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Friday, January 13, 2017

Final Thoughts on Fall 2016

I finally feel okay to talk about last semester. Every time I sat down to write, I just could not do it. I had a pit in my stomach, and just did not feel good about anything. I do not want to fabricate, or write anything I do not believe. I also wanted to forget everything that had happened over the past four months.

Last semester pushed me down, and then gave a swift kick to the core. It was hard. It made me question almost every decision I’ve made. It made me lose track of the days and weeks. It loaded on more work then I thought I could possibly handle. I was frustrated, confused, and uncertain if I would ever figure out what the hell was going on. I still feel exhausted thinking about it.

But yes, I did learn a lot. I have a better understanding of the therapeutic process. I understand more thoroughly the relationship between theory, evaluation, treatment, and discharge. The roles and responsibilities of my field are much more distinct. I feel more comfortable working with clients and other healthcare professionals. I have a better understanding of what I am talking about, and how to help people. My professional identity has improved a lot, and I take pride in that.

Although my academic knowledge has enhanced, I think my largest take-away from last semester is learning and seeing what I can endure. I know I have written in previous posts and stated “this is the hardest I have ever worked”, but you guys, last semester was the hardest I ever worked. Part of me is terrified to write this, because I still have two academic semesters left, and at this point anything could happen. Looking back, I actually don’t know how I did it.

You learn a lot in graduate school, but this past year I have learned the most about myself. I feel like I have my place, in my program, and in my class. First year, I felt like I constantly had to prove that I deserved to be here. I wanted to show my worth, prove to everyone that I earned my slot. It’s the classic freshman condition, and I think it’s a pretty typical feeling (I think). I feel more comfortable and confident, not that I know what I’m doing, but that I will figure it out. My sense of ability, adaptability, and self-efficacy has improved. My nerves about performing perfectly is slowly slipping away. I am okay with saying “I don’t know, let me figure out”.

Thus far, that phrase has served me well. Let’s hope it’s consistent for my first level 2 fieldwork.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Summer School Lovin'

Gardening for Creative Occupations
I’ve finally decided to write about summer classes. Not going to lie, I didn’t have the drive to write about it before. It had left a bad taste in my mouth after everything that happened to my mom. But, I’m feeling more positive about it and want to share summer school experiences with you.

Summer classes can be a huge drag. I have taken many summer courses before and to say they can be a bit painful is a gross understatement. Fortunately, our professors at the U of U are very sympathetic to our restless summer selves. They work really hard to keep everyone engaged and on track. Classes are broken down two mini semesters, each lasting three weeks. Each mini semester has two classes, which cumulatively amount to six hours of class each day, which can make for pretty long days.

First round of classes includes Creative Occupations and an OT theory class. The Creative Occupations class may be the most popular course taught in my program. We get to analyze different occupations and dissect the physical, and cognitive demands of the task. Basically, we got to make bird feeders, quilt, hand sew, do car maintenance, make origami, and make fires-- it’s awesome.

Kentucky Durby Day, because why not?

The OT theory class is well constructed to solidify a lot of the theory we have learned about in OT. It’s pretty intense and my brain was always fried by the end of the day. But Dr. Price does an amazing job implementing different teaching strategies to make theory more digestible. Also, she is always open to comments and feedback--which I always greatly appreciate in a professor!

Frosting cupcakes with low vision goggles 
Second half of the semester consisted of our second seminar two class, where you learn about manual muscle testing, and measuring active and passive range of motion. It feels really good to be more hands on. Also, you get to learn about transfers, which are a lot easier than you’d think. Finally, we have an aging and wellness class. There is a lot of reading attached to this class, but it’s all really interesting to anyone who loves health and wellness (which should be everyone in OT). There is a large project for this class, where you develop a wellness program outlined by the objectives for Healthy People 2020.
Learning about car mechanics like a boss
Summer school has come to a close, and summer vacation has been so so welcomed. Although school is still school, regardless of how you wrap it, classes were pretty fun. Also, we got to celebrate the completion of our first year in OT school! We still have two years ahead of us, but every step counts. Classes for the fall start again Monday (can you see how much I’ve procrastinated this post??). Needless to say, I’m really looking forward to being with my classmates again.

