday when I attempt to catch up.  Life goes on.  Miles will still pass by.  I will still lace up my shoes and head out for a run.

I’ve caught myself comparing my life to the highlight reel on Instagram one too many times.  Social media can be empowering, insightful, and inspiring.  But it can also be hindering, degrading, and challenging to my self-worth.  On days that I would refresh my feed dozens of times, I would feel as if I wasn’t living life right.  Days and days would pass on and with every refresh of Instagram, I would feel more and more pitiful.  Why wasn’t I posting killer workouts every day?  Why wasn’t I out exploring trails, peakbagging, or running past picturesque scenery every morning?  How did I get “stuck” living a life of repetitive boredom, unexciting views, and the monotony of waiting for something better?  Then, I would vow to stay off of social media for a few days.  Enough was enough.  I couldn’t keep comparing my life to the lives of others.  I couldn’t keep wishing for a better life because nothing about my current life is bad.  Don’t let social media devalue your worth.  Be grateful for what you have.  We all rise with the same sun.  We all sleep under the same moon.  Everything in between is a life of good – individualized good – for every single one of us.

I approached new challenges with determination.  I started cycling for fitness a few years ago and raced mountain bike races for the first time last summer.  It was something new and challenging for me and even though I wasn’t particularly good at it, I still went out there and did my best.  This year I’ve definitely road biked more than I’ve mountain biked.  This is a good thing but I often miss the challenge of the trails.  The road for me is a different challenge though.  I’ve always wanted to go with the fast group on our weekly group rides but never saw myself as capable of keeping up.  I was fast, but not that fast; plus I would be the only woman in that group and that intimidated me.  The first time I tried riding with the fast group, I failed.  I got dropped about half-way through the ride, but, I was ok with that.  I tried my best and I became even more determined to do better the next week.  The second time I went out with the fast group I got dropped with just 1 mile to go.  This was improvement.  Last week I stuck with them for the entire 20 miles, averaging my fastest ever 20 mile ride.  I never saw myself as “the girl who could keep up with the men”.  I still get crushed when we reach a Strava sprint zone, but that’s ok!  My only goal was to be able to ride with the fast group and I’ve been able to accomplish that.  I enjoy the challenge and I’m glad I didn’t give up on my goal after being dropped that first time.  If hard work doesn’t get you where you want to be, determination will.

I’ve also dedicated the majority of my summer to preparing for grad school.  I remind myself every day that I’m living my dream.  Some of the material and assignments have already challenged me and I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the thought of how much I’ll be challenged once classes start.  I know that it’s going to be hard, but I also know that it will all be worth it.  I’m feel like the luckiest girl in the world because of the people who continuously support my dream – Josh, my parents, my closest friends.  Every day I will be challenged in a new way.  I will face failures, I will celebrate successes.  I will experience personal and professional growth.  By mid-fall of 2020, I might even look back at this blog post and think about how naive I was, how unknowledgeable I was, and how undeveloped I was.  Only time will tell.

So here’s to all the things that taught me what I want (and don’t want) in life.  On the morning of September 5th, I will officially start my grad school career.  The next few days will comprise of pouring wine at work, spending time with Josh, studying for my competency exam, and getting ahead on class readings.

My experiences in the interim have taught me that things worth having in life don’t often come easy.  We all face setbacks.  We all face hardships.  We all make sacrifices.  We all forge ahead with determination.  We all live our own lives – our best lives – in hope of happiness and fulfillment.  We can surround ourselves with supportive, caring, and uplifting humans that guide us through the darkness.  Through it all, we become who we are and who we strive to be.  Always be grateful and reflective.  Pursue your biggest aspirations with determination and never let go of your dreams.

OT Chronicles Chapter 4: Waiting & Preparing

OT Chronicles Chapter 4: Waiting & Preparing

So you’ve been accepted, you’ve sent in a deposit, and now you get to start classes, right?  Well, it’s a pretty long process that requires some patience and mental preparation.  After getting accepted and securing my seat in my cohort, there seemed to be many months to go until classes started.  Securing a seat was the biggest burden off my shoulders.  My stress disappeared and reality began to set in (in the best ways possible).  Time passed by and I anxiously awaited to hear from professors about classes and other necessary summer requirements.

