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Lithuanian connection

Story by Nicole Sweeney Etter

Rolandas Kesminas can't stop returning to Marquette. The young physical therapist traveled nearly 5,000 miles from his native Lithuania to attend a College of Health Sciences continuing education course on anatomical dissection and kinesiology— his fourth time taking the course with physical therapy professor Dr. Don Neumann. It was part of a three-week clinical externship that Marquette faculty designed for Kesminas.

"The idea was always to come back to Marquette once I had more experience treating patients," says Kesminas. "In one week, I've learned so much. … It's all about good people, high-level training and a life-changing experience."

In some ways, Marquette had already changed the direction of Kesminas' life — and now he, in turn, is influencing other PTs across Europe.

Kesminas' Marquette connection was forged in 2003, when Neumann, an internationally renowned expert on kinesiology, was teaching in Lithuania on a Fulbright. Kesminas, who speaks four languages, translated his lectures. Neumann then invited the bright young student to Marquette the following summer for his first dissection course. And Kesminas returned to campus again in 2005 on his own Fulbright scholarship to study kinesiology, athletic training and advanced orthopaedics classes while immersing himself in the latest clinical techniques used in the United States.

"He's one of the most impressive people I've ever met," Neumann says. "He's just so thirsty. He really believes strongly in the sciences, he works real hard and he's dedicated."

Back in Lithuania, Kesminas' own professional reputation quickly took off. In addition to treating patients, he teaches at the Lithuanian Academy of Physical Education and developed several new continuing education courses. He has been invited to teach PT courses in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Turkey and Poland, and he credits his popularity as a teacher with the fact that he incorporates jokes, stories and real-life experience — traits he learned from Neumann and other physical therapy professors at Marquette. Lithuanian education is usually more formal and theoretical, he notes.

"When you learn it a better way, you do it a better way," Kesminas says. "People are so generous and they taught me, and I'm spreading it to others."

And he has stayed close with his Marquette mentors, including Dr. Guy Simoneau, a professor of physical therapy. Kesminas regularly emails back and forth with Neumann and Simoneau, getting their insights on a particular patient challenge or discussing the latest research in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, the journal for which Simoneau serves as editor-in-chief.

Neumann and Simoneau created Kesminas' recent three-week externship, which included observation of nearly 100 patients in clinics in three states and exposed him to some of the leading PTs in the Midwest. But Neumann's human dissection class — which focuses on the upper and lower body alternating years — was the main draw. "Now I was looking for different things I didn't know about before," Kesminas says of his fourth dissection experience. "The more you know about anatomy, the more you learn through dissection. Otherwise, people will cut through things that are important."

It's likely not his last visit to Marquette. He's already hoping to bring his own students to Marquette's campus so they can experience it for themselves.

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