In a year that saw numerous changes and challenges in health care, the Wood River Valley lost the service of one of its most experienced—and beloved—doctors.
Dr. Nancy Parry—who had cared for patients in California and Ketchum for more than five decades—reflected this week on her lengthy career, days after she turned 80 on Dec. 20. Parry retired on Aug. 17, 52 years to the day after she started working as a practitioner of family medicine. She started her own practice in Anaheim, Calif., in 1968, and after 30 years—and serving tens of thousands of patients—she moved to the Wood River Valley with initial intentions to retire. However, her passion for helping others had not diminished. She started a general practice on Walnut Avenue in downtown Ketchum, which she maintained for 22 years.
“I decided it’s finally time to stop,” Parry said. “It was time.”
For Parry, the decision to retire was a difficult one. She started to get a little bit tired sometimes at work, she said, and her hand-to-eye coordination started to lessen some after the onset of Parkinson’s disease 10 years ago. The COVID-19 pandemic brought new challenges, she noted.
“It’s boring,” she said, talking of her retirement from her home south of Ketchum. “I’m feeling guilty that I’m not working.”
Destined to be a doctor
Parry was raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her sister, Janet, a Hailey resident and registered nurse who worked with Parry through her entire professional career. The family took trips to Sun Valley to ski when Parry was a child, and the beauty of the region became lodged in her mind.
When she was turning 8 years old, her mother asked her what she wanted for her birthday. She said she wanted to see a fortune teller in Ogden. On the way, the mother and daughter talked about the future.
“Mother said, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’” Parry said.
She told her mother she wanted to be a doctor.
The fortune teller, who looked like a French gypsy, Parry said, placed out four sets of cards and told the pair that Parry would be a doctor.
Parry then “didn’t study real hard,” she said, “because she knew she was going to be a doctor.” She applied to several medical programs on the East Coast and didn’t get accepted into any of them. She went back to the fortune teller.
“I said, ‘Look, you said I was going to be a doctor and I didn’t get in any medical schools.”
The fortune teller dealt out her cards again, Parry said, and told her, “Oh, you applied on the wrong coast. You have to apply on the West Coast.”
Parry—who had earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Utah in 1963 and was working at the time as a surgical technician at a hospital in Salt Lake City—was quickly accepted into medical school at the University of California, Irvine, outside of Los Angeles. One of the school’s students, it turned out, had abruptly dropped out of the program and Parry was given two days to begin classes.
She graduated in 1967, worked an internship for a year in Salt Lake City, and then contemplated her future. A doctor in Anaheim offered her a job earning $80,000 a year. If that was the going rate for new hires, she could earn more in a solo practice, Parry thought. She opened her own practice, had six employees—including her sister, Janet—and eventually established her own real estate development company. She led the construction of a 100,000-square-foot medical building for 70 physicians, a 16,000-square-foot medical office and an outpatient surgery center with five operating rooms. She treated patients in general medicine, including obstetrics for about five years, and performed some medical surgeries. She sailed catamarans in the nearby harbor at Newport Beach.
Janet Parry worked as a nurse and also ran business operations.
“Doctors aren’t taught anything about business,” Nancy said. “Janet is a whiz at those things, fortunately.”
However, over time, the practice in Anaheim had run its course. She was seeing up to 40 patients per day and had thoughts of quieter times in Idaho. At 58, after seeing the beauty of the Sun Valley area in the summer, she moved to a condominium she had purchased in the Warm Springs neighborhood of Ketchum.
Retirement was not meant to be, she said, and she soon bought a small, commercial cabin, remodeled it and opened the practice in Ketchum.
“I just love the Sun Valley area. I feel so lucky to live here,” she said. “I came to Ketchum to start over, really.”
Building up the practice was slow and methodical, Parry said. From 1998 to 2007, she also worked on weekends in the small city of Salmon to get extra experience in an emergency room.
“It was a lot of word of mouth,” she said. “It just built upon itself.”
The Ketchum practice did grow steadily and became a success. Parry hired nurse practitioner Debbie Garratt and mentored physician assistant Nanette Ford.
Just call her ‘Doc’
Janet Parry soon assigned her sister the nickname “Doc,” a moniker born out of admiration for her sister’s achievements in becoming a physician, in a time when the opportunities for women were significantly restricted.
“I always called her ‘Doc’ right from the beginning because she worked so hard for that title and I wanted to show my respect for her,” Janet said.
“Doc” has lived “by how many people she helped,” Janet said.
“When I would talk to her about retirement, she would say, ‘But I’m helping people.’ She lived by that both in and out of the office. She treated her patients as friends or family. She made the patients feel comfortable and she listened.”
(In fact, Parry said, she would often sing the classic song “Getting to Know You” while performing sensitive procedures on some patients.)
Parry was also an exceptional boss, Janet said. Sometimes, her staff would thank her at the end of the work day.
“She would motivate them to think big,” Janet said. “She always delighted in helping her staff reach their goals.”
In reflecting on her career and practice in Ketchum, “Doc” Parry is sentimental.
“There have been hundreds of special moments,” Parry said. “I’ve been so lucky.”
She also likes to recall the many humorous aspects of her time in practice. Once, after a couple of drinks at a benefit event in Bellevue, she donated a vasectomy procedure to be auctioned off by the host organization. And, she also jokes about having to stop performing vasectomies because of a Parkinson’s-related tremor.
“When I got Parkinson’s, I had to stop doing them because it made the men very nervous,” Parry said.
In the end, she has seen patients in more than 150,000 appointments in one-on-one settings, Parry said. She is particularly grateful for her patients in Ketchum.
“My favorite thing is that the people here are educated and they listen,” she said. “People are more health-oriented here.”
On her official day of retirement on Aug. 17, she celebrated with friends and family at Cristina’s restaurant in Ketchum, with a crowd of mask-wearing supporters and former patients. Parry told stories and announced that she had sold her practice to certified physician’s assistant Ashley Brown. At a small 80th birthday party Dec. 20 at The Ram restaurant in Sun Valley, she was served a custom cake decorated to look like a doctor’s robe with a stethoscope.
“Everybody’s been just wonderful to me,” she said. “I’m so blessed.”
As for retirement, Parry is easing into it. She is working as medical director for Hyperbarics of Sun Valley, a Hailey-based business that aims to give patients a variety of benefits by providing oxygenation treatments in a pressurized chamber. She is also a distributor for BEMER, an electromagnetic-pulse device used to increase blood flow in muscles. Parry no longer skis but she still plans to stay active in the Wood River Valley.
“I’m staying here until the day I die,” she said. “I love it here.”