Mid-Week Reflection: My First Week of OT School!

Hello, friends! I’d like to start this post by prefacing that I haven’t gotten an official picture of me in my newly polished scrubs or at my school’s iconic sign. Therefore, I don’t have a feature photo for this week, sorry! (It is coming soon, I promise!) Currently, I am practicing self-care by doing something NOT school-related – blogging! Blogging is an OCCUPATION that is meaningful to me and to be a healthy therapist in the making, I must strive to have an occupationally balanced life so that I can recharge and put my best self forward. So, here I am practicing what I am supposed to preach!

Technically, I haven’t officially made it through my very first week of grad school, but I have completed the bulk of my in-person classes for the week so I will take Thursday and Friday to study and really comprehend all of the information that I have been presented with thus far (and trust me, it has been a LOT of information). So far, I have had such a positive grad school experience! I am thankful that I have been able to connect and establish new friendships with several of my peers because not gonna lie, making friends as an adult can be a difficult and awkward experience. I am also thankful that I am able to learn in person, for I could not imagine learning anatomy via Zoom University (BIG props to those who did so, I give all my respect to you!). I’ve also met some of my amazing professors (and when I tell you they are amazing, they truly are some of the most astonishing, accomplished, and humble people that I’ve ever met). My school also does a buddy system where I am paired with a second-year OT student, so she has been such a tremendous resource in guiding me through all aspects of how to thrive in grad school, ranging from academic success to personal/social balance.

I’ve never heard so many variations of the phrase enjoy the time you have now because you won’t have this time once you start said SO many times before prior to starting school. I am the kind of person who loves to plan ahead and have things figured out so that I am not stressed later on. To sit idly and really just absorb the moment without attempting to cram anatomy before classes began was a bit of a challenge for me I must confess. BUT I am proud to say that I actually DID enjoy the last moments of my ‘summer’ by really just being present in that moment and trusting that I am going to be okay and well-equipped to tackle the semester. Of course, come Sunday, I did feel nervous about what was to come because I have heard SO many varying opinions on what OT school is like.

Some key takeaways that I have processed thus far include the following:

  1. Every experience is different. No matter what people tell me about what grad school is like, I will have a unique journey that I should fully embrace. I can take other people’s perceptions and experiences and internalize them all I want. However, at the end of the day, I am the one that will walk out with this degree, so I should create my own story and trust the process every step of the way without preconceived notions of how I am ‘supposed’ to do grad school. In a nutshell: I gotta do me authentically!!
  2. Grad school is really a full-time job with so many demands and responsibilities. My brain is currently working very hard to adjust to these new demands and expectations.
  3. Time management is KEY, and I am starting to see very quickly how time is precious in grad school. I admit I am still struggling to see how much time is healthily acceptable to dedicate to Anatomy vs. all of my other classes. I utilize a Google Calendar which has helped me schedule out ‘study blocks’ to keep me accountable for my work. My passion planner is still with me always as well. Having multiple ways to track my time is what I’ve noticed has been working for me.
  4. Organization is KEY. I am SO thankful for my iPad because I feel like now I am the organization QUEEN. Lemme tell yall, GoodNotes has become my best friend, ESPECIALLY for Anatomy where I have a lot of assignments that I have to be on top of. I also love color-coding my notes and my schedule, so it has made studying a more engaging, fun, and aesthetically pleasing experience.
  5. Sleep is also KEY. I cannot sacrifice my sleep consistently to finish an assignment because I will always have assignments or readings that I can be catching up on technically. I also must admit, I am guilty of cutting into my sleep time yesterday and I am now experiencing the ramifications of that via a slight headache. I vow to be better about this for sure (I have a no-class day tomorrow so I can modify my sleep schedule a bit to give myself some grace lol).
  6. Affirmations go a LONG way! I recorded a video of my ‘why OT?’ on Sunday when I was feeling overwhelmed with what was to come. It honestly really helped ease my stress levels and center me back into a place of determination and drive rather than unnecessary fear uncalled for.

As I continue my grad school journey, some things that I aspire to keep myself held accountable for is to give myself grace, practice and implement some form of daily and weekly self-care to the best of my ability, and affirm myself consistently throughout this journey even if I don’t get the ‘grade’ or assessment that I wanted to see or something does not go the way that I thought it would. From the few days that I have experienced thus far, grad school is very much not about who can get the highest score on an exam. It is far from that (which I am SO thankful for). I feel like I have stepped into a supportive environment that values critical/complex thinking, a diversity of thoughts and experiences, and most importantly, self-reflection and personal growth through authenticity. I recognize and understand that OT school will not be an easy one by any means and will put me out of my comfort zone in so many ways unimaginable. However, I also am very grounded in the fact that I am in this profession and in this program for a reason that will transform me and the future folks I get to make an impact on.

