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Nathan “Ben” Herz, OTR/L, MBA, OTD, CES
Founding director, doctor of occupational therapy program, Mary Baldwin College

Occupational therapy called when Herz was in the Army and he quickly answered. “What’s drawn me to the profession has been the different people I treat, helping them be independent in life, and then witnessing the outcomes. It takes a unique personality to do what we do,” he said.

Once back in the civilian world, Herz earned his bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy, then his MBA and, soon, academia felt like the right place to be. Herz joined Jefferson College of Health Sciences in Roanoke, Va., in 2000. “I just got a card from a former student about what makes a person a hero,” he said. “I don’t see myself that way at all. I’m here to help prepare them for the future. My teaching is my first priority, and making sure students get what they need is what’s made me successful for 31 years.”

Later, at Georgia Regents University, Augusta, Herz began to carve his niche in movement disorders and degenerative diseases, treating clients in the movement disorder clinic. He earned his doctorate in occupational therapy from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., in 2004.

Herz has conducted four studies with the Nintendo Wii, funded by the National Parkinson Foundation, and one with Wii Fit. Participants engaged in simulated tennis, bowling and boxing. In one study, they made notable improvements in rigidity, movement, fine motor skills and energy levels, and their levels of depression decreased to zero, he said. One participant was able to walk down the aisle in his daughter’s wedding, while another stopped using a cane.

“People said they were moving better, feeling better, that their quality of life improved,” he said. “From a clinician’s standpoint, it was remarkable. I think games systems will play a major role in rehab. With OT and PT and allied health sciences, we’re not here to find cures, but to slow the disease process down.”

Appointed founding director of the doctor of occupational therapy program and professor at Mary Baldwin last November, his arrival came shortly after groundbreaking for the Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences in Fishersville, Va. The campus is scheduled to open in June 2014, and Herz’s program is in the accreditation process.

Starting a new job, with a new title, a new doctoral program and a new facility motivates Herz to do even more. “My hope is for a really innovative curriculum and an interactive, integrated type of approach.”

And about that new degree program: “Ask me two years ago, I might have said we don’t need a doctoral degree. Now there are six doctoral programs in the country. Having it will give us an advantage in legislation, at places at the table we might not have had — like in mental health. ‘Doctor’ has a specific connotation,” said Herz.

The professor, clinician and researcher thanks academia for allowing him to mold the future of the occupational therapy field through his students. “It keeps me sharp with lifelong learning. Seeing results drives my clinical side, and keeping my professional skills current makes sure I can talk the talk and walk the walk.”

As for the future, he’s ready to take on the world, from Virginia. “Not me, but I’d like for us to have one of the top programs in the country. That’s my vision — and it’s going to take lots of people to do that.”

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