TUPELO • For nurse practitioner Debra Hill and military veteran Neil Vickers, the long, winding road that brought them together personally and professionally led to Thomas Street in Tupelo.
The pair, who are engaged, bought the Westside Family Medical Clinic, renaming it the Thomas Street Medical Clinic this fall.
“There were three clinics with West in the name,” Vickers said. “With Thomas Street, everyone knows exactly where we are.”
Hill has a long career taking care of people in Lee County. She worked in emergency medicine, wound care, diabetes education and hospice before becoming a nurse practitioner. She served as an instructor at Itawamba Community College. She took over the Plantersville clinic from Dr. William Gary in 1996.
“After 20 years in one spot, I was ready to move around a little bit,” said Hill, who now splits her time between the Plantersville and Thomas Street clinics. “I like a challenge.”
Vickers, who was born in Biloxi but considered Tampa his home base as an adult, had a longer journey to arrive in Tupelo. He served as an infantry officer for 13 years. The past 12 ½ years, he has worked as contractor for the Department of Defense and U.S. State Department, providing diplomatic and VIP protection in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I never thought I’d come full circle,” back to Mississippi, Vickers said.
Their lives didn’t overlap geographically except they both had visited Petra, Jordan, best known for its distinctive archeological site that was featured in an Indiana Jones movie. They connected on social media over those trips.
Instead of dinner and a movie, Hill and Vickers dated via road trips across the Southeast during his stateside breaks from contracting work.
“You really get to know someone when you spend hours together in a truck,” Hill said.
Vickers had begun looking across the Southeast for a business investment opportunity to start building the next stage of his life when he stepped back from contracting.
“I wanted a smaller, friendlier place,” Vickers said.
Vickers wasn’t expecting to invest in a medical clinic, but the stars aligned when the Westside clinic location became available. They purchased it together in 2015.
“I really thought I would end up owning a Subway sandwich shop,” Vickers said.
Over the past year, Vickers took a break from his overseas work. He focused on the business operations for both the Tupelo and Plantersville clinic. He enjoyed coaching a Tupelo Park and Recreation baseball team this summer.
“This is the longest I’ve been home in 12 ½ years,” Vickers said. “I like the slower pace.”
While he’s new to the business of health care, his experience, which included serving as operations chief for U.S. consulate in Northern Iraq, prepared him well.
“I pay attention to details,” Vickers said.
It helps to have an extra set of hands to manage the business side, Hill said.
“It took a load off,” Hill said. “I can focus on seeing patients.”
Although Vickers is preparing for another Middle Eastern assignment, he feels he has set down roots in Lee County.
“I’m here to stay,” Vickers said. “It’s where I’ve planted my flag.”