Stride Stories: Mastering Music, Medicine, and More


Paul is a physician assistant & member of the Ryan McGrath band. You can check out their music on their website, SoundCloud, Facebook, & iTunes

Hi, Paul! Would you mind telling us more about your background?


Paul: I've been a physician assistant since 1999. I pretty much worked exclusively in the emergency room for the first 15 years or so. Then, I had a child and a chance to move from the Chicago area to Madison, Wisconsin. I transitioned to family medicine and had a day job, which I thought would be good for my kid because ER hours are all over the place.

After moving, things weren’t really working out with family medicine, and I realized my true calling in medicine was back in the emergency room. In late spring of last year, I applied for privileges through a locum tenens company to do some side work at an ER a couple hours north of Madison. At that time, things were getting toxic at my regular day job and the locum tenens work offered lots of shift bonuses, so I decided to work there full time as a 1099 employee.  

You’re also a harmonica player! Is that something that you've picked up as a hobby and tried to make more of a commitment?

Paul: For some reason, I always liked the sound of it when I was a kid. I remember seeing some movies—probably Westerns—with the cowboys sitting around the fire and somebody playing the harmonica. Once, two of my aunts took me and my cousin to see Huey Lewis and the News at Alpine Valley when we were around 10 years old, which was a crazy experience for a kid. Huey Lewis is actually a really good harmonica player. He didn't play it the whole night, but when he did play it, I was drawn to it.


After I graduated, I had to take an acting class to get some additional humanities credits to apply to PA school. The class taught me how to use games to get comfortable in your own skin. Those exercises actually awakened the creative side of me that I had shut down since I was a little kid. It was right around that time I went out on a date and I heard Westside Andy, one of the best harmonica players in the world, playing with his band. When I heard the band and I heard that harmonica being played through the amplifier, I was just like,  “I want to do that and I want to be that good. I don't care if it takes me 50 years.” I went out the next day and bought a harmonica and signed up for lessons. It was the fastest thing I think I've ever learned in my life, because I didn't put any pressure on myself and I had a clear goal of what I wanted to sound like and what I thought was a good sound.

Learning the harmonica along with PA school is super impressive! How did you end up balancing learning both crafts concurrently?


Paul: It was actually a good balance because PA school was really stressful, and you had to be in an analytical mindset all the time. With the harmonica, I was able to get into a creative mode. I used to study alone in one of the rooms in the medical school at night and I would bring a harmonica with me. Every fifteen or twenty minutes, I would stop studying and just work on a simple exercise. It helped keep me from being stressed out and anxious all the time about school, and I actually felt like I learned faster by not putting pressure on myself to do long practice sessions.

When you first decided that you were going to branch off and be a contractor, was there anything surprising that you didn't realize that you had to learn before becoming self-employed? 

Paul: I had to meet with an accountant and learn how to put money aside so that I’m able to pay quarterly tax estimates. Getting a paycheck with the full amount that I earned with nothing taken out was cool, but then it's kind of scary because I have to estimate taxes correctly. It’s tempting to think “I'm making a lot more than I normally do.” I have to make sure that I'm disciplined and save money. I'm also still learning the ins and outs of what's appropriate for deductions. I've been trying to get my stuff organized for taxes, which is how I found out about Stride Tax!

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What's one of the best parts of being self-employed?

Paul: I probably wouldn't have gotten to play SummerFest this year if I hadn't been an independent contractor with the ability to make my own schedule.

I’m a member of the Ryan McGrath band, and we received an opportunity to play at SummerFest. It’s the world's largest live music festival, and it's in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in late June to early July every year. If I had been stuck with somebody else making my schedule and not knowing far enough in advance to request time off, I might not have had a choice and might not have gotten to do it.


Do you plan on being self-employed in the long-term?

Paul: After getting a taste of it, yes. I also want to branch into some other areas. I have some educational programs that I purchased for health and wellness coaching, since I want to move away from conventional medicine. I feel that we do a good job in the ER, but my philosophy on medicine isn't just about writing prescriptions for symptoms that patients come in with. I'd rather find a way to get at the root cause.

I’m in an up-and-coming band doing original music, and this band has already done some impressive things in the last couple of years. We’ve opened for two Grammy winners and played for a Colts game, a Lambeau field tailgate area, a Bengals game (outside of the Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati), and two WI Badgers games (outside Camp Randall Stadium). The band’s also been booked again this year to play at Lambeau field, a WI Badgers game, and Summerfest—all of which I’m excited about. I believe I can make the music dream a big part of my private contractor income in years to come.