I honestly am so positively overwhelmed with the amount of support that I’ve had from the community around me, YOU ALL! The amount of texts, calls, financial support, and messages that I have been receiving from people wishing me well and saying that they believe in me has truly been touching and all the more reason to stay motivated and dedicated to this journey. I look forward to seeing what OT school has in store for me and sharing my growth with you all!

Peace and love,

Irene

I Made It to the Grand Canyon State!

Hello, friends! I am reporting to you LIVE from Arizona, ah! I am settling into my first week being here in Arizona, and let me tell you, I have definitely seen a shift in the weather coming from sunny San Diego. I moved here on Saturday with my family after a five and a half-hour drive that mostly comprised of the I-8 East. It was my longest drive that I had ever done by myself, but it was actually a very easy drive (let’s disregard the fact that I got 5 hours of sleep the night before and did not drink my usual 20 oz of chia seed water the morning of). I literally saw the temperature climb from high 60s to low 100s as I continued my journey east. I tried to not use my air conditioner to see how I could handle the heat since Arizona is notoriously known for being HOT, but this Cali girl couldn’t do it as she passed through Yuma (it was already 104 degrees there!). I already caught myself saying ‘Oh, it is only 100 degrees today, not that bad!’ whereas in California, I’d start whining if it hit 90 degrees, lol.

Besides the heat, which actually has been more manageable than I thought since 100-105 degrees is not an anomaly when living in Escondido in the summer, Arizona has been treating me well! Where I am located has very familiar stores such as Trader Joes, Ross, and Aldi, so I am truly good to go! Some things that I have noticed while being in Arizona for four days now include the following:

  1. Arizona is well-equipped to handle the heat. I really do forget that it is actually 111 degrees outside (which it has been the past few days) since I am mostly indoors with nice AC systems.
  2. Folks drive a bit recklessly here, either going too fast or too slow. Maybe it is because I am trying to be a cautious driver since I am not used to the traffic laws here or I am a bit more hyperaware of the road. But I definitely got cut off on the freeway more frequently than I typically do in San Diego.
  3. It is quite dusty here and little rocks can hit and cause a crack in your windshield easily.
  4. Black folks seem to be scattered everywhere, but there is no concentration of Black neighborhoods that I have heard of nor seen yet.
  5. There are ‘cooling stations’ commonly located around the town where sprays of mist are continuously spraying to help keep people cool. I saw this at the gas station and at a few restaurants that I passed by!
  6. Mosquitos around this area are very small but still make my arm swell terribly! I got bit by chilling at the poolside this past weekend and did not even notice it until I started itching vigorously.
  7. GAS IS CHEAPER HERE THAN IN CA. Before I came to Arizona, the cheapest gas station I could find was $3.89, and I was saying that was a good price compared to the +$4.00 I had been seeing everywhere else. In the area that I’m at, I have been finding a good range of $2.83-$3.20 ($3.20 being the most expensive I have witnessed). Even $3.20 is too expensive for me now, lol.

So far, my transition has been pretty smooth. The first day was a bit rough for me because I was physically and mentally tired/overwhelmed (I think a lot of it had to do with a lack of proper hydration), so I did not feel like I could fully absorb the novelty of being in a different state. After the first day, I have had positive experiences with the people that I have briefly met, ranging from neighbors to current OT students at my school. I finally have my own room too, which I am still trying to customize and personalize. I went to Ross the other day and got some cute (and cheap) room decor such as a comfy rug, a lamp, and artwork for my empty walls. After I set up the lighting and aesthetic of my room, I think I will finally feel settled in officially! I will have to change my license plate to an Arizona one, so I am gonna blend in really soon into an ‘Arizonian’ (sorry, Cali folks! My heart will always be in Cali, but my car is definitely in Arizona, haha).

I’ve already entered the grad school grind by doing some assigned readings. I am trying to establish a good morning routine that will set a positive tone for my day. Does anyone have a great morning routine that they’d like to share? If so, shoot me a message! I am trying to get into the habit of waking up at 5:30 am (maybe 6:00 pm, realistically) to start off my day so that my mind is equipped to take on the busy day ahead of me.

