by Annie Gastelum, Special to the Carson Valley Times
CARSON CITY – It’s not unusual to have two well-qualified, young doctors apply for the same position. What is uncommon is for both of the applicants to have firm family roots in the same town in which the position is available.
Jenny Danielle Smokey and Rebecca Rippee Papez grew up side by side in Carson Valley playing on the same sports teams, taking the same A.P. classes and mixing with the same groups of friends.
“I’ve known Rebecca since were were eight. We played on the same softball, basketball and volleyball teams from childhood through high school years. It’s funny, we were recently inducted into the Hall of Fame for women’s basketball [at Douglas High School],” Smokey said.
A member of the Washoe and Kiowa Tribes, Smokey grew up in Dresslerville, a Washoe Indian reservation in Gardnerville. Smokey’s father passed away unexpectedly after undergoing heart surgery. She was a freshman in high school.
The next day, Smokey told her mom she was going to school to become a doctor. She didn’t waste any time, receiving her M.D. at the age of 26.
As a teenager, Papez had an abundance of compassion for others. Corby Hughes, Physical Education Instructor at Douglas High School, recalls a specific moment.
“Rebecca is just a beautiful person with great energy and an amazing work ethic. I can remember when she was a homecoming queen candidate and right after the ceremony, my daughter went up to congratulate Rebecca and the first thing she did before she put her arm around her for the picture was put the crown on Allie [my daughter]. That’s just the kind of person she is — always thinking about those around her.”
Although there was no significant event that really solidified her interest in medicine, Papez knew she loved working with children and she was very interested in science.
“When I started to look at careers that could combine my interests, pediatrics fit perfectly,” she said. “I started to look into it in 10th grade when we had to write a paper for Honors English…since that time I have never looked back.”
Post college, the two circled back to attend the same medical school at the University of Nevada, Reno. After a grueling four years including lectures, labs, exams, rural rotations and finally, a well-earned medical degree, Smokey was matched with Seattle Children’s while Papez spent her three years of residency in St. Louis.
The desire to come back to the Carson Valley was evidently strong. Unbeknownst to Smokey and Papez, both applied for the pediatrician position with Carson Valley Medical Group simultaneously.
Smokey’s mentor, Steven Elliott, M.D., put in a strong recommendation on her behalf and Joseph Toth, M.D, provided firm support for Papez. The odds of finding young doctors with such solid records, strong recommendations from local tenured doctors and potential to be long-term residents is rare.
Despite the fact that there was only one spot originally available, the Carson Valley Medical Group looked to the future and decided to hire both young ladies.
In September 2010 Smokey and Papez officially began working as M.D. Pediatricians with The Carson Medical Group. Shortly after being hired, both have passed the board certification test, a series of examinations that provide assurance to the public that a doctor has successfully completed an approved educational program and a final evaluation.
“Jenny was a perfect match and so was Rebecca,” said Dr. Elliott. “This was an uncommon situation but we are lucky to have them both.”
Having had Jenny as a first year student, Dr. Elliot knew from the get-go that Jenny was meant to be a pediatrician.
“She is perfectly matched for what she is doing. She is almost like a big kid herself. She puts everyone at ease — parents and patients. I think she will likely be at full patient capacity in less than a year.”
From monitoring normal child development to treating ear infections and providing vaccines to resuscitation of a baby, Smokey and Papez have a gamut of responsibilities, but neither doctor is going anywhere anytime soon.
“I just love the area, my family is here, and it gives me the opportunity to start to give back to a community that has been so good to me. I couldn’t imagine raising my children anywhere else, Papez said.”
While Smokey was in Seattle for residency, three nephews and one niece were born. Smokey was devastated that she could not be near her family during this precious time as an “auntie.” She went home often and now that she is back, she could not be happier to be near her family. She now has a daughter of her own, Eilee Joanna.
“I get to see them [my nieces and nephews] all the time now and I love it. I go to their little baseball games, wrestling matches, football games, all of it. Sometimes I sneak my nephew away during my lunch and take him to Lampe park with my mom.”
Fast forward three years and both pediatricians have children of their own and fully understand the particulars of birthing, breastfeeding and child care.
“Eilee has changed me in so many ways!!” says Smokey. “I am more patient, empathetic, understanding, more realistic. Especially with parents of newborns and moms who are going through breastfeeding.”
Here is a video featuring Doctor Smokey and Doctor Papez upon being hired in 2010.
Annie Gastelum is a Douglas High graduate and currently resides in the Bay area. She originally wrote this article several years ago, when Rebecca Papez and Jenny Smokey were first hired by Carson Tahoe. She shared it with us upon hearing of our Valley-based focus.