Around June/early July, information was finally emailed out on how to start preparing for the start of September classes.  I was SUPER excited and finally felt like I could start working towards my goal of becoming an OT.  A private Facebook page was set up for our cohort so that we could communicate with fellow classmates throughout the summer and throughout our semesters together.  All very exciting stuff if you ask me!

We also received summer anatomy & physiology material to review which we will be quizzed on during the first week of classes.  I’ve followed my own studying plan to review & study all of the information and as of right now I have one more week of material to review.  However, in the remaining weeks leading up to the start of classes, I will religiously review all the information over and over again.

In the past few weeks, professors have also started to send out emails with textbook requirements and syllabi.  So far, I have 8 textbooks in my room and I am waiting for a few more to be delivered.  I believe I will have 10 textbooks this semester for my five total classes.  Luckily, most of these books will be used over and over again for future classes so I’m hoping that the remaining semesters won’t be so costly on the textbook front of grad school finances.

I also have summer reading to complete and summer assignments – much of which have been dependent on receiving textbooks in the mail.  Even with all the summer work (and stress of reviewing anatomy), I am genuinely excited and intrigued to learn so much information throughout the MSOT program!  I feel like I’ve been out of school for so long which has motivated me to want to start learning again!

We also had orientation last week where I got to meet my classmates & a few professors.  We learned about our preceptors (advisors) and I also learned who I will be a graduate assistant for upon the start of the semester.  We were given our class schedule (18 credits, four 4-credit classes and one 2-credit class, 4 days/week) and have lots of exciting events to look forward to throughout our fall semester.

After orientation, the second year students gathered the majority of my cohort for dinner at a nearby pub.  It was nice to mingle with my future classmates and get some advice from the second years.  I absorbed as much information as I could (and the nachos I had were pretty tasty too!).

Classes start in less than one month.  I am very excited.  But mostly, I am anxious in the best way possible (and “anxious” isn’t a word I usually use in a positive way).  I can’t wait to get to know my classmates & professors more.  I can’t wait to start learning and expanding my knowledge.  I can’t wait to officially start the journey of school for health care professionals (HCPs) because I know how much there is to learn and how many opportunities I’ll have in the future to make a difference in the lives of people who need guidance, hope, and whole-hearted care in their lives.

As I wait and prepare for the start of classes, I will continue to personally reflect on how grateful I am to be given this opportunity to become an OT.  The feeling of gratitude in the past few months have grown exponentially because every day I am reminded that I am one day closer to living my dream – and that will forever make my OT heart happy.

OT Chronicles Chapter 3: Observation Hours

OT Chronicles Chapter 3: Observation Hours

Observation hours are a typical requirement for applying to OT grad school.  Observations are beneficial for several reasons!  This is a great time to explore the field of occupational therapy.  It is a great time to learn if the career is a right fit for you.  Lastly, it is a wonderful time to start making connections with occupational therapists in your area.  You might find it overwhelming at first to lock down observation sites, but, with persistence, you can succeed!  I’ve organized this post into before, during, and after segments.. enjoy!

Preparing for Observations

I Googled occupational therapy services in a variety of settings and populations.  I Googled nearby schools, rehab centers, hospitals, assisted living communities, and nursing facilities.  I made an organized list of locations and contact information to start reaching out to occupational therapists.

My list was quite long; however, some sites didn’t have availability for observations and some sites required you to become a volunteer before attending observations (which included orientations, medical protocol, and the occasional fees).

It is probably in your best interest, especially if you are working part-time or are a current student, to avoid locations that require you to become a volunteer first.  This can be time-consuming and unnecessarily stressful.  I am not discouraging sites that require this particular protocol; however, personally, knowing that I would only be logging a few hours at such sites wasn’t worth the reward.  Instead, I found sites that welcomed me as I was – someone simply interested in becoming an occupational therapy student!

Plan to do more observation hours than what is required by the school you are applying to.  I personally logged over 60 hours at 7 different sites.  This provided me with so much time to learn and experience what each setting/population had to offer in the field of OT.  Added bonus: schools love seeing that you put in more time than you were required to complete!

