Austin startup helps Super Bowl starter get medical degree while playing in NFL


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, the first NFL player to get his medical degree while playing in the league, achieved his goal with help from an Austin startup.

The company OnlineMedEd learned the Kansas City Chiefs guard used its platform this month when NFL Network published a profile of the pro football player. A few shots in the short documentary show Duvernay-Tardif watching the startup’s videos to study for his medical exam.

Watch the full NFL Network story at the bottom of this story.

Co-founder and CEO Jamie Fitch only found out about his company’s most visible client when he saw the video. “Some of our users actually reached out and said, ‘You have to see this. This NFL player is using OnlineMedEd.'”

Duvernay-Tardif was drafted onto the Chiefs from his Canadian medical school before he finished his studies. His first game in the league, against the Houston Texans, came in 2015, but the work wasn’t over.

He kept pushing toward his degree, aiming to become the first active NFL player to earn his medical doctorate. Three years later, he started preparing to take his final exam.

“Basically, I had to review eight years’ worth of material in two months,” he told NFL Network. “That whole stretch of the spring of 2018 was probably one of the most intense of my life.”

Duvernay-Tardif studies with the help of OnlineMedEd’s materials. (Photo Courtesy: NFL Network)

‘Blows my mind’

Duvernay-Tardif is one of about 200,000 people who use OnlineMedEd’s materials every month, Fitch said, spanning 191 countries.

Fitch started the company in Austin a few years ago in an effort to help medical students understand the material better. “We just want to make better doctors, first and foremost,” he said.

The startup began recording simple whiteboard videos of a doctor explaining concepts critical in healthcare education. Those videos are free to watch, but the notes, documents and charts that the company also produces require a subscription.

A video explaining the biology of cancer from OnlineMedEd. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

The platform is not meant to be a replacement for medical school, but rather a supplement. OnlineMedEd teaches the knowledge and professors teach how to apply it, Fitch said. “It’s how to have a conversation, it’s how to be the leader, it’s how to do research. All those other elements come in to create a complete physician.”

Medical students have to understand the basics of so many complicated topics, he said, and they want to provide another tool to help them understand the concepts while they put in the work to get hands-on experience in clinics and hospitals.

“To try doing that while you’re being an NFL player kind of blows my mind,” Fitch said.

Duvernay-Tardif passed his exams, then started the 2018 NFL season with the Chiefs. “I did it,” he said, “That ultimate vision of me being the first one to graduate in medicine while still playing in the NFL was accomplished.”

OnlineMedEd started a petition to encourage the NFL to let Duvernay-Tardif add “M.D.” to his jersey. It garnered 120 signatures as of Friday morning.

His first game as a medical school graduate was against the San Francisco 49ers; he’ll start in the Super Bowl as well, a rematch of that appearance.

Fitch and his team will be watching. Asked if he was a Chiefs fan, he said, “I am now.”

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