Ed Paul, MD, '81
Written by Steve Sandstrom
During his medical school salad days, Ed Paul, MD, ‘81, not only was practicing to become a physician; he was also a practicing musician. As part of the bluegrass band known as the Country Docs, Dr. Paul contributed guitar, banjo and vocals to the mix created by six SIU classmates and one professor, Don Caspary, PhD.
Dr. Caspary recalls that in the early days of the group, Dr. Paul could play competently with his peers. But by the time the group was ready for graduation in 1981, Dr. Paul had achieved an impressive level of fluency on his instruments. “His slope of learning was frightening,” Dr. Caspary says.
He had learned quickly from those around him; Dr. Paul’s brother was a professional guitarist and his bandmates also included a ringer: Illinois State Fiddle Champion Dr. Ellis Schwied, ’81, who in addition to becoming a respected child and adolescent psychiatrist, had also recorded and toured with country rock bands before enrolling in medical school.
To better himself, Dr. Paul studied, practiced and was soon entertaining audiences with his technical skills and warmth. This dedication to mastering a craft while improving the team would become a hallmark of his successful career in medicine, and lead to Dr. Paul being named SIU School of Medicine’s Distinguished Alumnus of 2014.
His ongoing work as a rural health-care coordinator and innovator in graduate medical education programs and medical-legal partnerships shows he’s never been afraid to improvise and bring different players together. Through the years, Dr. Paul has exemplified the values of SIU School of Medicine, focusing on providing compassionate care to underserved regions of the country.
Dr. Paul is director of medical education at Yuma Regional Medical Center in Yuma, Ariz., and a clinical associate professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. In 2012 he was named the Arizona Family Physician of the Year, and in April he was appointed to the Arizona Medical Board. He is a member of the Advisory Council for The National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) based at George Washington University and helped create Arizona’s first MLP in his residency program in Tucson.
The seeds of his accomplishments were planted in college. A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., Dr. Paul was the first in his family to pursue a career in medicine. In the late 1970s when he learned SIU School of Medicine was advertising its role in producing primary care physicians, it meshed with his interest in family medicine instilled by a local physician and a small-town upbringing. A Springfield campus visit hooked him. “It was a great fit and I was very impressed with the people,” he says.
One of the strengths Dr. Paul found in the School’s curriculum was the focus on humanities, communication and learning how to be an empathic physician. “Going into residency, I felt like the training I had here put me way ahead of the curve in that category,” he says
His residency and a faculty development fellowship in Arizona kindled a love of the western U.S. landscape. Teaching responsibilities at Phoenix Baptist Hospital and Medical Center led to another career passion: Dr. Paul started directing family medicine residency programs. (His superior abilities as a residency coordinator were cited by multiple nominators.) In 1993 he returned to Pennsylvania to take on a struggling program at Penn State University and successfully transformed it.
He also began working with the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) in Pennsylvania. The federal program enhances access to health care in rural and underserved areas through academic-community partnerships. The model offers medical students experience in communities that need more physicians, in hope that they will connect and eventually return to these areas to practice. Dr. Paul became a director of the AHEC program for a largely rural central Pennsylvania region. “I got to know a lot more about rural health, and I’ve stayed focused on it ever since,” he says.
In 2004 he went back to Arizona. Dr. Paul recognized that there was a shortage of family physicians in areas of Arizona and recalled SIU’s formative reason for training doctors. “It’s still true in southern Illinois and it’s true of almost everywhere that I’ve been,” he says.
Dr. Paul served as medical director for the Arizona AHEC program from 2004-09. During that period he also helped establish the Tucson Family Advocacy Program, Arizona’s first medical-legal partnership. The program provides free legal services to low-income patients at a family medicine residency clinic and teaches health-care providers how to become more effective advocates for their patients.
Years of practicing medicine in rural areas had shown Dr. Paul how legal matters can undermine family stability and health, leading to stress and much larger problems when untended. “For instance,” Dr. Paul says, “We see housing issues that impact health, especially in children, due to mold, dust, cockroaches. You have a kid who’s going to the ER at three times the normal rate. The landlords tend to not care.” Until a letter shows up signed by a lawyer, that is.
Dr. Paul realized how these recurring legal hurdles could be addressed more effectively—and be used as teachable moments. “The physician is just one member of a team, but having him or her understand all these dynamics is what is so critical to teach residents,” Dr. Paul says. “This is a shift, to first connect with people, to try to understand them and engender a trusting relationship. It’s an extension of the original premise of SIU: the importance of humanism and really taking care of people at a basic level.”
Dr. Paul met his then-CV-ICU-nurse wife during his internship in Phoenix, and they will celebrate 32 years of marriage together this year. They’re proud parents of three daughters, two in Tucson and one completing her PhD in health policy at NYU. For now Dr. Paul enjoys the lifestyle of the desert southwest, the challenge of teaching residents and escaping to play music on a regular basis. He adds, “Thirty years into my career in family medicine, I still love what I’m doing, and I am very grateful for what I have learned from my teachers and colleagues in medical school, in residency training and from my patients along the way."
The Distinguished Alumni Award from the School’s Alumni Society Board of Governors recognizes outstanding contributions to medicine and distinguished service to humankind. It was presented at SIU’s commencement ceremony on May 17.
Outstanding in Their Fields:
Dr. Paul remembers the Country Docs
The group of medical students from the Class of ’81 who would become the Country Docs met in their first year in Carbondale. “We discovered that a couple of us played guitar as we got to know each other,” Dr. Ed Paul says. “We heard Ellis [Schwied] playing in the dorm, and we said, ‘Hey Ellis, why don’t you come and fiddle?’
While a member of the Goose Creek Symphony based in Atlanta, Dr. Schwied had toured for five years with artists like Linda Ronstadt, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker, the Eagles and other southern rock bands. “We were just hackers, living room players, but with Ellis’s leadership and knowledge of music, he got us together and we became a band,” Dr. Paul says. “And we had a great time.”
The group first performed in a school talent show in December 1978. “By the time we got to Springfield, we were pretty well established,” he says. “We’d get together and practice and play. We’d listen to records, John Prine, whatever, for covers. We’d go home and try to copy the chords and bring it back. Eventually we sounded good enough that we thought that people should come and listen to us.”
The band’s biggest exposure came in March 1979, with a live PBS-broadcast performance seen by almost a million downstate viewers. “We played a lot of pig roasts and places in southern Illinois and Missouri,” Paul says. “We’d do weekend things that people asked us to do.” Several outdoor performances took place in the medical school’s courtyard in Springfield.
Paul accompanied Schwied at the Illinois State Fiddle Championships in 1980 and ’81, both of which Schwied won. “He was the best accompanist I ever had,” Schwied says. “We worked hard and could have gone to Nationals if Dean Richard Moy would have given us time off.”
By the end of medical school, “we were about as tight as we could be,” Dr. Paul says. “We knew about 30 or 40 songs.” The band members were flattered when Dean Moy offered to help produce a record. The album The Country Docs captured a live set at Crow’s Mill School, a well-known bar out by Lake Springfield (now Crow’s Mill Pub). While the participants tend to agree it wasn’t their finest performance, the LP provided a keepsake for what had been a very enjoyable collaboration.
Listen to a sample of The Country Docs music online.tinyurl.com/bqukvg9