Onto a new chapter.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Back to School Bucket List

Where did summer go? There are only a few short weeks until I’m back on the school grind. I’m a little torn between being very excited, and also anticipating how crazy this semester is going to be. One of the differences I’ve noticed between year one and year two of OT school is how the newby nerves have calmed down. I was so excited and nervous to start grad school, this time around I feel a lot more relaxed and prepared.

As much as I love school, it’s important to forget about it for a while. After summer semester there is a lovely six week break between summer and fall. It has been amazing. I’ve been able to forget about classes, responsibilities, and studying. However, fall classes are right around the corner, so I decided to put together a bucket/getting-ready-for-fall list.

  1. Go somewhere new. Getting out of Salt Lake for a few weeks always helps me push the refresh button. There is something thrilling about seeing a new piece of the world. Whether that’s in your home state, or on the other side of the country. Get outside and experience something different. Travel, whether it’s for a few weeks or a few days. Just go do something! I went on a mini camping trip to Bear Lake with my roommate. We had an amazing time exploring, swimming, and improvising our adventure. I think being uncomfortable in new situations is very healthy. It pushes you to do something different and be more independent. Also, I got to use my fire building skills that I learned during Summer semester, so double bonus.
    Bear Lake, UT
  2. Read for the sake of reading. Very rarely as a graduate student you get to select what you want to read. Take the summer as an opportunity to read something NOT related to school. Enjoy every second that the reading you are doing is not a requirement of your program, rather that it’s something you get to do for you. You will never regret the time spent between the pages of a good book. One of the books I read was Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. To say it was amazing is an understatement. She is hilarious, witty, and I wish I could write like her.

  1. Spend lots of time with your family and friends. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve sent texts to friends during the semester apologizing for my lack of communication. It’s really hard to balance school and your social life. Granted, you should definitely make time to see your friends and family during the semester--it’s just more of a challenge. During the summer you have a lot more free time, spend it wisely.
  2. Order your textbooks early. I hate getting through the first week of class and not having the required books. We’ve all procrastinated purchasing textbooks at some point--they are expensive and heavy and a little depressing to buy. I typically buy/rent my textbooks through They are usually the cheapest and it’s really nice not having to go to the bookstore. Amazon also allows you to rent textbooks, so if you don’t want to keep your copy at the end of the semester you can send it back for a fraction of buying it. Here’s one of the pediatric books we are using this semester.
  3. Get into a regular gym routine. I have the hardest time maintaining a consistent gym schedule during the semester. I love working out and reap the benefits of getting some serious exercise. But it’s easy to get overwhelmed with school and skip a day or two. Establish a routine before the chaos of the semester sets in, this will help keep you mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy. I like signing up for classes held at the Student Life Center, they are really inexpensive if you attend all the classes and keep me disciplined. During spring semester one of my classmates and I signed up for a TRX class together. It was awesome having a buddy to keep me motivated and accountable. Also, the U of U does a free week for all of their classes the first week of school. That way you can try out all the exercise classes for no cost. It’s a win-win.

All in all, I love the beginning of the year. I get overly excited/nerd out on everything I get to learn. I love what I do, and I love with whom I get to learn. What more can one ask for?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Being On the Other Side of Healthcare

June 12th, I received the worst phone call of my life. My mom was in the ICU having untreatable seizures. Initially, I was not concerned. The hospital was asking about her insurance information, so I assumed the worst was over. This was also not the first time she had experienced a seizure.

Mom has been diagnosed with a seizure disorder for the past seven years. She managed them very well and was seizure-free for nearly five years. The thought of her seizing again was the farthest thing from my mind. And if she did, I thought the seizure was over and she was likely waking up. Initially, the hospital asked for her insurance information (which I didn’t know). I thought since they wanted to healthcare info she was stable and on the mend from the exhaustion that grand mal seizures cause. It took me 30 minutes to be informed that my mom had been seizing for the past hour and was not responding to the medication.