When in contact with the OT you will be shadowing, there are several things you should verify prior to the observation date(s):

  • Observation Hour Totals:  Make sure to tell the OT you contacted how many hours you are interested in logging with them so they can provide appropriate dates/times for you to observe.
  • Dates/time: Some places offered full-day observations, some offered half-day observations.  Write down which day(s) you’re observing, when to arrive, and when you’ll be leaving so you know if you need to bring lunch/snacks.
  • Contact Person upon Arrival:  Some OTs you contact will be the OT you observe.  Some OTs you contact will send you off with a fellow colleague to observe them.  Make sure you know who to ask for when you get to your observation site.
  • Dress code: Most of the places I observed at wanted me to dress in business casual attire.  Make sure you ask what the dress code is because every site is different!

Always plan to arrive early to the observation site.  This gives you time to find parking, locate the entrance, and relax before heading inside.

During Observations

You’ve walked into the observation site.  Now what?!

Remember this: You are there to observe.  You are there to learn.  You are there to experience what OTs do everyday.

Allow the OT to do their job while they are with a patient.  Some OTs will walk you through each step of what they are doing and why they are doing it.  Other OTs will let you observe and then debrief you later.  Save your inquiries until treatment is over, unless the OT is providing an environment of open-communication.

I really enjoyed asking OTs about their educational background, their experiences in various OT settings, their experiences in the OT setting they are currently working in, and why they chose OT as their life-long profession.  Doing so created a relationship for broader learning.

In some settings, you will also get to interact with patients.  Some patients will tell you their stories openly.  If the OT opens this gate of communication for you, dive in!  Ask them what they’ve experienced so far through their OT treatment.  Observations are a great opportunity to experience therapy with both the OT and the patient.

If the opportunity arises, observe other colleagues who are therapists too.  I learned a lot about speech therapists and PTs while I was with OTs.  It was really eye-opening to see how all the therapists worked together.  Feel free to ask them therapy-related questions too!  Remember, you’re there to learn – soak it all in!

Before departing from the observation site, make sure to thank the OT or verify future dates/times you will be observing them.  This affirms the relationship you built with them and establishes gratitude in allowing you to be their shadow all day long.

After Observations

When your time at each observation site is complete, I found it very useful to take notes on my experiences.  I wrote down the name(s) of the OT(s) that I observed.  I wrote down what I observed in great detail.  I explained some of the challenges patients were facing and how the OT was striving to improve their success.

I also wrote down what I enjoyed about the setting and what I was unsure about.  Some settings I enjoyed way more than others!  Some settings were so educational that I can still remember what I learned from each OT.  Some settings I felt were limited by the OT’s enthusiasm to provide me with a strong educational experience.  However, some OTs made a lasting impact on my personal professional goals.

Below, I’ve created a list of the types of settings I observed at, the population I observed, how many hours I observed there, and a brief summary of what I experienced.  My observation journal is very detailed so I will do my best to provide a brief synopsis.

  • developmental center for children with developmental disorders:
    • Population: children with autism, Down Syndrome, and other learning disabilities
    • OT’s role in treatment: improvements on fine motor skills (i.e writing, use of scissors, learning shapes, working zippers) and gross motor skills (i.e coordination)
    • Priorities in this setting: classroom function, improving social skills, improving communication, improvements on age-appropriate independent activities
    • Total Observation Hours: 6.5 hours (one day)
  • hand therapy in out-patient rehab & adult day care:
    • Population: adults, geriatrics
    • OT’s role in treatment: fine motor skills via hand therapy, care for chronic pain, coordination
    • Priorities in this setting: ease symptoms of chronic pain via stretching & massage, improve ability to complete tasks independently
    • Total Observation Hours: 8.5 hours (2 days)
  • adult day care:
    • Population: geriatrics
    • OT’s role in treatment: pain management, memory testing/function
    • Priorities in this setting: ease symptoms of chronic pain via heat, massage, and stretching; evaluate memory function for potential return-to-home patients
    • Total Observation Hours: 9 hours (3 days)
  • skilled nursing facility (SNF):
    • Population: geriatrics, adults with psychological disorders
    • OT’s role in treatment: teaching ADL safety, memory/cognition treatments, fine & gross motor skills
    • Priorities in this setting: promote independence, maintain current memory/cognition functions, develop social skills
    • Total Observation Hours: 7.25 hours (1 day)
    • Special note: I observed a traveling therapist at this location who had ample experience in a variety of settings/populations.  Traveling therapy was intriguing to me and her past OT experiences were very informative.  I also observed a COTA who taught me that “everything is OT”.  I couldn’t agree more with her!
  • hand therapy in out-patient rehab:
    • Population: adults of various ages
    • OT’s role in treatment: fine motor skills, return-to-work skills, pain management
    • Priorities in this setting: strengthen fingers, wrist, and lower arm post-surgery/injury so that patients can return to work or their day-to-day activities
    • Total Observation Hours: 10 hours (2 days)
  • acute rehab
    • Population: adults of various ages
    • OT’s role in treatment: ADLs, use of adaptive equipment
    • Priorities in this setting: promote independence, transition from hospital to rehab to home
    • Total Observation Hours: 12 hours (2 days)
    • Special note:  This was actually my favorite setting because each patient was different; the OTs used different treatment plans for every patient because every patient needed something different before (hopefully) going home!
  • school/developmental center:
    • Population: children & young adults (with cerebral palsy and and other physical or developmental disorders)
    • OT’s role in treatment: adaptive classroom learning, promote communication with or without adaptive equipment, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, enhance appropriate social skills
    • Priorities in this setting: promote communication, teach play, teach classroom skills, teach behavioral skills
    • Total Observation Hours: 9 hours (2 days)

