Major Mondays: Occupational Therapy 

Major: The Bachelor’s to Doctorate (BS-OTD) in Occupational Therapy major is housed in the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. This major is open to incoming freshmen pursuing a career in occupational therapy. This accelerated program allows students to earn a bachelor’s degree and doctorate degree in occupational therapy in just 6 years.   

Overview: Occupational therapy is a health profession aimed at enabling people to live life to its fullest. Defined by Seth Mitchell (he/him), a current USC Occupational Therapy major, “Occupational therapy focuses on the individual as a whole in order to reflect upon how lifestyle and lived experiences might affect quality of life. Occupational therapists hear from you, about what you do, how you do it and why – in order to empower the continuation of these meaningful activities no matter the circumstances.” Overall, occupational therapists help people to perform, modify, or adapt their skills and activities in order to lead healthier, happier, and more productive lives – physically, mentally, and emotionally.  

Current Student Perspective: The Occupational Therapy major is unique at USC as the program focuses on small cohort style learning. Seth notes the benefits of being in a small cohort of fellow Occupational Therapy majors “[as]a built-in support system, a built-in community. It is nice to know someone else is doing the same thing as you.”   

When speaking to Seth, he noted a common misconception is the difference between Occupational Therapy (OT) and Physical Therapy (PT). “The main different is that OT focuses on improving a client’s ability to perform activities of daily living, and PT focuses on improving a client’s ability to perform a movement of the human body.” As Seth puts it, “PT will teach you how to walk, OT will teach you how to dance.” 

Students in this program are interested in focusing on the individual as a whole and affects the overall quality of life. Seth notes, “Occupational therapy is not just about fixing body structures, but looking at someone as a person. OT is one of the few fields that has a holistic view of medicine. It is client centered, person centered, and humanity focused.” 

Notable Research: Currently, USC OT faculty, students and professionals in the field are conducting research related to oral care for children. In the Sensory Adapted Dental Environments to Enhance Oral Care for Children study, 184 ethnically diverse children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are examined to investigate the efficacy of a sensory adapted dental environment, compared to a regular dental environment. One of the projected outcomes of this study is to “be able to decrease children’s physiological anxiety, distress behavior, perception of pain, and sensory discomfort during a dental cleaning.”  

Ruth Zemke PhD, OTR, FAOTA, a current professor at USC, is noted as one of the founding leaders in occupational sciences and noted as a staple in efficacy practices in OT. Noteworthy, Zemke is a co-Principal Investigator on the USC Well Elderly Project, utilizing her interest in applying concepts of occupational science to occupational therapy practice.  

Anna-Jean Ayres, Ph.D., OTR, is a former USC faculty member and a founder of the specialty area of occupational therapy, Sensory Integration (SI). Sensory Integration is based on over 50 years of theory and research originated at USC. Dr. Ayres developed a theoretical framework and clinical approach for identifying children who have a variety of developmental and learning difficulties. USC Chan students can take elective courses which provide a comprehensive overview of sensory integration theory, or can take continuing education courses through the USC Chan Sensory Integration Continuing Education Certificate Program. 

Want to Learn More? 
As occupational therapy is a wide ranging and ever-growing field, there are many ways you can find out more about what it’s like to study OT at USC! 

USC Chan has a great blog written by current USC OT students. Check out a day in the life of a USC Chan student via their Occupational Therapy Student Blog.  

Prospective students can take the USC Chan quiz, What Kind of OT Would You Be? Also, non-OTD students can even minor in Occupational Sciences!  

For students interested in listening to student stories and well as staff/faculty experiences in the field, check out the USC Chan Instagram and YouTube page.  

To get in contact with USC OT Student Ambassadors like Seth, visit the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy Student Ambassador website.  

Written by Jamie Black, Assistant Director