The next 24 hours were a blur of phone calls, tears, and panic. My mom was in another state, my dad was on a trip with shotty cell service, and my brother and I were left trying to figure out what to do. Hours felt like days. Keith and I tried to be patient and wait for the hospital to call us with any information about my mom’s condition-- but in all honesty the hospital was on speed dial. That night was utter chaos. With each hospital personnel we spoke with the diagnoses changed, from seizures, to heart attack, to sepsis. I have never been more scared in my life.

This story has a happy ending. My mom survived. She proved to be a fighter we know her to be. Her neurologist diagnosed and treated her for viral encephalitis in the medial temporal lobe. Encephalitis is insanely rare. The Mayo Clinic reported fewer than 200,000 cases in the US each year--that’s about .06%. She spent five days in the ICU, and was then transferred to the general floor for observation for another three.

Being a student in healthcare has its advantages and disadvantages. Throughout our time in the hospital, I was able to follow mom’s tests and treatments that the doctors prescribed. I was able to identify her progress and learn how to read the machines hooked up to her. However, it also gives you a grave realization of how serious illness can be. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Being in healthcare can give you a huge advantage. You get to use your expertise to help someone overcome unfortunate circumstances. You are the expert who knows what’s going on, and hopefully, how to fix it. That is one of the reasons I love this field. However, realizing how little control we have over our bodies is humbling, and also terrifying. Being on the other side, as a patient’s family is a whole other ball game. It’s scary, and uncertain, and vulnerable. Knowing about the body makes you realize how little we know about the body.

So, from being on the receiving end, this is what I advise my friends who will be doctors, nurses, and therapists. I’ve learned a lot through this nightmare. It’s opened my eyes to see what hurts and what helps.

First, check in with patients and their caregivers. Nothing was more comforting than talking with my mom’s nurses and having them explain what was going on, thoroughly. Seeing the staff sit down with us and answer all our questions was so comforting and built a lot of trust with us and the hospital staff. I have nothing but good things to say about all of my mom’s doctors, nurses, and therapists. They were amazing, and let us come and go as we needed. There were many days my dad would get to the hospital at 5 AM for rounds, he was always welcomed.

Second, be honest and straightforward with treatment and prognoses. The nurses and doctors were very open with us about my mom’s progress. They did not shy away from telling us their concerns. Personally, it was reassuring to know they were being straight shooters with their information. They told us when mom was doing better, but also kept us in the loop of other possible concerns. It’s hard to explain the relationships built in this circumstance. But the hospital staff made us feel welcomed, supported, and a vital part of my mom’s recovery. The warmth and compassion I received from the hospital staff is indescribable. They felt like family. They were just as invested in my mom’s recovery as we were. I’ve never experienced so much love and support from complete strangers.

As future healthcare providers, we hold a responsibility to our clients, their families, and ourselves to provide the best care possible. No exceptions, no excuses. I’ve seen the power that a unified team can provide to a patient. It’s life changing, and life saving. This should be the standard we all aspire to reach and maintain throughout our careers. Maintaining humility, compassion, and the desire to help others should be the foundation. We owe it to ourselves, and we owe it to our clients.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Five Reasons Why Spring Semester is the Best, and the Worst

***I wrote this at the end of spring semester, then forgot to  post it. I still consider the material/review of the semester valuable. So, here ya go!***

Nothing feels more satisfying than finishing a semester. As the huge school nerd that I am, I love crossing big projects, papers, and finals off of my tumultuous list. There is remarkable feeling of accomplishment while finishing up this semester. As hard as the past few months have been, it feel so good knowing that I did my best. As you can probably tell from what I have written, or perhaps my lack of writing, last semester was hard. I would argue that this past spring semester was one of the most challenging in my academic history. The semester was nonstop. I felt like the energizer bunny that had to keep going, and going, and going. But as exhausting as it was, it’s empowering to know I can do hard things. While I put in the work to make this semester a success, I believe in OT school you never truly work alone.

I owe this semester to my classmates, parents, friends, professors, study groups, tutors, and TAs. The degree of collaboration I have seen within my class, and the physical therapy class gives me immense faith in humanity. My classmates have been my foundation this semester. Whether it’s studying with me on the weekends, sharing study guides, giving pep-talks, or just letting me vent about how stressed out I am, I simply cannot express how grateful I am. My classmates have saved my sanity, and have taught me so much.

