Everyone knows that it’s a long journey to becoming a doctor, but the experience may be even longer for some people. Dr. Carl Allamby’s path into the medical world may have taken some time, but it is certainly an inspiration to others thinking of going into medicine.
As a child in East Cleveland, Ohio, Allamby dreamed of being a physician. Life took a different turn, however, and instead he became an auto mechanic and opened his own auto repair shop.
He shared, “While thinking about the things we hold dear to our hearts, I think our health, our families and friends and our cars rank high on the list. When any of these fail us or suffer loss, emotions run high — and life as we know it can be turned upside down.”
Allamby’s childhood was quite challenging, and there were days or weeks when the family had no electricity, gas, or water.
Allamby recalled, “We faced economic hardships throughout my upbringing and were on welfare for what seemed to be my entire childhood. And if not for government handouts, we would have been without food on many occasions.”
Allamby had to let go of his dream to become a doctor and became an auto mechanic instead. He explained, “From my own experience, it is very difficult to focus on your education when your mind is filled with challenges outside the walls of the school. Food insecurity, safely making it to and from school, affording decent clothing and basic school supplies or just trying to fit in took precedence over studying and getting good grades.”
He added, “The trajectory toward medicine and other white-collar careers takes a constant focus on education, exposure to the desired occupations, enhanced curricula and having representative examples to model oneself after. All these things were either non-existent or unreachable.”
Allamby actually became an auto mechanic as a teen. In high school, he worked at a local parts store where he did repairs and maintenance work. Remarkably, Allamby opened his first auto service shop at 19.
He said, “After working multiple menial jobs and barely making ends meet, I took a chance on something I was passionate about and started my own business. In a sense, I started Allamby’s Auto Service mostly out of desperation and necessity.”
The business grew fast, but after a period of time, Allamby felt that he needed a change from being an auto mechanic. So, at age 34, he enrolled at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio in 2006.
He had planned to get a business degree, but his second to the last class in his program was an intro biology course.
The subject became a turning point as “Learning about some of the incredible basic functions of the body reminded me of my childhood ambitions to become a doctor,” Allamby said.
Allamby kept his business as an auto mechanic, but in 2010 he started pre-med classes at Cuyahoga Community College, in Cleveland, Ohio.
“I was always infatuated with the way things worked — and the human body seemed to be the most complex of anything I encountered, which always fascinated me,” he stated.
Allamby also began doing more volunteer work in the emergency, urology and neurology departments at various hospitals to gain more experience in medicine.
This week's #WCW goes out to Dr. Carl Allamby, the former Cleveland auto mechanic who changed career paths at age 47 to become a medical physician. What an inspiration to never give up on your dreams! #wearehued pic.twitter.com/rjZJBdxEKc
— HUED (@WeAreHUED) August 7, 2019
The career change from being an auto mechanic to a doctor continued when he enrolled in Cleveland State University to prepare for medical school.
“Over the course of five years or better, I attended weekend, evening or early morning classes in pre-medicine and other college studies while managing my business, lifestyle and household in order to transition my career,” he said.
Allamby was careful not to make an abrupt exit from the auto service industry to protect his employees and maintain a stable income. This then allowed him to start medical school at Northeast Ohio Medical University in 2015.
Allamby may be older than his colleagues, but he credits his early challenges to his success as a doctor.
He said, “When I got to medical school, I was laser focused. I worked very hard to stay ahead, but I think all of my responsibilities kept me focused on what needed to get done. That helped me to consume the large quantities of information that must be understood to succeed in medicine.”
He also said that being an auto mechanic also prepared him to become more compassionate in his medical practice.
“At my automotive business, the failure of transportation left customers in despair with unknown costs, an unknown length of time [during] repairs and the necessity to form contingency plans while their vehicle was down.” Allamby learned to translate his experiences as an auto mechanic into his care for patients.
Finally attaining his dream of becoming a doctor at age 47, Allamby began his emergency medicine residency in 2019 at Cleveland Clinic Akron.
And in 2022, he completed his medical training and became an attending physician at the emergency room of Cleveland Clinic’s Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.
He is no longer an auto mechanic, but Allamby continues to draw lessons from his former career. “Providing empathy, compassion and reassurance is often as important as providing appropriate medical care. In my previous life as a master technician, I worked on almost every make and model and fixed everything from brakes to major engine and transmission rebuilds,” Allamby said.
He added, “I had a lot of customers break down in tears or who were visibly shaken when I explained the diagnosis and eventual fate of their vehicle.”
Today, Allamby’s medical career covers every area of the body from birth to death. Still, he continues to provide care to his community, just as he did as an auto mechanic.
“Whether running an auto repair business in my former career or now providing medical care for those in need, I’ve maintained a connection with my hometown throughout my working career,” he said.
Allamby is always ready to lend a helping hand because he believes that everyone has roadblocks to becoming successful. Having the determination to fulfill your dreams even later in life is a message that he wants to share with others.
People may be limited by constraints and limitations, but Allamby stressed, “What matters most is your attitude when facing these challenges. I feel we all have the opportunity to make our lives better. If you want it, go after it. Don’t give up.“