KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Eight years after starting medical school and four after being drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is going to become a doctor on May 29, when his class graduates from Montreal's McGill University.
He will allow himself to attend the ceremony and spend a few hours afterward with friends and family, but the celebration won't last long. He needs to return to Kansas City to rejoin his teammates for offseason practice.
"It's been eight years that I've been working for that moment," Duvernay-Tardif said. "Since the day I got drafted, I promised myself I was going to finish my studies and get that M.D. while I was still playing. It's one of those life projects that you promise yourself you're going to accomplish, and I'm on the verge of doing it, so I'm pretty excited.
"But right now, football is my main priority. I want to focus and see how good I can be. I'm putting medicine on hold in order to really maximize my opportunity in the NFL. I love playing football. For all of those who sometimes doubt that I really want to be here because I've got a medical degree, having a really strong Plan B and still playing football shows how much I really love the game. I love being out there with the guys. I love the chemistry we have in the locker room. Being out there is a privilege."
In this respect, at least, nothing has changed for the Chiefs' starting right guard. He has gone back and forth between playing football and studying medicine since he was drafted by the Chiefs in the sixth round in 2014.
Now he's on the verge of achieving the rarity of earning his medical degree while playing in the NFL.
"Getting drafted into the NFL was way more intense," he said. "When you get drafted, it almost feels like a surprise. You don't know which team you're going to, so it's really intense and really emotional at that specific moment. With regards to medicine, it's more like a marathon. I've been doing it for the past eight years, and it was always that vision. Every time the season was over and I was driving back to Montreal and I was getting back into medical school while everybody else was enjoying their offseason, I was motivating myself with the thought of pushing through because it's going to be worth it in the end.
"Nobody can take that from me. When I graduate, I'm going to be a doctor for life. I'm proud to be in the NFL, and it's been an incredible journey to get here, but being able to combine medical school at the same time, this is the accomplishment I'm proudest about, to be able to combine both. So many times I heard people tell me I'd have to make a choice."
The Chiefs have encouraged Duvernay-Tardif to pursue his medical passion since he met with team officials before the 2014 draft. He skipped the start of the offseason conditioning program every season to tend to his studies, with permission from the Chiefs. The workouts are voluntary, but Duvernay-Tardif still asked for the approval of coach Andy Reid.
Duvernay-Tardif has no way of knowing how accommodating of his academic schedule other teams might have been. He said he suspects that at least some wouldn't have been as receptive as the Chiefs, based on other predraft interviews.
"Not all the coaches saw my second career with that same optimism," he said. "Some coaches asked me, 'How do we really know you want to play football?' Coach Reid never asked me that question. With him, it's always been, 'We know you want to play football because you're here.' He trusts me. That's one thing I respect and admire about him.
"He told me that he was going to do anything he could to help me succeed. It's been four years now, and Coach Reid has stood by that plan. Every year when we end the season, we have our exit meeting with coach Reid, and he's always asking me where I am in school and what the plan is for the offseason."
Reid is known as a player's coach, but it turns out that his mother, Elizabeth, graduated from medical school, also at McGill.
"They took women, and a lot of med schools back then didn't take women," Reid said.
With regard to Duvernay-Tardif and the offseason time afforded him to tend to his medical studies, Reid said, "We're always talking about players and their life after football, which we encourage that you work on. So if you're going to be a doctor, you're going to have to spend a little extra time doing that. Then, hopefully you're driven enough when you come back to the football that you catch up and get where you need to be in order to play.”
Since the end of last season, Duvernay-Tardif allowed himself a two-week break to attend the Winter Olympics in South Korea, where he worked as a feature reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Company.
Otherwise, he was preparing for his medical school finals, which he took earlier in May. He said he rented a place two hours outside of Montreal for the purpose of studying.
"Coach Reid always says to eliminate distractions," he said. "That was my main objective.
"I just tried to crush my studying. Every day, I would wake up at 6:30 and started at 7. I took an hour break at noon and then went back to it for another eight, nine hours."
Next on Duvernay-Tardif's medical journey is residency, the step where he's a doctor under the supervision of another physician. He said he's planning to do his residency in emergency medicine.
Residency will have to wait because, for the time being, at least, football is the priority.
"I don't know exactly how that is going to happen," he said. "I'm not sure it's easy to do part-time residency. I'm in the process of finding out what my options are. Whether it's medical school at the residency level or another school project like an MBA, I'm going to stay in school throughout the course of my football career. It's a good balance to have between football, which is very physical, and the classroom or the hospital, which is more intellectual. I like the balance."