News 12 at 11 o'clock / Thursday, May 10, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Friday is the big day for nearly 200 medical students at Georgia Health Sciences University. They'll graduate and officially become doctors.
One of those students is Ajay Pillai. His mother and father are both doctors in Warner Robins, Ga., so maybe it's not a surprise that Pillai would take the medical path, too. But he sure took a short cut.
"So, I'm 21. Definitely different starting medical school when you're 17 years old," Pillai joked.
Definitely different ... and definitely impressive.
Sound like a real-life Doogie Howser?
"No," Pillai groaned. "That nickname has stuck with me since I was 13 years old!"
That's because Pillai has been on the fast track to his M.D. since middle school.
"It's an interesting story! I was 13 years old in the eighth grade, and I was taking the SATs to get into a summer camp."
Those scores were so good, the school sent them to the University of West Georgia for a program called Advanced Academy. They typically enroll juniors and seniors in high school to take college courses.
"They ended up admitting me at the age of 13, so I skipped high school completely and finished with a B.S. in biochemistry in four years. And was lucky enough to make it to MCG."
Pillai says this successful journey is really thanks to his parents, who never forced him to pursue the fast track.
He also credits his grandfather: "I remember when I was 13 and going to college, I was living on campus but had to drive home. And obviously couldn't drive yet. So he would, every weekend, my grandfather would drive up, take me to school, take me back. He's really been there every step of the way."
Pillai says his brother has also been a positive influence.
On Thursday, Pillai joined his 189 classmates for their ritual hooding ceremony, a rite of passage as they prepare to graduate Friday. The average starting doctor there is in his or her late 20's.
"More than anything, it's a big weight on my shoulders," he said. "It's a big, big responsibility to live up to."
He says he most certainly does not consider himself a genius.
"Not at all," he insisted, laughing. "I struggled a lot. It wasn't an easy road."
A road of struggles, undoubtedly. But it's a road that's not hitting any stop signs soon. Pillai is now heading to Florida to work as a clinical researcher at a private company called LensAr Inc.
"They work on trying to advance laser applications in the eye and for cataract surgery. And for correction of a disease called presbyopia," Pillai explained.
Even more impressive, Pillai's story is just one story of blood, sweat and tears. He's just one of nearly 200 students who, in a matter of hours, will all be doctors.