Dr. Daniel Dahle Named Staff Care’s 2019 Country Doctor of the Year

How much difference can one physician make? More than you might think.

Dr. Daniel Dahle, MD, lives and practices in a small Northern California town of just 300 people, but he has a huge reach—serving an area larger than five states. As the only primary care physician in the region, he has been keeping the local citizens healthy and safe for over three decades, sharing his medical expertise and an unflinching commitment to personalized care.

For his exceptional record of compassion and service, Dr. Dahle has been named 2019 Country Doctor of the Year.

Presented by Staff Care, an AMN Healthcare company, the Country Doctor of the Year Award recognizes the spirit, skill, and dedication of America’s rural medical practitioners. Staff Care has presented the national award since 1992 to exemplary physicians practicing in communities of 30,000 or less.

“Dr. Dahle is more than an outstanding primary care physician,” said Jeff Decker, president of Staff Care, “He is one of the pillars on which his community stands. The people, the health system, and the economy of his region simply could not do without him.”

Returning to his roots

Raised on a potato farm near the California/Oregon border, Daniel Dahle served as a medical corpsman in Vietnam before earning a PhD in radiation biology and a medical degree at the University of Rochester in New York. In 1985, he elected to return to his home region and began practicing in Bieber, California, a frontier town of 300 people located in an isolated section of northeastern California, where he has continued to practice for 33 years.

The sole primary care physician in Bieber, Dr. Dahle is on staff at Big Valley Health Center, a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) that sees all patients, regardless of ability to pay. He draws patients from a service area that extends over 7,500 square miles, larger than Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii and New Jersey, and to a large extent has been personally responsible for maintaining health services in the region.


In addition to seeing patients at the health center, Dr. Dahle drives 25 miles away to the town of Fall River Mills almost every day to see inpatients at Mayer’s Memorial Hospital, where he also covers the emergency department and cares for long-term patients at the hospital’s nursing home. Over half the hospital’s inpatients are admitted by Dr. Dahle, and his presence in the community has been vital to the hospital’s continued viability.

“As a rural hospital goes, so goes the community,” Decker said. “Few people want to stay in or move to a place where there are no healthcare facilities. By supporting the local hospital, Dr. Dahle has done more than keep patients alive – he has kept the community alive.”

Far-reaching impact, one patient at a time 

Dr. Dahle has delivered over 1,000 babies in his career, often under trying circumstances. Many of the residents in the local valleys, including much of the student body at Bieber’s high school (where Dr. Dahle coached track for 25 years), were delivered by him.

His skills as a diagnostician are legendary. Once, when a long-term patient and co-worker presented with pain and mental confusion, Dr. Dahle correctly diagnosed herpes encephalitis, despite encountering this rare condition only one previous time. The condition is commonly fatal, but by rushing the patient to a tertiary care center hours away and insisting on proper treatment, Dr. Dahle is credited with saving her life.

One patient recounts how he provided her dying husband with a last wish, personally escorting him on a scuba diving trip to Hawaii, while another relates how Dr. Dahle revived her newborn when the infant was not breathing. Virtually all of the town’s residents (including Clint Eastwood, who has a ranch in the area) have been positively impacted by him in one way or another.

Planning for the future 

sc-CDOTY-Dr-Dahle-pictured-with-patient-Robert-BurganNow at the age of 70 and contemplating retirement, Dr. Dahle has made educating future care givers part of his mission. Each year he provides training to medical residents from the University of California, Davis as well as students from the physician assistant program at the University of Iowa. He is well known for sharing his “zebras” with students, which is medical slang for patients whose maladies are masked or otherwise difficult to diagnose.

Dr. Dahle is hoping to pass the torch of his practice on to a husband and wife duo who will soon be completing their medical training. Though he has seen rural physician practice evolve during his tenure, he believes the essence remains the same.

“Much has changed in 30 years,” said Dr. Dahle, “but patients still respond to someone who really knows them and to someone who really cares.”

As the 2019 Country Doctor of the Year, Dr. Dahle will be able to enjoy two weeks of time off, as Staff Care will provide a temporary physician to fill in for him at no charge, a service valued at approximately $10,000.  He also will receive the award’s signature plaque featuring a country doctor making his rounds on a horse and buggy, an engraved stethoscope, and a monogrammed lab coat.

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For more information:

Visit our Country Doctor of the Year Award page, including information about past winners.

For media inquiries, contact Phil Miller at (469) 524-1420 or phil.miller@amnhealthcare.com

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