There you go!  Observation sites 101!  I hope that wherever you go or wherever you’ve been to observe has been a positive experience for you.  I am grateful for the locations I observed at and the OTs that took the time out of their hectic schedules to teach me what OT is all about!  Observing them just affirmed that this is indeed the right profession for me!

OT Chronicles Chapter 2: Applying to OT grad school(s)

OT Chronicles Chapter 2: Applying to OT grad school(s)

To begin, I will be 100% honest about applying to grad school – it’s stressful.  It will test your ability to make decisions.  It will test your creativity and determination.  It will test your patience.  But, it’s all minute stress compared to the imminent stress that grad school itself will bring.

Below are some tips, tricks, and insights to applying to grad school for a MSOT program.

Step 1:  Do your research.

When you start looking for grad schools offering MSOT programs there’s a lot to take into consideration.  Where do you want to go to school?  Will you commute or live on/near campus?  What kind of program does each school offer?  Is it a full-time, standard program?  Is it a weekend-hybrid program?  Does the school require you to take the GRE?  What are the pre-requisites required to apply to the program?  Do they have a supplemental application in addition to the OTCAS application?  Attend graduate open houses or program information sessions for the schools you are interested in applying to.  Do your research, take notes, and write down any important dates and deadlines.

Step 2:  Get ahead on application pre-requisites and other requirements

Make sure you have fulfilled all of the course pre-requisites to apply to the MSOT you are interested in.  Most pre-requisite requirements include some form of anatomy & physiology, psychology, sociology, lifespan development, and statistics.  Check the website for the program you are interested in so that you know exactly what courses you need to be considered for the program.

Also, begin researching potential locations for observation hours in the OT setting.  It would be in your best interest to chose a variety of settings and populations.  This will strengthen your application and give you irreplaceable observation experiences in the field of OT.  Contact the OT departments of each location you are interested in, explain your process of applying to grad schools, and tell them what days/times you are available to observe.  Ask about dress code expectations, where to park and enter the building, and who you will be shadowing.  (I will create a separate blog post in the future with my personal observation experiences)

Step 3:  Understanding OTCAS

OTCAS is the common app specifically for OT schools.  Make sure you check application release dates as you won’t be able to start this application until OTCAS opens their applications.  Once the application opens, start working on it.  There are multiple sections to fill out with educational & work history and other personal experiences.  You will need to have all of your undergraduate transcripts sent to OTCAS.  You will need letters of recommendation from multiple professionals involved in your educational, athletic, or professional background.

The OTCAS process is lengthy and can be very time-consuming.  It’s best to start the OTCAS process early so that you don’t feel panicked about deadlines.  You will discover that some parts of the OTCAS application are completely out of your control.  Be patient, remain persistent and attentive, and stay alert to things that are time-sensitive.  Before submitting your OTCAS application, make sure to review all of the information you’ve provided to make sure you aren’t missing any information that could strengthen your application.

Step 4:  Check for supplemental applications

Some MSOT programs have their own supplemental application.  Be diligent when researching schools so that you know which schools have a supplemental application and which ones do not.  Programs typically don’t release their individualized application until many weeks/months after the OTCAS application has been released so, once again, be attentive to when applications become available.

