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WATER VALLEY – A 10-0year journey has led Yalobusha Health Service’s (YHS) newest physician, Dr. Daniel Hester, and his wife, Hannah, back to Water Valley’s Wagner Street.
The couple’s connection to the community originated back when they were dating as college students after meeting years earlier at a summer camp. Daniel, a Tupelo native, was a student at Ole Miss, and Hannah transferred from Mississippi State to Ole Miss and moved to a house on Wagner Street her senior year.
“I visited her at that house frequently, and our first house after we got married was on Lafayette Street,” Daniel explained. “So we were here for about another six months after we married before we moved.”
The couple’s stops during the decade that followed included four years in Jackson while Daniel attended medical school at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Next was Rutgers University in New Jersey where he completed his residency in pediatrics and internal medicine. A trip back to Jackson followed for a fellowship.
As this journey started, Daniel explained he was looking for ways to help offset some of the tuition costs for medical school and learned about the Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship. The program identifies rural college students who aspire to return to their roots to practice medicine.
In the years that followed the couple would often think about a small town for his first practice that would fulfill the requirements of the scholarship program.
“Our reference point was always Water Valley. It was a place we knew, a place we liked. We just never thought it would work out because it was a long time before we would even get to that point,” he explained.
During his last year of residency, he reached out to Dr. Renee Taylor, who was working for YHS.
“She graduated in the same class with me. I called her up and asked how she liked it,” Daniel explained. “I was very interested in how small town clinics and especially small-town hospitals are still making things work these days. Especially with Baptist, UMMC and all these big systems buying everybody out. YHS seemed to be thriving, I thought that seemed like something different.”
He arranged to take a couple of weeks from his training hospital for a short rotation at YHS.
YHS Administrator Jessica Embry recalls that time at the clinic early last year.
“He finished up a rotation at the clinic last March, right before Covid-19 hit,” Embry explained. “He stressed that his goal was to become a ‘small-town doctor.’ He told me that he wanted to live here, and he wanted to be available to the community.”
Another year would pass while Daniel was completing a fellowship, and when it was time to start actively looking for a job he received a phone call out of the blue from Embry.
“She said there was an opening and they would be interested in talking to me about it,” Daniel continued. “I feel very, very fortunate that everything worked out, we are excited to be here.”
Hannah, an artist who specializes in textiles and fiber-arts, is working part-time as a gallery manager at the Oxford Treehouse Gallery.
“It was another good fit, we have friends here who do quilting and other things,” he explained.
Daniel’s first day on the job will be October 1. His medical training included an extra fellowship in geriatric medicine with special focus on dementia. But his expertise involves multiple areas.
“A lot of people will choose kids or adults, I kind of double-majored. I am a board certified pediatrician and a board certified internist,” the physician explained.
He also stressed that an important aspect of health care is building relationships with his patients and people in the community.
“It was always a priority of ours to live in town. We wanted to be accessible and not just a face you see when things go wrong, somebody you see at the grocery store or ball field. I want to be the guy that is here, and not somebody you only see when you make an appointment,” Daniel stressed.
“He was describing our motto, ‘Neighbors Caring For Neighbors,’” Embry added about the vision Daniel shared during his visit to YHS last year and during the job interview.
The couple expressed appreciation for the strong support from the community as they searched for a house and made the move to Water Valley. That support included hospital officials and many others in Water Valley. They called Mechanics Bank to inquire about securing a loan for a new home and ended up talking to Cam Tyler.
“I wasn’t expecting to meet the president of the bank. He made himself available, everyone we have come across in this community has been so welcoming,” Daniel explained. “That was special, I don’t think that we could get that kind of treatment anywhere else.”
The house they settled on is on Wagner, only a short distance from the one 10 years ago.