Date: Wed, Aug 31st, 2022

Physical therapist assistant program director earns prestigious certification

GREAT FALLS – Fourth time is a charm?

 Well, for Dr. Brad Bechard, Great Falls College MSU’s physical therapist assistant program director, it was.

Bechard is now a board-certified clinical specialist in neurologic physical therapy after passing the incredibly rigorous exam this summer.  Passing the exam recognizes the advanced knowledge and skills for physical therapist practitioners in a specialty area.

 Since 1985 only approximately 3,800 neurologic clinical specialists nationwide have earned the designation from the American Physical Therapist Association as part of the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties.  As of 2018, only six physical therapists from Montana have the designation.

 “I’m really excited about this,” Bechard said. “it is a really difficult test. I’ve been studying for it since 2016. Many of those who earn the certification train through a one-year, full-time, post-professional residency program while simultaneously studying for the exam. I couldn’t do that, so I just did it on my own, which is probably why it took me so long.”

 While he is proud of the accomplishment, Bechard is most excited about what the certification means to his students regarding the opportunity to pass on the accumulated knowledge he received through the whole process.  

 Bechard has been the director of the accredited PTA program since 2009.

 “For instance,” he said, “we learned with stroke patients that it is ideal to get them up and moving at a very brisk pace rather than concentrating on form and making sure their gait mechanics are correct. For those patients that can tolerate a higher intensity, gait velocity does matter. It is important to get their heart rate up to have better outcomes.”

 That’s just one of many examples that will directly benefit his students at Great Falls College.  

 “The process was difficult and sometimes frustrating with a few unwanted outcomes along the way,” Bechard said.     “But I’d like to impress onto my students that you will most certainly have disappointments in your life. Take those negative experiences and turn them into something positive for your future. I often underscore the importance of acknowledging effort over outcome. Think about that for a moment.”

 Hard work and a goal led Bechard into physical therapy and his love for the nervous system. 

 “Neurology is a fascinating field,” he said. “I first became interested in it when my grandmother had a stroke, and I saw the toll it took on her life. The impact physical therapy provided for these patients was awesome such as when working with someone that was bed bound to eventually walking in several months.”

 However, neurologic physical therapy is much more than treating stroke patients, Bechard stressed.

 He said it also encompasses patients with Parkinson’s, head injuries, spinal cord injuries and much more.

In addition to the board test, Bechard had to submit evidence of 2,000 hours of direct patient care in the neurologic specialty area within the last 10 years, including 500 hours in the last three years.

 That’s all on top of his classroom and administrative duties as program director at Great Falls College. Bechard feels the hands-on clinical aspect is an important supplementation to his teaching duties.

 “We are so proud of Brad and the grit and determination he demonstrated in obtaining this impressive certification,” said Quincie Jones, division director of health sciences and CTE programs at Great Falls College. “We are also really excited about what this means for our physical therapist assistant students who will be the direct beneficiaries of Brad’s expanded knowledge. This is another example of the dedication and expertise our faculty offer to our students at Great Falls College.”

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Record Number: 793