It’s never too late to make your dreams come true. Just ask Dr. Carl Allamby of East Cleveland, Ohio. He always wanted to become a physician, even while running his own auto repair shop. But it took him a while to get there.
“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,” Allamby said over the phone. “When any of these fail us or suffer loss, emotions run high — and life as we know it can be turned upside down.”
His family moved to the area in the 1970s primarily because it was one of the few places they could afford to buy a home. His father was a minister but soon started working as a door-to-door salesman to pay the bills, while his mother stayed home to look after him and his five siblings.
“We faced economic hardships throughout my upbringing and were on welfare for what seemed to be my entire childhood,” said Allamby. “And if not for government handouts, we would have been without food on many occasions.”
But the idea of taking care of others was never far from his mind.
“I remember having a desire at a young age to become a doctor — but my life circumstances led me to a much different place.”
His family struggled to make ends meet for years.
“As you can imagine, the situation my family and others in the neighborhood faced led to significant despair,” he explained. “While I’m sure our teachers at school tried to educate us as well as they could, the multitude of challenges a lot of us faced made our educational aspirations secondary to the fulfillment of our basic needs.”
Facing limited resources, Allamby wasn’t able to pursue his dreams as a young man.
“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 that “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” when he was growing up, he said.
Allamby eventually got a job as an auto mechanic to support his family. He opened his own shop by the time he was 19, but it wasn’t exactly his life’s purpose.
“In a sense, I started Allamby’s Auto Service mostly out of desperation and necessity,” he said.
He decided to attend night classes in 2006, hoping to attain a degree in business administration, but he had to take a biology course to complete his degree.
The experience reminded Allamby of why he wanted to be a doctor in the first place.
“Learning about some of the incredible basic functions of the body reminded me of my childhood ambitions to become a doctor,” he explained.
He started volunteering at a local hospital and quickly fell in love with the profession.
“Initially, I worked in a pediatric ward for immune-compromised children, providing activities for them during their often long-term stay,” he said. “I performed many hours of shadowing and volunteering in the emergency, urology and neurology departments at this and other hospitals.”
“Every exposure I had in medicine further solidified my choice to pursue a medical career,” he said.
He soon enrolled in a pre-med program at Cleveland State University, but he couldn’t afford to walk away from his day job.
“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. “My exit from business could not be abrupt. I had too many people counting on me and too many bills to maintain.”
In 2015, he enrolled in medical school at Northeast Ohio Medical University. He got a much later start compared to his classmates, but he appreciated having the extra life experience.
“I would argue that in many ways, I had it easier than some of my much younger colleagues,” he said. “When I got to medical school, I was laser focused.”
He graduated at the age of 47 and started his residency program in 2019. Fixing a car isn’t the same as treating a human being, but Allamby says his time under the hood has made him a better doctor.
“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,” he said.
It taught him how to be compassionate and empathetic when faced with a complex problem.
“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,” he said. “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.”
He now performs a range of life-saving invasive techniques. He said being a doctor is like being a mechanic in that both jobs have the “potential to go from 0 to 60 in seconds.”
“Interestingly, as I have gotten older, the human connection and thought of empathy and caring for others have been equally important.”