After eight years of juggling med school and football, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif can finally focus full-time on his NFL career.
The Kansas City Chiefs starting right guard received his doctorate in medicine Tuesday from McGill University. Before that, the six-foot-five, 321-pound Duvernay-Tardif was essentially a student-athlete, first with the Redmen and then the Chiefs, who selected him in the sixth round of the ’14 NFL draft.
"Since the day I got drafted, I promised myself I was going to finish my studies while I was still playing," he said. "This is, for sure, something that’s quite special.
"I’ve been working for this for the past eight years and to finally graduate is huge. And I can say it, I’m proud of myself."
Duvernay-Tardif, 27, posted a photo of himself on Twitter on Tuesday following the commencement wearing a lab coat with "Dr. Duvernay-Tardif" across the back and his No. 76 in Kansas City’s red-and-gold colours. Duvernay-Tardif, affectionately dubbed Larry by his Chiefs’ teammates, becomes the first active NFL player to hold a medical degree but didn’t have time to celebrate the accomplishment.
He was scheduled to fly back to Kansas City on Tuesday night and resume organized team activities with the Chiefs on Wednesday.
Duvernay-Tardif has made a request to the NFL about being allowed to add "MD" to his name on the back of his Chiefs jersey, but is realistic about those chances.
"With the NFL’s rules regarding dress code being so strict I’m not sure how well it’s going to go," he said. "We’ll see."
After each off-season when Chiefs players took time off, Duvernay-Tardif returned to Montreal to continue his medical school commitments. And despite signing a five-year, US$41.25-million contract extension last year, the native of Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Que., was determined to complete his academic requirements.
"It’s the combination of NFL careers sometimes being short and loving medicine," Duvernay-Tardif said. "I just feel like it (medical school) keeps me grounded, it gives you perspective and an opportunity to really help people and make a difference in their lives.
"I also took it upon myself to show people it (getting medical degree while playing pro football) was possible … I want to try and inspire as many kids as I can and show them it’s possible to combine a passion for sport and high education at the same time."
It’s been a meteoric rise for Duvernay-Tardif, a converted defensive lineman who cracked the Chiefs’ 53-man roster as a rookie before becoming a starter in 2015. When Duvernay-Tardif is done playing football, he’d like to become an emergency-room physician.
"Over the past two years I’ve done five months of emergency medicine and I really enjoy it," he said. "You never know what’s going to come through the door and need to be able to make decisions in a rational and logical way without letting your stress level interfere with your decision-making process.
"I think there’s a lot of similarities with football because when you’re on the field and it’s third and 20 and you must convert otherwise the game is over and fans are yelling as hard as they can, you must be able to analyse the field and can’t let your stress level get the best of you."
Duvernay-Tardif remains very appreciative of the support he’s received from Chiefs head coach Andy Reid.
Reid’s mother, Elizabeth, also graduated from McGill’s medical school.
"He’s one of those coaches you really want to give your 100 per cent for because he always tries to make you a better human being," Duvernay-Tardif said. "He always gave me the opportunity to come back a little later every spring training to finish my clinical rotation.
"And when I told him I passed the exam, he took a half hour to ask me about how it went and was seriously interested in what happened. I think it just shows a coach who thinks outside just the scope of football and wants you to grow as a person as well as a player."
The next step in Duvernay-Tardif’s budding medical career is completing a residency program at a hospital, where he’d get the chance to work directly with patients in a specialty area of medicine. Depending on the specialty area, a residency can last anywhere from two to five years.
But Duvernay-Tardif said residency will have to wait, at least for now.
"Honestly, I didn’t want to dig too deep on that the last few months because I was only focusing on studying," he said. "The past few months have been hard for me … I had to study full-time otherwise I wouldn’t have made it.
"I can start looking at my different options now that this is done."
Kansas City has been a force in the AFC West under Reid, compiling a 53-27 record since 2013. The Chiefs have reached the NFL playoffs four times over the last five years but are just 1-4 over that span.
The Chiefs will have sophomore Patrick Mahomes, their 2017 first-round pick, under centre this season after dealing veteran Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins in March. Despite his relative inexperience, Duvernay-Tardif expects Mahomes to be fine.
"He’s a good guy and he’s going to be great," he said. "I think it’s just a matter of giving him time to adapt … he still has to learn a little bit but he will.
"He’s a very very good athlete who’s able to run the ball and get up into the pocket and make accurate throws."