How to Get Into UCLA Medical School
Tristan Paul Bennett, a former football player at the University of Texas in Austin and a current student at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (DGSOM), says playing collegiate sports primed him for a medical career.
“The type of discipline we have to cultivate when participating in sports is almost perfectly transferable to the medical field, especially the teamwork aspect,” he says, referring to the increasingly collaborative nature of patient care and basic-science research.
Bennett’s own medical aspirations took shape after his best friend on the football team moved off the field and into medical school.
“I was really following in his footsteps. He helped guide me and helped me shift out of a football state of mind. I started to think about what I really wanted for myself.”
The mental shift involved accepting football as a short-term goal and creating space for new long-term goals—a new vision for the future. For Bennett, bodily awareness eased the shift. He’d started feeling football’s physical strain before he’d even celebrated his twentieth birthday. He questioned how much longer he could weather that pain.
Bennett says football was his first love and he’d always dreamed of playing in college. Acknowledging he’d fulfilled that dream made creating space for a new love easier.
“I’ve always loved science, and that love grew into a passion for learning about all the disciplines within the medical field,” he says. “I also loved how there’s an intersection in medicine between helping others and also achieving personal growth. You can’t find that in many other professions.”
From the Field to the Medical Bench
Committed to pursuing medicine in the long term, but also invested in finishing his college football career, Bennett worked hard balancing the intense demands of each endeavor.
“It was very difficult, trying to pursue medical school, majoring in neuroscience, and also playing football.”
He had to keep up his athletic acumen while also standing out academically.
“There’s no ‘just passing’ if you want to go to medical school,” he says.
Fortunately, Bennett’s athletic discipline helped him handle the academic demands of applying to medical school.
“It felt natural to deal with the pressure and stay on top. I had this expectation from myself and from my family to compete at a certain level on the field and also with myself in order to obtain my goals.”
A strong purpose also kept Bennett driven to excel athletically and academically.
“My grandmother’s passing gave me a desire to go into medicine. My father’s passing solidified that dream. It sat on my heart, how I wasn’t able to help them, and I saw the medical field as my chance to help others suffering like they did.”
As he researched medical schools, one seemed particularly aligned with his higher purpose.
“I chose UCLA ultimately because there was this strong emphasis on developing whole physicians who provide humanistic care, and I didn't see any other schools offering the same level of emphasis on that.”
He considered UCLA’s location an added bonus.
“It's in Los Angeles. It can't get much better than that.”
California, Here We Come
Bennett, born and raised in Dallas, Texas, had never been to Los Angeles before he packed up his car and drove across several states, with his dog in tow, to start a new life there.
“I'm a Texan, so, you know, Texans love Texas. I think Texas is the best state, but city-wise, L.A. is the gold standard. I had all these fantasies about L.A. and what it would be like.”
Coming from the volatile hot-and-cold Texas climate, he looked forward to year-round mild weather. He also couldn’t wait to experience the diversity and culture of L.A., which he considers a “mini world.”
“There’s nothing you can get anywhere else that you’re not going to get in L.A. And the rest of California also has so much to offer. No matter where you are in California, you know you're going to see something different—different landscapes, different environments, different people, and different food.
(Surviving) A Day in the Life of a Medical Student
Already accustomed to pressure, Bennett thrived during his first few months of medical school.
“I'm happy to be here. There are a lot of stresses I could potentially complain about, but I just adjusted my mindset and accepted that it was going to be difficult, that I would have to do a lot of work and experience a lot of pressure.”
He dealt with the uncertainty of what the tests would be like or what his typical day would look like by trusting he would, in time, find his rhythm and flow. He managed his stress by going in with the outlook that he could have an enjoyable time in med school.
“I want to continue enjoying my medical school experience. That’s what faculty members and residents tell me. ‘Enjoy your time in medical school because it only gets worse.’ I plan to get everything done but also have a good time.”
Envisioning a Bright Future
Bennett hopes to become a neurosurgeon, a dream that sparked when he discovered a passion for neuroscience in college.
“I fell in love with the general concepts of the brain, and the fact that there’s still so much unknown. That was very attractive to me, knowing I could be a leader, making new discoveries, in that field.”
After college, he worked at a post-acute physical therapy facility, helping patients recovering from strokes or traumatic brain injuries.
“I got to see what life was like working alongside the kinds of patients neurosurgeons see. I got to see all the ways patients with similar brain injuries and trauma can have different symptoms and problems.”
As someone who’d had his fair share of concussions from playing football, Bennett wanted to learn more about the complex recovery involved in brain trauma and saw opportunities to innovate enhanced ways to treat those patients.
In addition to envisioning himself as a neurosurgeon, Bennett, a member of the Student National Medical Association and a signatory of Black Men in White Coats (BMWC), has an overarching vision for the kind of community-minded physician he wants to be.
“I would like to be a great mentor and leader for my community, specifically the Black community, and the youth,” he says. “I want to set an example for them, and show that it is possible for them to pursue a profession in science and medicine.”
Med School Advice - Quick Tips
- Cope with pressure by remembering your unique sense of purpose.
- Approach every challenge with the outlook that it will be enjoyable and valuable.
- Accept uncertainty by trusting everything will become clear in time.
- When selecting a medical school, consider less empirical qualities, such as values and missions, alongside academic statistics.
Med School Advice - FAQ
What Is a First Generation College Student?
A first-generation college student is the first in their family to attend college. Read more about first-generation medical students at the DGSOM.
According to the most recent report available from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC):
- The average cost of attending one year of private medical school in the United States is $39,905.
- The average cost of attending one year of public medical school in the United States is $62,570.
See the costs associated with attending medical school at the DGSOM.
How Long Is Medical School?
Many medical schools offer a four-year medical education curriculum. After students complete this core curriculum, they spend several (3-7) more years in residency training for their chosen specialty.
How Hard Is Medical School?
Medical school is hard because being an outstanding physician or physician scientist is hard. Most medical schools design rigorous curriculums that prepare medical students for the range of challenges they’ll encounter every day as practicing physicians.