This is the third year that WWAMI students have traveled to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation for a service project initiated by those students. Casey Cable, one of this year's organizers, said the goal is a mutual exchange that benefits WWAMI students, as well as residents of the reservation.
WWAMI students are encouraged to return to their home state after they graduate from medical school, so the first-year students want to visit the reservation to learn more about rural and Native American health, Cable said. At the same time, the students will visit several Browning schools to teach health-related lessons. The WWAMI students will cook and serve a free noon meal for the community. They will deliver clothing and books they have collected the past couple of weeks from around Bozeman.
WWAMI stands for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho, the five states that work cooperatively to give their residents access to medical school with the aim of bringing more physicians into rural and primary care. Montana students in the program spend their first year at MSU and then go to the University of Washington School of Medicine. During their third and fourth years they will spend time in Montana or other WWAMI states.
Matt Rothschiller of Gallatin Valley Botanical near Bozeman said six WWAMI students came to his farm Oct. 2 to help harvest potatoes. In exchange for digging up Austrian crescents, Desiree, Rose Finn Apple and Purple Viking potatoes, the students received winter squash, carrots, onions, celery root, potatoes and garlic that they will cook for the community meal in Browning. Before leaving Bozeman on Thursday, the students will return to the farm for salad greens.
"It was great. It's a good thing that they are doing," Rothschiller said.
Cable said the students also received vegetables from MSU's Towne's Harvest Garden. Parents of WWAMI student Kara Kleppen butchered hogs and brought the pork to Bozeman when they drove down from Outlook for the annual ceremony where new medical students receive their white coats. The pork will be served in Browning, too.
This year's WWAMI students came from all over Montana, Cable said. His home-town is St. Ignatius, and his family has lived on the Flathead Indian Reservation for five generations. Although his father is a rancher and his mother is a school teacher, Cable said he has wanted to be a doctor ever since he was a young boy. In the years since, he has involved himself in several health-related activities. He has traveled abroad in developing countries. He has conducted cancer research involving Native Americans. He has done volunteer work on the reservation.
Those experiences solidified his desire to become a doctor and return home to serve the reservation, Cable said. They also showed him that medicine has a dual nature. It is intellectually challenging and also has a human side that involves meeting people, hearing their stories and helping them just by listening.
The WWAMI students hope that their visit will encourage children on the reservation to feel the same way. Perhaps some will eventually decide to pursue science and medicine, too, Cable said. The children already have local mentors in Dr. Neil Sun Rhodes and Dr. Mary Desrosier, Native American physicians who practice in Browning. The pair serve as contacts for the WWAMI student project.