This is my quick check-in! Stay tuned to my grad school adventures coming up very shortly! (I start on Monday, can you believe it? Because I am still processing that).

Peace and love,

Irene

Transitions, Transitions, Transitions!

Hello, friends! Tomorrow is the big day! Tomorrow is the day that I officially start this new chapter of my life – grad school! This is my last post I am writing from California, ah! It is honestly quite wild that the time has already come. I feel like it has been forever since I applied and got accepted into OT school, but time has seem to speed to this moment. People told me that the time will just pass you by but I didn’t really believe it until I spent it frantically packing clothes and decluttering my room this week, lol.

I am feeling all kinds of emotions right now – excited, apprehensive, and tired (because I have been procrastinating on my packing lol). I ended my job as a behavioral therapist for over two years just last week, and let me tell you that it was such a bittersweet moment! I am happy to have known that I was able to form powerful bonds with the kiddos that I worked with, but it is also sad to see them go. I did learn quite a bit that I will cherish and utilize as I evolve into a future clinician.

Honestly, I really do not know what to expect, and I think that the hardest part about any change in life includes not knowing what is to come. I have been preparing myself as much as I can for graduate school because I am intrinsically a planner at heart. At the same time, I think I’ve stepped back a bit on that because I just want to follow the process and let this journey unravel organically. Folks have told me that I should use this free time that I have to enjoy it with my family and friends and also establish a good self-care routine because I will most definitely need to ground and re-center myself when times get difficult and overwhelming. I have been enjoying watching endless DCOMs with my sisters (I highly recommend The Cheetah Girls series) and visiting family friends all over SoCal.

I honestly am so thankful and so appreciative of the endless support of my community around me. I feel so entirely blessed, from all of the generous donations on my GoFundMe to the sweet messages that have affirmed my abilities to succeed and make the impact in the world that I’ve been wanting to for so long now. The journey to getting to this point was not an easy one at any point, for I learned that you really do not have control over life’s events. However, Knowing that God has always and will always literally be with me no matter how much I try to figure it out by myself is what gives me inner peace and hope for the future. By next week, I will no longer be a pre-OT student but I will officially be a doctor of occupational therapy student who is ready to transform into becoming a loving, caring, and impactful OT! 

This post was kind of all over the place, I know. That is how I am currently feeling right now! I am really excited to share with you the highs, lows, and in-betweens of my OT school journey! I will try to be as consistent as possible, but you know, grad school will be a busy time so I hope you give me some grace!

Peace and love,

Irene

From Pre-OT Student to Admitted OT Student – The Process Uncovered!

Hello, friends! Today I am feeling so many emotions regarding my journey to becoming an OT. My program recently sent me an email including our orientation day and the first day of the fall semester, and it just got REAL. Like wow, I am really doing this?? I know that the process can be overwhelming and difficult, so I would like to share with you my personal journey with the tangible steps I personally took to get into my top OT schools.

Before I proceed, I just want to caution you that this is MY personal narrative of what worked best for ME. Thus, I cannot guarantee that you will be offered an acceptance if you do every single thing that I did. However, I am here as a resource and as a guide to share what could work. Every situation is different and everyone’s journey is so unique, so I want to validate and uplift that throughout your OT pursuit!

SO! You may be a recent college grad, a current undergrad, or even a high schooler and exploring all career options for yourself. It doesn’t matter where you are in your educational journey, this post can still be applicable for you!!

You’ve dipped your toes in the requirements necessary to get into OT school and now you may be feeling overwhelmed and thinking to yourself, I have ALL of these requirements that I have to do in order to get into OT school and I dont know where to start. Trust me, I was in the same boat as you were not too long ago. I get it – the struggle is reaaalll. BUT lemme tell you, as long as you put your mind to it and remember your Why OT? you will persevere and make it through!