Make sure you follow all instructions and requirements needed in the supplemental application.  As always, proofread EVERYTHING before you submit your application.

Step 5:  Organize follow-up dates

Most schools provide the estimated time of application response on their websites and/or applications.  Some schools admit students on a rolling basis (first come, first served so get those applications submitted ASAP!) while other schools do not start considering applications until after the posted deadline.  To minimize admittance/declination anxiety, write down expected response dates.  This will help maintain relative sanity while you wait.  During this time, the applications are completely out of your control.  Have faith in the applications you have submitted.  After all, all you can truly do is wait.

Step 6:  Admittance/Waitlisted/Declination

Depending on the response from each school, you may or may not have follow-up steps to complete.  If you are declined from a school (and I assure you that it will happen), try not to panic.  MSOT programs are extremely competitive.  Accept that you tried your best and evaluate what may have been any weaknesses in your application (for me, it was my GRE scores).  If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.  Don’t give up on a goal; just work harder to achieve it – even if that means completing the application process again.

If you are waitlisted, all you can do is wait to hear back from them.  They should explain in the waitlist letter/email when to expect further communication; however, each school has a slightly different process.  Make sure to read all correspondence thoroughly!

If you are accepted to a school, they will provide follow-up steps moving forward.  This most likely includes either A) sending a deposit to guarantee your spot in the program or B) scheduling an interview for the continuation of the application process.

Step 7 (varies by school/individual):  Deposit and/or taking the next step

Personally, I was declined by the first school I heard from.  I panicked.  I doubted my worth.  I was fearful.  All I could do was wait to hear from the other two schools.  I was also waitlisted by the fourth school I heard from.  All I can say is trust that God has a plan for you.

I was accepted by the second school I heard from; however, it was my last choice on my list of school preferences.  This particular school needed a deposit within a month’s time of acceptance (basically by mid-January).  Unfortunately, I would not hear from the other two schools until AT LEAST early/mid February.  I weighed my options, wasn’t willing to take a risk, and decided to pay the deposit even before hearing from the final two schools.  So, I bit the bullet and sent in a very pricey deposit.

Deposits might be one of many challenges you’ll face during the application process.  All schools have different timelines.  Make sure you have money saved away to pay these deposits.  I erred on the side of caution by putting a deposit down on a school I wasn’t fully interested in attending.  I wanted a Plan B in place in case Plan A didn’t work.

Step 8 (varies by school/individual):  Interview

A few weeks after sending in a deposit, I heard from my top choice school who offered an interview – the final step in their application process.  My interview was scheduled for mid/late February.  They sent a webinar we were required to watch leading up to the interview day.  This explained everything we needed to know for the interview itself.

I spent the week leading up to the interview preparing.  This entailed reviewing notes on the observation hours I had completed and being mindful of my decision to apply to grad school in the first place.

Leading up to my interview I spent a lot of time writing.  I wrote about why I wanted to become an OT, what I learned about the OT profession through research and observation, what I admired about the OTs I observed, what I learned from the OTs I observed, and what drove me to seek this particular profession.  It was a mental refresher for me to visualize myself learning more and more about this career path.

Pick out a professional outfit, know where to meet for the interview process, what time to arrive, and what to expect during the final stage of the application process.  Take notes, plan ahead, arrive early, and remember to breathe.

For my personal interview experience, we had a group meeting with faculty who presented an overview of the program, completed a timed essay section that tested our ability to think on the spot, and had an individual interview with two faculty members.

Be human during the interview.  Talk with understanding, speak with confidence, listen attentively, and answer every question with your heart.  Don’t go into the interview with memorized answers that make you sound like a robot.  The interviewers are humans that want to speak with a human.  Always arrive to the interview with questions for the faculty and before departing thank them for their time.  Remember….be human.

Step 8: the end of the application process

There isn’t usually anything to do after the interview.  The interview is the pinnacle.  Waiting to hear back from schools can be painstakingly slow.  I assure you that they will contact you when everything has been reviewed.  When you hear back from a school after an interview, follow step 6 or 7.

Be excited for the schools that have offered you a spot in their competitive program.  Don’t be afraid to brag about it and be excited about it!  Call friends and family about it!  Celebrate it.

