A native of Venezuela, Benacerraf was denied admission to over two dozen medical schools before a family friend secured him an interview with the assistant to the president of the Medical College of Virginia. Benacerraf attended MCV during World War II when the school operated on an accelerated schedule and graduated in 1945. Following graduation, he served in the army before embarking on his remarkable career in medical research. In 1980 Benacerraf with his colleagues Jean Dausset and George D. Snell received the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology.