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Lydia Ott (OTD '23) on right and her grandmother, Lydia Ott (left)

Pictured: Lydia Ott (OTD '23) and her grandmother, Lydia Ott (left)

"Growing up in Pittsburgh, I learned to drive up hills in the snow, eat my sandwiches with fries and root for the Steelers every season. In addition, while living in Pittsburgh, my uncle received treatments from UPMC hospitals for his kidney, brain and lung cancer which is how I found out about occupational therapy. I’d never seen a career that was so practical and lifegiving, to help people reengage in meaningful, patient-specific occupations. After graduating high school, I attended The Ohio State University where I studied Health Information Management Systems and became a Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) with plans to enroll in occupational therapy school after graduation.

However, my plans changed once I graduated. I felt burnt out from school and spent a year traveling the world. I signed up to be an English as a Second Language teacher to refugee women in Africa who expanded my life experiences and taught me to think creatively, be kind and be able to put myself into others' shoes. While living in Africa, my path kept crossing with occupational therapists from various countries. Each of them shared stories which inspired me to apply to occupational therapy school upon returning home.

After being accepted to the University of Pittsburgh in 2020, I finally found my dream career and passion. Occupational therapy combines all the best parts of myself together: creativity, empathy, compassion and kindness. In the fall of 2021, I was able to incorporate my culture, passions and clinical skills at the Organization of Chinese American’s (OCA) Free Medical Clinic led by the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association (APAMSA). Six of my classmates from Pitt OT, Tiffany Duong, Cynthia Po Pan, Julia Lam, Laura Lam, Tiffany Lin and I assessed, screened and recommended occupational therapy services for Chinese Americans and other minority populations from across the city. They were able to receive medical treatment free of charge which they might not have had access to otherwise. As a fourth-generation Chinese American and Pittsburgher, it was a privilege to be able to serve my city with occupational therapy which had never been offered before at the clinic. 

Over the past year, I partnered with the office of Dr. Anantha Shekhar, senior vice chancellor for the Health Sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, to remember and tell the story of Pittsburgh's Chinatown through a documentary. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, crimes against Asian Americans have risen exponentially. It pushed me to dig deeper into my family's past and learn to be proud as a Chinese American and Pittsburgher. My grandma, also named Lydia Ott, grew up right in Pittsburgh’s Chinatown on Third Avenue in the 1930s. The documentary, “Pittsburgh’s Lost Chinatown” tells her story and I hope to continue to pass down the story of Pittsburgh’s Chinatown for generations to come. As I enter into my third year in the Doctor of Occupational Therapy program at Pitt, I hope to continue to serve my city and eventually practice in another country, providing care to local and impoverished communities."