The application process is just the beginning.  It is lengthy.  It will test your patience and determination.  It will force you to face your weakness.  However, it will also force you to display your strengths.

Work hard for what you want in life.  Be passionate about things that give you hope for your future.  Work persistently and with determination towards the things that give you purpose.  Be mindful and grateful always for the opportunity for learning.

If you can get through the application process, you’re on a path to better things.

OT Chronicles Chapter 1: What is OT?

OT Chronicles Chapter 1: What is OT?

As I am patiently waiting for grad school to start in September, I have decided to document my occupational therapy (OT) journey.  By doing so, I hope to help anyone looking into OT as a career.  I am starting “OT Chronicles” in the midst of Occupational Therapy Month (April) to advocate for the field of OT and to share my experiences with potential future OT professionals.

Disclaimer:  Let it be known that “OT Chronicles” is meant to enlighten and share my current knowledge of the OT profession.  Not every question regarding OT will be answered within these posts; however, I hope to enlighten whomever reads them to advocate for and teach others about this wonderful profession!  Let’s begin with the basics!

What is Occupational Therapy?

Without quoting any direct sources, occupational therapy is branch of therapy that aims to assist individuals of all ages engage in activities (occupations) that they both want and need to engage in.  Such occupations can be functional-based for successful living (i.e. showering, cooking, working, cleaning, caring for others, medication management, etc) or recreational (engaging in games/sports, age-based socialization skills, gardening, etc).  Occupational therapy is a goal-oriented career field that helps individuals adapt to their environments so that they can accomplish what they need to do and what they want to do.

Who do OTs provide therapy to?

OTs work with populations throughout the entire lifespan.  Children, adults, and the geriatric population can all benefit from OT when a therapy need arises.

Where do OTs work?

You can find OTs working in early intervention programs (children birth to 3 years old), schools, in-patient and out-patient rehabilitation centers, senior living communities, skilled nursing facilities, or hospitals.  OTs can also provide home health services.  OTs can also have a career as a traveling therapist which provides an opportunity to continuously work in a variety of environments.  The occupational therapy field provides a broad array of settings allowing for a variety of skill sets, environment preferences, and population preferences.

OT through the Lifespan:

Children with developmental disorders, behavioral issues, or cognitives or physical delays oftentimes work with occupational therapists through early intervention or in a school environment.  OTs working with children typically focus on fine and gross motor skills, communication skills, self-care, and learning how to play/interact with others.

OTs work with adults who have experienced severe injuries, who are recovering from surgery, and who have chronic diseases, mental or physical disabilities, eating disorders, the list is lengthy.  OTs working with adults typically focus on activities of daily living (ADLs) skills, return-to-work skills (when applicable), social skills, engaging in individualized meaningful activities, and the use of adaptive skills for safe and effective occupations.

OTs who work with the geriatric population typically work with individuals who have experienced severe injuries, who are recovering from surgery, who have chronic diseases or physical disabilities, or who are experiencing cognitive/memory loss.  OTs working with geriatrics focus on accomplishing ADLS, maintaining or improving levels of independence, engaging in self-care, maintaining cognitive abilities and memory, and engaging in meaningful activities important to the individual.

Why choose OT as a career?

Everyone has a different reason they decided to become an occupational therapist.  I’m not going to share all of those different reasons with you today; however, I will share with you my reason for pursuing OT.  I hosted a balance workshop during my short stint at a fitness center.  I began researching creative exercises for improving balance and I came across several videos involving OTs. BAM!  The field of occupational therapy was nearly jumping out of the computer screen at me!

At the time of this balance workshop, I was feeling shorted for a dead-end career path.  I knew I needed something more.  After researching the field of OT, I discovered how much OT matched with my functional approach to exercises, my desire for a career with endless opportunities for compassion, and my personal ambition to make a difference in the lives of individuals I interact with.  Occupational therapy seemed like a perfect match for me.

So, with that being said, I resigned from my job at the fitness center and put all of my energy towards learning more about OT, applying to grad school, and pursuing the field of occupational therapy.

Here I am now, 5 months away from starting grad school.  I’ve written my 1st ever blog post for “OT Chronicles” & hopefully I’ve enlightened the people who thought that occupational therapists just help people find jobs.  Wrong, very wrong….. stay tuned for more chapters of “OT Chronicles”!