In this edition of “Faculty Focus,” we sat down with Dr. William Wrightsman, Assistant Professor in the Touro University Nevada School of Occupational Therapy.
Where are you from and what was it like growing up?
I was born in the Bay Area, but moved right outside of Portland, Oregon after the first grade. I was raised around greenery and wide open spaces and took advantage of it. I was also a Boy Scout and an Eagle Scout and got some really great outdoor experiences.
When did you discover your love for occupational therapy?
I actually stumbled upon the profession, but I don’t think that’s unusual in occupational therapy. I had been working as a retail executive for almost 20 years and was in the middle of a significant career transition. I was getting ready to start a family, and my job had me on the road five days a week. I didn’t want to be a dad who was on the road all the time.
I was eating lunch at Chipotle one day and was skimming through the Las Vegas Weekly where I came across a full-page ad about Touro University Nevada holding interviews for its inaugural class of occupational therapists.
I didn’t know what occupational therapy was, so I went home and spent the next few days researching it. OT appealed to my science background as well as my love for interacting with people. At the University of Oregon, I studied pre-dentistry, so I already had a science background in place.
The more I read about this occupational therapy profession I was unaware of, the more I thought that it might be the best thing for me.
How did you arrive as a faculty member at Touro University Nevada?
After I graduated from Touro, I worked as a clinician for a couple years. A faculty position later opened up at Touro, and I went for it. I had confidence that they saw something in me, and I understood that these opportunities don’t always present themselves.
Even though I had some reservations about if I was ready for the position, the opportunity to interview might never have come around again. My interview went well, and I started as a Touro faculty member on Nov. 1, 2009.
What do you enjoy the most about teaching here?
We have a very unique and wonderful setup here at Touro. We are able to teach in the classroom and practice in the clinic so we can stay sharp. We benefit as faculty when it comes to development, and our students benefit because we know exactly what we are discussing. Our faculty members each have their areas of expertise, and they research and teach in their areas of expertise.
How would you say you best help your students?
We have two types of students here in the School of Occupational Therapy. We have one group that is incredibly confident and fairly assured of their path, and then there is another group of students that is just as qualified but needs to be brought out of their shells.
I like to use the term that I ‘facilitate the educational process.’ It would be limiting if it were just me providing the students with knowledge, because I’m only one OT in a single area of OT. If you can facilitate the process of how the students develop their own knowledge to become better learners, then you open the world up for them.
If you weren’t working in occupational therapy or academia, which career do you think you’d have?
If I had not found OT, I would’ve looked into becoming a landscape designer, or maybe owning my own nursery. I feel the most connected when my hands are in the ground, which I think stems from my childhood in Oregon.
I was always happy to go out and mow the lawn as a kid, or rip apart some of the lawn and turn it into a flower bed. As a kid, I’d save my allowance to buy a new plant for the yard. I think I would’ve gone that route had I realized just how passionate I was about it when I was younger. The nice thing is that you can bring that element of gardening into occupational therapy as well. It is very therapeutic.
If you could give your students a single piece of advice, what would it be?
I would say that their experience here is not solely about the grades they get. Some students are caught up in the grade and judge their self-worth based on that grade, which is unfortunate. Instead, they need to focus on the experience: what they are learning, and the populations they will be serving.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I love spending time with family, which means there are lots of basketball games and soccer games with my girls. As a family, we also love to travel. I’m also a big fan of baking, and my kids seem to like what I make which is nice.