By Tim Leeds
Former Havre cross country competitor Elizabeth Top Sky has returned to Havre for a six-week stint.
She plans to come back permanently in a few years.
"My plans have always been to come home, to work at Rocky Boy," she said.
Top Sky will graduate from Seattle's University of Washington medical school next June. The third year at the school consists of six-week clerkships in different fields with different doctors. Her current assignment is with the Havre family practice of Drs. James Kelley and Bruce Richardson.
The homecoming is a continuation of a pursuit of excellence that began many years ago.
An honor roll student, she participated in many activities at Havre High, including serving as president of the local chapter of the National Honor Society.
Top Sky, who used the last name of Olney when she was in high school, was a cross country runner for four years and a cheerleader her senior year. She participated in speech and debate and band.
"I did everything," she said.
Top Sky, the daughter of Elaine Top Sky of Rocky Boy and Marcel Olney of Wapato, Wash., graduated from Havre High in 1990.
She expanded her pursuit of cultural activities. She is a former Miss Indian Nations, representing tribes from throughout North America, and took a year off from premed school to join the American Indian Dance Theatre and tour Europe with the troupe in 1995.
Her extracurricular activities continue in Seattle. Top Sky will take over as national president of the Association of Native American Medical students in August.
Top Sky's ambition to enter the medical field has its roots at Rocky Boy. She was a community health representative at the reservation clinic and also worked with the ambulance crews.
The work inspired her to enroll in the University of Montana's premed program in Missoula.
Once she began attending the University of Washington, she decided to use the name Top Sky, to reflect her Rocky Boy heritage.
"Rocky Boy is my home and more who I am," she said.
Top Sky is very close to her family, and especially likes spending time with her nieces, nephews and younger cousins. She does all she can to keep in contact with her family, returning any time she has a break in school.
"Loneliness has always been the biggest problem for me, I guess," she said.
Even when she was closer, in Missoula, it was hard to be away from home.
"I almost came back. I hated to be away from home so much, I almost quit," Top Sky said.
One of the people who influenced her to go into medicine helped keep her in, she said. Dr. Bill Fike, who mentored Top Sky when she worked at the reservation clinic, persuaded her to continue.
Her fiance, Rocky Boy native Harold Monteau, also has provided moral support. Monteau, who lives in Missoula, visits her regularly on weekends, wherever she's studying.
The clerkships this year have had Top Sky studying in hospitals and doctor's offices in many Western states. The university's program has host doctors in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming.
Top Sky has worked a 12-week session in internal medicine, and six-week sessions in a variety of other fields.
The stints have ranged from Seattle to Missoula, from Spokane, Wash., to Anchorage, Alaska.
The style of the supervising doctors has varied as much as the fields and the locations.
Some doctors want the clerks to observe while they provide the care. Others, like Kelley and Richardson, prefer a hands-on approach.
"I think you learn a lot more," Top Sky said of Kelley's and Richardson's style.
"(Kelley) usually has me go in and do everything like I was the doctor. Then I'll talk with him," she said.
Top Sky and the doctor discuss the case, the diagnosis, and what she proposes for treatment.
"He'll gently correct me if I'm wrong," she said.
Kelley's office has participated in the clerkship program since 1991. Kelley said the doctors learn from the program too.
"They keep on asking us questions we don't know the answers to. It keeps us honest and on our toes," he said.
He applied when the university advertised that it was looking for another family practice to participate in the program.
"We thought it would be fun, and it has been," he added.
It turned out to be quite a competition to get the clerkship, he added. Many Montana hospitals applied.
"So we got to put Havre on the map," Kelley said.
The clerkships have helped Top Sky decide on family practice. She likes the variety of work in the field, she said.
When she was doing a clerkship on ophthalmology, Top Sky considered going into that field for a while.
"I decided doing eye exams all day wasn't my cup of tea," she said.
Her work at the university and in the clerkships has confirmed her decision to enter medicine. The reason she entered, and what she likes best, is "the satisfaction of taking care of a patient who truly needs your help," she said.
"I think there's some particular patients that are more difficult and make you want to run. Then there are some you truly help, and that's what keeps you here."
Once she graduates, Top Sky plans to continue in the university's family practice specialty training for three years. That would start the end of June, but she might take a year off.
"To be a wife," she said.