At age 47, Carl Allamby was, for 25 years, operating an auto repair business until four years ago when he decided to switch careers and began studying as a doctor.
Though he had grown to be an expert in fixing cars, Allamby’s dream from childhood was to become a doctor. He, however, brushed this aside in later years, with one of his reasons being that he had no black doctors as role models to look up to at the time.
But one biology class in recent years would change his mind. Today, he is no more fixing cars but fixing lives at Cleveland Clinic Akron General hospital, where he started as a resident this month. This has not come easily, though.
Growing up in East Cleveland with five siblings, money was hard to come by at home. Allamby’s father was a part-time photographer while his mother was a stay-at-home parent. To make ends meet, Allamby had, at age 16, started working at an auto parts store and soon became great at fixing cars while building a lot of rapport with his customers.
At school, Allamby was not that great but this didn’t bother him as he wasn’t heading to college anyway.
“For us, it was mostly going and finding a factory job or go to the military. I ended up finding a job,” he told cleveland.com.
From that auto parts store job, he rented a repair bay in a shop across the street before taking over the whole building and operating a business repairing cars.
Soon, he started selling used cars and after 18 years in this business, he bought another shop in South Euclid. For the next eight years, he operated this shop alongside his other car businesses.
Customers loved him and business was booming, meaning he had a lot on his hands but he still managed to enrol in college for a business degree to improve his business skills. In 2006, he began night classes at Ursuline College but always shunned the Biology class that, unbeknown to him, was required to graduate.
“My argument was, ‘I’m here for business, why do I even need to take a biology class?’” he said.
When he was told that he needed Biology to graduate, he started taking the class, and one of these classes has since changed his life.
“After the first hour of class, I was like, ‘This is what I want to do. I have to go into medicine.’ It was like a light switched on.”
Allamby was then 40, and he thought that being a doctor was impossible considering the years needed to study. Besides, he had his business and a family to take care of. But the good news was that he now had role models to look up to, and after discussing his plans with two black doctors, they encouraged him to go ahead.
Thus, after his business degree, he began taking science courses at Cuyahoga Community College and got his second undergraduate degree from Cleveland State University.
He went ahead to Northeast Ohio Medical University after selling off his auto repair business, and despite his responsibilities as a father to his children, he excelled in all his classes and even became the student representative on the NEOMED Board of Trustees.
With his academic record and warm personality, he was selected by the hiring committee at Cleveland Clinic Akron General Hospital for a three-year residency in Emergency Medicine. With his race, he has filled in by one, the huge gap in black doctors in the U.S.
“There are so many times throughout the different hospitals where I will walk in and [a black patient] will say, ‘Thank God there’s finally a brother here,’” Allamby said.
Various studies have shown that black patients respond better to black doctors. But even though 13 per cent of the U.S. population is black, only about 6% of medical school graduates are black, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Allamby is hoping to change that.
“When I speak at a junior high or high school, I tell the kids, ‘Hey, if you are interested in medicine, reach out to me,” he said, “because I will help you as much as I can.”
Allamby has already begun this move with his family. His wife is a physical therapist. His 23-year-old son, Kyle, is a firefighter in East Cleveland pursuing a paramedic degree.
The boy’s twin sister, Kaye, is also studying to be a registered nurse. Allamby is, at the moment, helping all of them to pursue their careers.