Occupational therapy assistant professor Lauren Diaz always tells her students to “make school your life.”
“Practice on your family, your roommates — get that experience. It’s fast-paced, so if you don’t practice it in practical situations, you won’t retain it,” Diaz said. "Practice it so much that it becomes a habit and when you’re out in the field, it’s more natural."
And Diaz, a December 2015 graduate of West Coast University’s master of science in occupational therapy program, knows what she’s talking about. In addition to teaching, Diaz works at Casa Colina two to three days per week, splitting her time between acute inpatient care and the transitional living center.
At the downtown L.A. Women’s Center, Diaz and other WCU OT students are trying to start an OT program. Many of the center's clients, Diaz said, have mental health disorders and just need someone to talk to.
"I enjoy working at the hospital, but my passion goes more towards community-based therapy. It’s an emerging practice for OT and there’s so much we can do," she said.
In addition to the DWC, Diaz and other OT staff also have started a therapeutic garden at a homeless shelter in South LA. Here they help the residents practice mindfulness, decrease stress and improve overall wellness through healthy occupations.
“It feels great that I can make an impact in their lives and help them even with small steps,” she said. “It’s important having them be present in the moment so they can carry that moment into the next moment.”
WCU students now volunteer once a month at the shelter and Diaz is generating assessments of the women to show them what the OT staff can do.
“A lot of these places don’t have funding for OT so because of our WCU affiliation, we’re able to donate our time and help get the program off the ground," she said.
For Diaz, OT is the perfect combination of being able to help people, science and creativity. As a student at WCU, Diaz said she was exposed to wide variety of ways that OT fits into the world of healthcare. In hospitals, Diaz said, OTs work closely with physical and speech therapists to better each patient’s health. Nurses and OTs usually talk before and after shifts to exchange patient information and discuss treatment.
Diaz credited WCU’s commitment to interprofessional education, which helped prepare her to work with different medical fields and approaches to patient care.
"I’m so appreciative of the opportunities I’ve received and of all the faculty at WCU. I just can’t express enough my gratitude for the staff and students at WCU who continue to inspire and motivate me throughout my professional journey,” she said.