Peter Louis is the son of Haitian immigrants, who grew up in a single-parent home in Brooklyn, New York. By the time he got to college, he knew he could help people by pursuing a career in medicine.
"Growing up in the inner city, you know, I realized early on in grammar school that I was a have-not," Louis says. "So it has had a significant influence on how I see the world in my perspective."
On Sunday, Louis will join almost 12,000 other students at The Ohio State University who will receive a degree at spring commencement. Seven years after he began, Louis will stand alone as the only graduate who will earn a degree in both law and medicine.
Louis says that Ohio State came to his attention 10 years ago during his undergraduate days at Marist College. He went to the desk of a university representative who was talking about the College of Medicine, and she mentioned to him the dual degree programs they offer.
"At the very end I saw MD/JD, and it’s like, wow, I can get this degree," Louis says. "With the MD/JD, I can not only help people with the science and the art of medicine but I can also help people with the policy, actually influencing regulation and law."
Though the MD/JD is a dual-degree program, Louis had to apply to Ohio State's law school and medical school separately. He then spent his first two years in the college of medicine, followed by two years at the law school, then went back to medical school for a year.
This final year was divided between medicine and law.
"Let’s just say I haven’t had a television for this last seven years," Louis says, laughing. "I had to flip my mind between medicine and law. I think what made it also difficult was that there wasn’t anyone else doing it with me."
Those seven years were also somewhat isolated for him.
"My family was there giving me support but they weren’t there in Ohio," Louis says. "That was the hardest part."
But Louis persevered—buoyed, he says, by his mother's own tenacity.
"Like many people who immigrate to this country, they have a dream—the American dream," Louis says. "And she’s done outstanding, considering where she started. I grew up in the inner-city, so we lived in public housing, but now my mom, going back a decade, has owned her own home."
"She put my sister, my brother and I through college," he continues. "And she just worked extremely hard. I get my work ethic and diligence from her."
Now she’s here in Columbus with other family members to help celebrate Louis’s accomplishments. There is of course the matter of paying back student loans, the size of which were reduced by scholarships from each school.
"I haven’t looked at the exact numbers," Louis says, laughing. "I think one of the reasons why people haven’t done this route is the cost of attending medical school and law school. Each of those alone, let alone combined."
Already he's demonstrated his passion for expanding healthcare access. Over Christmas break, he volunteered for an Ohio State medical mission trip to Haiti - where his parents are from.
"I treated over a hundred patients in a week and a half," Louis says. "And seeing that the conditions that they were suffering from were conditions that were easily preventable, made me realize the importance of having government infrastructure in order to ensure that you have a healthy population."
That understanding, Louis says, came from his medical and legal educations, and it's something he wants to pursue in the future.
For now, though, he's off to Vanderbilt to begin his residency.