August 2, 2019

How this 47-year-old car mechanic just became a doctor

Daily Briefing

    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Oct. 12, 2020.

    Carl Allamby was a car mechanic for over 20 years, but after taking a class at a local community college, he discovered his love for medicine, and now at the age of 47, he's become a doctor, inspired in part by a desire to help address the shortage of black physicians, Michael McIntyre writes for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

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    'I don't remember a single person talking to me about college'

    Allamby, who grew up in Cleveland, said he once dreamed about becoming a doctor when he was younger, but "[s]omewhere through junior high and high school, that had gotten beaten out of me."

    He explained, "Through high school, I don't remember a single person talking to me about college," adding, "For us, it was mostly going and finding a factory job or go to the military."

    Allamby said he never had a black doctor as a role model. "Nobody to even to emulate. Just to say, 'Hey, I know a guy who is a doctor who looks like me and if he can do it, I can do it,'" he said.

    At age 16, Allamby got a job at an auto parts store near his house, and since he knew cars well, he helped customers install the parts they bought.

    Eventually, Allamby rented a repair bay in a shop across the street from the auto parts store and later took over the whole building, starting his own business repairing and then selling used cars for 18 years, McIntyre writes. He then bought out another store called Advanced Auto Repair, and ran that for another eight years.

    The class that changed Allamby's life

    Allamby eventually decided to enroll in college to get a business degree to better run his auto repair business and began taking night classes at Ursuline College.

    As time went by, he kept putting off a required biology class, McIntyre writes. "My argument was, 'I'm here for business, why do I even need to take a biology class,'" Allamby said.

    But he eventually signed up for the required course and met a teacher who changed the course of his life. Allamby's teacher Micah Watts—a resident in interventional radiology at the Cleveland Clinic.

    "He just lit up when he walked into the room," Allamby said of Watts. "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 considered becoming a nurse or physician's assistant because becoming a doctor seemed impossible considering he was running a small business and had a family. But when he brought the idea up to Kenneth Lane and David Headen, two black doctors Allamby was friends with, they encouraged him to try it.

    'He's an amazing man'

    After he finished with his business degree, Allamby started taking basic science courses at Cuyahoga Community College, McIntyre writes.

    Ormond Brathwaite, Allamby's chemistry teacher at the community college, told Allamby about a program that offered undergraduate classes to help prepare for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). If Allamby was successful on his MCATs, he could get into Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED). The program aims to recruit and train doctors, especially minority doctors, to practice in urban areas, McIntyre writes.

    Allamby enrolled in the program and aced the NEOMED entrance exam.

    Before he started classes at NEOMED, Allamby dissolved his auto repair business and hired an auctioneer to sell off everything, McIntyre writes.

    Jay Gershen, president of NEOMED, said Allamby "is the poster child for this program. It's not just what he's doing, it's who he is. He's an amazing man."

    After graduating with his medical degree, Allamby was selected for a three-year residency at Cleveland Clinic Akron General Hospital in emergency medicine.

    The shortage of black doctors in the US

    As a physician, Allamby is hoping to address the shortage of black doctors in the United States and encourage others to join the medical field. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), less than 6% of medical school graduates nationwide identified as black, compared to 13% of the entire population.

    This is a problem, because research has found black patients have better outcomes when they see black doctors, McIntyre writes. For example, one study from the National Bureau of Economic Research published last year found black men were more likely to share details with black doctors and listen to their advice.

    Stephanie Gains, an ED physician at University Hospitals who mentored Allamby in medical school, said, "Being a physician of color, you have a special connection with patients when you look like them. There is a certain level of trust between you and the patient. This person who looks like me understands what I'm going through."

    Allamby agreed. "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'" (McIntyre, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/28).

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