This is what my journey looked like throughout the years in a nutshell:

  1. 2015: It was my senior year of high school and I decided that I wanted to explore OT as a career after ditching the pediatrician dream. I applied to colleges as a psychology major because it seemed to complement OT very well. I later changed my major to Human Development because it encompassed a more holistic view of people that intrigued me and seemed more applicable to OT in my eyes.
  2. 2016: I had a freak-out moment and decided for a few months that I actually did not want to pursue OT and instead wanted to merely become a psychologist or a teacher (a large part of it was influenced by hearing daunting stories about anatomy and physiology). However, my major advisor helped me reason through my anxieties about pursuing this career.
  3. 2017: I began to seek internships and volunteer opportunities related to OT. I became acquainted with a pediatric outpatient OT clinic but was unable to volunteer there due to lack of transportation. I later was accepted to another competitive internship where I finally was able to rotate through different departments that housed OTs.
  4. 2018: I wasn’t getting the observation hours I felt that I needed to be competitive for OT school, so I took a break from actively seeking OT observation hours by focusing on graduating college and preparing to study abroad. I also attempted to do OT-based research in Ghana (where I studied abroad); however, access to OTs were non-existent at my placement and, thus, I was unable to observe OT in another country.
  5. 2019: I came back to the States and began my pre-OT grind. I completed my remaining prerequisites such as Anatomy, Physiology, and Abnormal Psychology. I also sought out additional volunteer opportunities and began to build bonds with the OTs that I shadowed.
  6. 2020: I now felt ready to apply to OT programs after countless hours completed, prerequisites finished, and some money (emphasis on the some) saved up. I continued to do research and began reaching out to schools before applications opened (for me, they opened around mid-July) to ensure that I was on the right track with my OT school preparation. Fast forward to the end of the year – I got accepted to all the schools I applied for!
  7. 2021: I am now transitioning to matriculating to the OT school of my choice by finding housing, working on scholarships, and orienting my mind on personal and professional development.  

So, if you do the math, becoming an OT has been a part of my vision for at least six years. I didn’t even realize that I was subconsciously in the process for so long!  

I also wanted to highlight the different moving parts of assembling your OT application (note: all of these requirements greatly vary upon program, so always do your research beforehand!). This is a general outline of what I had to complete in order to submit a competitive application down below:

  • OT Prerequisites
    • Though you can apply to OT school being any major, you do have to take a multitude of prerequisite courses that assesses your preparedness for the rigor of the academic curriculum. This can include many different courses, but generally, you will have your anatomy, physiology, statistics, psychology, human development, and biology classes. My school of choice also required a sociology course, medical terminology, and an English course. I saw that some schools even require physics or an art course, so it all depends on what the school is looking for!
  • OT Observation Hours
    • Most schools require a minimum number of observation hours when applying for their schools. They seriously range from no hours at all to upwards of 80-100 minimum hours of shadowing or observing. If the school says that they do not require observation hours, I still say go for it because if anything, it will help you solidify whether or not this career is for you. When completing my observation hours, I kept a running log of the days, times, the OTs I shadowed, and a summary of what I observed that day. This later helped me accurately record my hours on my application. Moreover, the summaries of my observation days tremendously helped me develop ideas for my personal statement.
  • Letters of Recommendation
    • Make sure to have a list of recommenders who you know you well and can attribute to the versed, positive qualities that you want highlighted in your LOR. Shy away from choosing a professor that you had very limited interactions with or an OT who you did not really work with because those recommendations will likely not truly highlight your work ethic, personality, etc. in the way that is reflective of you. I personally handpicked professors, work supervisors, and OTs I personally connected with to write my recommendations. Also, ensure that you ask weeks, if not months, in advance for a recommendation to allow your recommenders ample time to write a glowing recommendation. It looks professional on your end that you’ve thought about this process and will ensure that your recommenders are not stress-writing your recommendations.
  • Resume
    • Some schools will ask you to attach a resume or a CV to your application, so you should be ready to have a polished and current document to submit with your application. If it is not asked of you, you can always use them as a guide to fill out the extracurriculars/volunteer section of your application.
  • Personal Statement
    • Honestly, my advice to you is to try to at least plan an outline or jot down ideas months in advance to get into the mode of writing your statement. I struggled with this part of the application because I initially was not being my authentic self and was composing what I thought the OT admissions committee would like to see. However, I scrapped my initial draft and then began to finally write my story. At the end of it all, I produced a much more compelling personal statement. It is okay to take a break from writing! I did not perfect my personal statement until about a month/month and a half or so.
    • A word of advice: Have people that you trust read your personal statement. It is your narrative that allows you to shine among many applicants, so if you can choose folks around you that can give you constructive feedback, that would be ideal! I personally had about five folks read my personal statement constructively. This may have been too many, but it all depends on what you feel that you need for your writing process. Have friends, OTs, professors, family members, and/or acquaintances/near-strangers read your personal statement for varying perspectives. They can offer lots of insight on grammar, content, voice, and even affirmations on your writing skills (which I totally needed). And most importantly, at the end of the day, you can choose to accept or reject any of the suggestions that you receive because it is your narrative.
  • The GRE
    • To be honest, I really don’t have anything to say about the GRE because I avoided the GRE like the plague. Thankfully, all the schools I was interested in initially did not require it! You can email me to hear my personal thoughts about why I did not take the GRE, lol!
  • Supplemental Apps
    • Some schools will require that after your first general application you submit a secondary or supplemental application. Some schools are generous in the fact that you just have to answer a few more short answer/essay questions in addition to your personal statement, but other schools require an entirely different application (which you usually have to submit an extra payment for as well). Be ready to elaborate on your personal statement or highlight other parts of your life not yet shown on those applications.
  • The Interview Process
    • Once your initial application has been moved onto the next stage of the admissions process, most schools will invite you to interview with them. Due to the pandemic, all of my interviews were via Zoom. However, this did not necessarily make the situation less stressful, for I really had to ensure that my personality shined through via a computer screen. For me, the interview process actually went a lot more smoothly than I anticipated! My interviews ended up being an intellectual conversation regarding my thoughts about OT and how my upbringing has shaped me to become the person who I aspire to be.
    • Here are a few quick tips on conquering the interview:
      • Prepare! I don’t know about you, but actually giving a strong and meaningful answer for “how do you define OT?” was a lot more difficult than I expected. To prepare, I Googled ‘common OT school interview questions’ and got a plethora of questions to practice answering. I also Youtubed OT interview questions and saw how different people answered different possible questions. What really helped me was to write out my answers on notecards and use them as a guide (note how I did not say ‘memorize notecards’) to jog my memory of important aspects I wanted to discuss in an interview. Lastly, I practiced my interviews in front of the mirror and with a friend via Zoom to stimulate how my actual interview day would go. Preparation for interviews also means DO YOUR RESEARCH on the program that you are interviewing for! This includes the school’s mission statement, faculty, or any other interesting facts that initially drew you to the school. Interweaving these details into your answers will further reassure the interviewers that you’ve done your research and that you are serious about your potential commitment to the school.
      • Speak with confidence and power! In the interview, the interviewers are genuinely not trying to trick you. They want to get to know the real you. Thus, it is important to be confident in yourself. You have already done the hard work of putting together a competitive application, so now this is your chance for your personality to shine through! Confidence goes a long way, so be your authentic self and that will help you stand apart among hundreds of other applicants.
      • Write thank-you notes! Once you have completed your interview, if you have access to your interviewer’s email, write a thank-you note to them! They are helpful because they first will allow the interviewer to remember who you are. But most importantly, it shows that you valued the time spent conversing with them. Again, I had Googled example thank-you notes and tailored them to make them more personal and salient.

Overall, I have bombarded you with a LOT of information. To conclude, here are some takeaways that I learned throughout my application process worth mentioning:

  1. Network, network, and NETWORK!!! I mean get on social media and follow OT-related folks, don’t hesitate to post a question or ask for help in that Facebook group, and build connections with the OTs, your professors, etc. who can guide you in your pursuit to becoming an OT. I met SO many people who have been beyond helpful through networking these past few years!
  2. Save money because those applications can get SO expensive, especially if you are submitting secondary applications as well! Also, if you qualify, some schools can give you a fee waiver – so take advantage of that by planning ahead!
  3. Your personal statement is what it is YOU. Make sure that it truly shows the raw, authentic, and genuine you because at the end of the day, that is what the admissions committee wants to learn and discover – YOU! Even after all of the revisions and peer-editing, you get the final say on your personal statement.
  4. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF! I cannot emphasize this enough. When I had let go of this unnecessary fear and doubt that I tried to plague my mind with, I finally let my confidence shine through in every aspect of my application and interview process. Remember, you have been working at this for a long time and it is now manifesting right in front of you. Claim your acceptance into your top school. It is hard for others to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself.

I hope that this information was useful, reader! Remember, you are amazing for even making it this far in pursuing your OT journey. Wherever you are in your journey, always affirm yourself throughout the process. Becoming an OT is no easy feat – I have only made it to the ‘getting accepted into OT school’ part of the journey and still have a long road ahead of me. If you ever have any questions or clarifications, I would love to further discuss my points with you! OT needs YOU, so you will conquer!

Peace and love,

Irene