I’m trying to find an eloquent way of summarizing this semester, but frankly, I’m coming up short. So, here is a countdown of highlights from the past four months.

5) Losing my sanity in lab. Anatomy labs are always interesting experiences. I find them equal parts fascinating, and gross. There was typically a tipping point in studying in lab when there was no more capacity for information to enter my brain. So, typically, we just started saying neuro terms with funny accents. Weird neuro terms include, but are not limited to: infundibulum, uncus, hippocampus, and vermis. Yes people, some neuroanatomist named the midline of the cerebellum the vermis.

4) Fieldwork, an opportunity to discover how little I actually know. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, fieldwork is an incredibly opportunity to practice OT skills. However, the majority of the first fieldwork was primarily based on discovering how little I truly know. Upside of this discovery, knowing that within the next few years I will have a better understanding of what is going on. Thank heavens!!

3) Running our first mock group therapy. For our group therapy class (groups) we team up in pairs and prepare a therapy session for our classmate. Each setting and situation is different. My session was teaching anger management techniques to adolescents. My personal favorite part of groups, seeing which classmates of mine have secret acting talents. Also, there was always one classmate who had to play the flirt, it became the running joke of the semester.

2) OT’s heart PTs. For Valentine’s Day our classmates made anatomy and neuroanatomy valentines for the physical therapy students. We all took neuro together, so it was an excellent opportunity to get to know their class better. Between pinterest and my creative classmates, we had some amazing cards, such as “you make my heart go tachy”, “ PT= pretty terrific!”, and “You can manipulate me any time!”. I think it’s safe to say, it was a good icebreaker.

1) Finishing neuroanatomy! Neuro is a challenging class. I know for some science buffs it may not have been too tough, but for this humanities gal I initially struggled. Fortunately, I was able to figure out the class and learned so much. It’s bittersweet to be done. I’m not sad to see the Saturday morning study groups disappear, or late night lab reviews end, but it’s another phase of OT school that is over. It’s another check in a box that feels like it went by so quickly. I honestly am still in denial that it’s over. I’m STILL dreaming about the spinothalamic tract (WTF, right??)

Either way, OT school is awesome. Stay tuned to hear about summer classes.


Monday, May 2, 2016

How to Choose an OT Program

It’s about that time of year when grad school shopping is at its peak. Finals are coming to a close, and summer is just around the corner. If you are interested in OT, it’s time to bust open your OTCAS apps and begin the treacherous task of applying!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it until I graduate, I do NOT miss the application process. But, it’s essential in order to get to the next steps of your future (and awesome) career. I have some personal tips/words of wisdom when selecting a graduate school. I have the tendency to get overly excited about future plans-- meaning I started looking at graduate schools freshman year. However, I did not know exactly what I was looking for in a school until I had graduated. So ya, lots of learning, and lots of growing happened. But here is my list of what I found very important in an OT program. Keep in mind, this is a subjective process. I had to find my right fit, and in return, my program also had to pick me. In all, I am SO happy with my decision to stay at the University of Utah. It’s been my home for the past six years, and I’m proud to be getting my degree here.

