First-year medical students at Montana State University are collecting children's books and warm clothing in Bozeman for children on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

"This is really building bridges up there," said Jane Shelby, executive director of health sciences at MSU. "We're very excited."

Eighteen MSU students plan to travel to Browning on Nov. 12. They will distribute books on health, nutrition and diabetes prevention to elementary school children.

The medical students will also encourage older Browning students to consider careers in the medical professions and cook a community lunch that will be open to homeless residents.

"It will be a busy day," Shelby said. "I think it will be a very rewarding experience."

The MSU students are getting their first year of medical training through the WWAMI program, based at the University of Washington, which educates future doctors from Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

Of the 20 first-year medical students, only two who have clinical training at the same time, won't be part of the trip, Shelby said.

"They all signed up - I'm really impressed with this group," Shelby said.

One reason for the Browning trip is that the University of Washington encourages service-learning for medical students and MSU's first-year medical program hasn't done much of that in the past, Shelby said. It's also a chance to work with an underserved medical population, where WWAMI encourages more students to live after they become doctors, nurses, pharmacists or other medical professionals, Shelby said.

The students will meet with Dr. Neil Sun Rhodes and Dr. Mary DesRosier to talk about their work with the reservation community.

DesRosier is the first Blackfeet woman doctor and the first Blackfeet doctor practicing medicine on the reservation. She has been teaching WWAMI students since 1996. Last month she was honored by the WWAMI program with the Dr. George Saari Humanitarian Award.

The idea to collect books and winter clothing was Shelby's. The reservation has harsh winter weather and 50 percent unemployment in winter, she said. Many jobs pay minimum wage.

Shelby said last year she collected books in Bozeman for Navajo children in Utah. Teachers there said for some kids, those were the first books they ever took home.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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