Leonardo Alaniz, M.D.
Class of 2024 graduate Leonardo Alaniz, M.D. (Steve Zylius/UC Irvine)

Rather than biology, chemistry or public health, Leonardo Alaniz entered medical school with a degree in finance, backed by two years of experience in the automotive industry as a successful district manager for General Motors and running his own dealership. Once he was able to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a doctor, anatomy class was pivotal. “Transitioning from a nontraditional background, this course offered the first tangible connection between theoretical knowledge and real-world application. It gave me an early glimpse of what it would be like to one day be performing surgery and helping actual patients,” he says. Before embarking on his six-year internship here at UC Irvine, Alaniz plans to “travel as much as possible,” including a scheduled two-week family trip to Thailand and a possible road trip across the western U.S. with his dogs.

What advice would you give to a student starting their academic career at UC Irvine?

Enjoy the process and know your “why.” Whatever your career path, there will inevitably be ebbs and flows along the way. Some days will be rough and difficult to get through, while others will be bright and exciting, filled with accomplishments. On this long journey, challenges and achievements will both be your teachers, offering lessons that will stick with you forever. Always stay true to your “why,” as that will help you persevere through challenges and keep you humble during triumphs.

Who at UCI Irvine has been an influence or made a significant impact on you?

Throughout my journey, I’ve been fortunate to have incredible mentors who provided unwavering support and guidance, keeping me focused and grounded. Initially, it was the PRIME-LC community who instilled a sense of belonging and resilience. When I decided to become a surgeon, advice from trauma surgeon Dr. Cristobal Barrios Jr. was crucial in helping me develop my skill set and stay the course, even when things got difficult. In the last few years, I found my home in the plastic surgery department and the Center for Tissue Engineering lab, where I was welcomed with open arms and supported by many of the faculty and residents.

What advice would you give your first-year self?

Identify your priorities, and don’t overextend yourself. Consider what truly matters for the long haul, and let that guide you. The journey to your chosen specialty will demand dedication, but don’t forget to enjoy your life along the way. Embrace your hobbies and spend as much time as possible with friends and family. In the grand scheme of things, those are the memories you will cherish most.

What makes you a proud Anteater?

Being surrounded by such an incredible group of people and having the opportunity to serve our community make me proud to be an Anteater. At UCI Health, we have some of the best providers in their respective specialties, and it’s an honor to work beside them and learn from them. It also makes me proud to be in the unique position where we’re able to serve patients from all walks of life and make an impact in their lives, especially those from underserved backgrounds.

“Leo is the hardest-working medical student I have ever mentored. He was everywhere and did everything; his leadership was essential for guiding our interdisciplinary, interinstitutional team of four medical and three graduate students. Leo does not understand ‘impossible,’ and during this challenging study, he led our team to adopt the mantra ‘Whatever it takes.’ I can’t wait to see the many contributions this talented, humble, thoughtful and proactive surgeon will make to our institution and specialty as he continues on his incredible trajectory.”

– Dr. Raj Vyas, professor and vice chair of plastic surgery

Read more #IamUCI – Class of 2024 stories