  1. High pass rates for the NBCOT. The NBCOT is the National Boards for Certification in Occupational Therapy. All graduating OTs take this exam before they become a fully licensed practitioner. It’s the ultimate final before you are considered competent enough to practice. Personally, I felt like it was a waste of time and money to attend a program that had a low pass rate. Also, I wanted to attend a school that would set the foundation for me to be the best practitioner possible. Some exams truly do evaluate competency, the NBCOT is one of them. Fortunately, the U of U has consistently shown a stellar pass rate for the NBCOT.
  2. In State vs Out of State Tuition. Initially, I was dying to go out of state. I’m a Utah girl, and as much as I love the Wasatch Front… I felt like I needed some space. I researched and visited many schools. I wanted to stay in the Western U.S. primarily because travel is expensive and I like being home for the holidays, however, money talks. I saw a lot of great schools, but got sticker-shock every time I researched the average student debt from these schools. Compared to any out of state school, going to the U is a deal. To pay half the price for the same degree of education, well, that’s a hard deal to pass up. Granted, I know many people who decided to go out of state. I’m kind of jealous of them, but ultimately, we all have to do what is right for ourselves.
  3. School atmosphere. I have toured a lot of graduate schools. There are a many great OT programs out there, and it’s hard to decide what fit is best for you. I highly encourage students to tour the schools you are interested in, whether it’s during a summer road trip, or on interview day. You can never truly understand the environment and atmosphere until you are there. I toured a few schools that looked amazing on paper, to then find out that they were not what I was looking for. It’s like falling in love, when you know, you know. Also, you are going to be spending AT LEAST two years in the program, it’s important to know that you like it.

Finally, I would recommend getting in touch with the academic advisor sooner rather than later. They are the experts on applications, and most of them are straight shooters and will tell you what the program is looking for. The U’s advisor, Kelly Brown, is a rockstar and calmed some serious nerves when I was applying. She also helped me put together a solid application, she's an amazing cheerleader to have.

Ultimately, the best advice I have to you is to sit down and decide what is truly important to you. Is it opportunities to conduct research? Design an occupational community outreach program? Go abroad for fieldwork? There are infinite choices, decide what is going to help you become the best practitioner. Then, do that.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Level 1 Fieldwork

I’m one week away from finishing my first level-one fieldwork. I cannot believe how fast this semester has gone by. It’s been a blur between quizzes, assignments, tests, and projects-- I can barely keep track of the day. While I love being in class (if you haven’t caught on yet, I’m a huge nerd) getting to practice my OT skills is amazing.

I have been working at Palmer Courts since January. Palmer Courts provides long-term housing for people who are chronically homeless. Mental health disorders and substance misuse is very common in this demographic. The combination of these disorders is incredibly tricky to treat. There are many aspects of health and wellness that are disrupted because of these diagnoses. I honestly don’t know how therapists and case managers handle everything so well because it can be so overwhelming.

For my first fieldwork, I have really lucked out. My supervisor has given me and my partner, Abby, a lot of support, and also autonomy to do our thing. She and the other case managers have been so helpful and given us insight about effective strategies to connect with the residents. We have been able to practice a lot of the skills we’ve learned this semester. Abby and I have worked on a lot of different ideas for clients and for the facility to enhance occupational participation. Some of our projects include:

  1. Performed an initial interview with two residents to establish occupational goals
  2. Creating an exercise program for a client who wanted to improve mobility
  3. Organize an apartment to increase apartment accessibility for a resident who had a stroke
  4. Create a weekly chore chart to help the resident with a stroke maintain apartment organization
  5. Designed healthy, and easy recipes that incorporated common items from the food pantry
  6. Teach a class on health and wellness. We are actually doing this next week. We will be providing nutrition information and making smoothies!

As you can see, no day in fieldwork has been the same. We really aim to promote health and wellness through an occupational frame. As I continue in the program, my skills will become more refined, and technical. Right now, our focus has been to build strong relationships with clients, incorporating our therapeutic use of self, and improving my critical thinking skills.

Abby and I have talked, and planned, and executed a lot of different ideas and strategies. It’s thrilling, and also exhausting. Fieldwork feels like I’m exercising a muscle that I have never used before. It’s critical thinking at its finest. We are constantly evaluating ourselves and refining ideas. It’s the best space to practice and play with ideas. If they are not successful then we can go back and re-evaluate.

Although it’s my first fieldwork, and I have nothing else to compare it to, it’s been incredible. We have two, level-one fieldworks that are community-based. This first one does not have an OT in the setting. Our program places students in a non-OT setting for two reasons. 

1) OT is community based, and is always striving to expand 
2) It introduces OT to settings that might not know about occupational therapy.

The beautiful thing about this profession is that it’s what you make of it. There is so much creativity that is based in the practice. Occupational therapy is about people. It’s about human nature, helping others thrive, and discovering ways to enhance our client’s quality of life.