It's Never Too Late to Pursue the Career
You’ve Only Dreamed About Until Now.
An interview with UCLA Alumnus and Non-Traditional Medical School Applicant – Ben Kershberg
(Class of ’86)
By Danelle Boone, UCLA Career Counselor
Ben Kershberg, UCLA Alumnus, Class of 1986
In the summer of 2002, I met with a UCLA alumnus, who after graduating from UCLA in 1986 and
working for more than ten years as a computer software developer, decided to reassess his
career values and interests, and follow his heart to pursue a career in medicine. Following is my
interview with Ben Kershberg, a UCLA alumnus who grew up in Cypress, CA, majored in Applied
Mathematics at UCLA, and at the age of 37, applied and was accepted to several U.S. and
international medical schools. Ben is now a first year student at Sackler Medical School at Tel
Aviv University, in Israel. His journey into this profession is not only “non-traditional,” it is truly
DB: What sparked your decision to apply to medical school, after working in the
computer/technical field for so many years?
BK: There wasn’t a particular day when I woke up and said I’m not doing this anymore, I’m going
to medical school. It was a gradual process. There was a growing dissatisfaction with my work.
Although I enjoyed aspects of software development and had pride in the software I developed, I
wanted to have a more direct beneficial impact on other people. I also felt that I was
“underperforming” – that I had abilities that were not being fully utilized.
I thought about what else I could do. Two professions came to mind – teaching and medicine.
Both would involve working more directly with people, and both would be tremendously
challenging. In the end, I chose medicine because of a love of science, and because I am better
working with people one-on-one.
DB: How have your experiences (work, personal, or otherwise) shaped this decision?
BK: Thus far, practically everything I’ve experienced over the past 3 years has solidified my
decision. Though it took some getting used to being a student again, the pre-med courses I took
at Santa Monica College I generally enjoyed (I won’t ever be taking organic chemistry again). The
volunteering I did at Santa Monica/UCLA Medical Center ensured that I wasn’t going to run from
the sight of blood, and also gave me some close-up perspectives on what my future life would be
Sure, some naysayers tried to warn me about all the problems with the medical profession. Even
a podiatrist I went to tried to convince me not to go. Overall, though, my friends and family have
been very supportive and excited for me. My dad would prefer that I was going to school in the
US, but otherwise is happy that I’m doing what I want to do.
DB: What challenges did you perceive to encounter as a “non-traditional” medical school
BK: Now that I’m looking back, it’s funny that I hesitated about going to medical school because
of my age. As an older, “non-traditional” applicant, I felt that I had an advantage, not a
disadvantage, over the traditional applicant. The dreaded personal statement, for example, was
much easier for me to write since I just had to tell my story to make it stand out from other
statements – I didn’t have to be extremely creative. I believe that as an older applicant, I came
across as having the “right” motivations for going to med school and that more doors were
opened to me as a result. Interviews were less challenging. My research never came up in
discussion (I didn’t have any).
I anticipated the coursework to be harder than it turned out to be. It took a bit longer for me to
memorize facts. But, I was much more focused than when I went to college the first time around. I
knew better what was important to study and what could be skipped. Also, my time management
was much more efficient.
DB: What challenges do you expect in the future?
BK: I’ve enjoyed this past summer immensely knowing full well what awaits me at the end of it.
Med school is not going to be easy. I’m not apprehensive of the work itself, for I feel that I can
handle the difficulty level. What I am worried about is the amount of work and the lack of sleep,
especially during residency. I’ve always been a hard worker, but at some point I reach a point of
The level of responsibility will also grow over the next several years. Right now, I just have to
focus on my studies and prepare for exams. Soon, though, I will be directing the care of many
patients. This will be an awesome responsibility, one that I do not take lightly. I hope I am up to
DB: What are you most looking forward to in your career?
BK: I am looking forward to the immediate impact I will have as a physician on people’s lives. At
the end of the day, I’ll be able to say to myself, “Hey, I did something really worthwhile with my
day today - I helped some people.” I believe that this will give me tremendous job satisfaction.
After many years of working almost exclusively with computers, I am also eagerly anticipating the
regular interaction I will have with patients, nurses, doctors and other health care professionals.
DB: Lastly, upon being accepted to several U.S. medical schools, what fueled your desire and
decision to enroll this Fall at Sackler Medical School at Tel Aviv University?
BK: Besides becoming a doctor, another dream of mine has been to experience life in Israel.
Being Jewish, I’ve always felt a strong connection with Israel. I have been taking Hebrew classes
at the University of Judaism to build a foundation for becoming fluent. I do Israeli folk dancing. I
would also like to find a Jewish woman to marry and have a family. What better place than Israel?
If I went to med school and did my residency in the US, my chances of spending significant time
in Israel afterwards would be diminished. For all of these reasons, I decided to attend medical
school in Tel Aviv. It was a difficult decision, one that I am happy with, but one that was not
without a price. I am very far removed from my family and friends. Although we live in an age of
email and cheap long distance phone service, it’s not the same.
An added benefit of my choice is that for the next 4 years my living expenses will be spent in
Israel. Besides the death and destruction, the suicide bombings have had a terrible impact on the
Israeli economy by keeping the tourists away. It gives me some satisfaction knowing that I’ll be
helping the situation at least a tiny bit through the expenditures I will make here.
DB: Any additional comments, advice, anecdotes, or stories you’d like to share?
BK: If you are thinking of making a career change, but are hesitating because of your age, don’t!
At age 37, I am by 7 years the oldest student in my medical school class, but certainly nowhere
near the oldest out there. In my MCAT prep course, another applicant was a 44-year old attorney
who always dreamed of going to med school. Wherever I interviewed, I was told of other students
attending who were in their 40s. The years are going to pass anyway, so you may as well be
working in a profession that you enjoy.