Carl Allamby always had dreams of becoming a doctor, but spent much of his childhood with his head ducked under car hoods in his hometown of East Cleveland, Ohio.
After a complete career overhaul, Allamby has since turned his focus from diagnosing shaking, rattling and rolling Chevys to diagnosing patients as an emergency medicine resident at the Cleveland Clinic Akron General hospital, according to The Plain Dealer.
The ex-mechanic earned his medical degree this year at age 47 and, in the process, has helped address the lack of Black male doctors in exam rooms across 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,’” Dr. Allamby told the outlet.
“We absolutely need more black doctors,” he added. “I think you remove a lot of those barriers when there is a person there who looks like you.”
Before earning his white coat, Allamby had made his living as a mechanic and ran a successful business fixing and selling used cars. The Ohio native said his childhood dreams of becoming a doctor began to dwindle and was all but “beaten out of me” by the time he got to middle and high school.
What’s worse, he had no Black doctors to look to as role models.
“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,’” Allamby told the outlet.
Data by the Association of American Medical Colleges shows that less than 6 percent of the nation’s medical school graduates identify as African-American. While the number of Black men enrolled in medical school has increased slightly, progress has largely been stagnant since the late ’70s.
“Some students of color, data just shows they aren’t encouraged to go into science and math and medicine,” said Kamalon Dixon, a program director for the Cleveland Foundation, who’s working to change that. “We kind of write them off before we find out what their desires are.”
Allamby instead pursued a business degree and started taking night classes at Ursuline College. Among his required classes was biology, which the former mechanic admits he avoided like the plague — that is, until he learned he needed the class to graduate.
Though Allamby says the course turned out to be “pretty basic,” he said it was his professor who helped him realize his dreams of becoming a doctor once again.
“He just lit up when he walked into the room,” he said of Dr. Micah Watts, a resident of interventional radiology at Cleveland Clinic at the time. “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.”
He’d also befriended two doctors at his athletic club, Drs. Kenneth Lane and David Headen, who encouraged him to shoot for the stars. With the support of a few role models in his corner this time around, Allamby said his hopes of becoming a doctor seemed all the more possible.
The aspiring medic finished his business degree and enrolled in some basic science classes at Cuyahoga Community College as he figured out his next steps. According to The Plan Dealer, “a chemistry professor told him about a new program at Cleveland State University that offered intense undergraduate classes, help preparing for the Medical College Admissions Test, and then, if successful, a spot at the Northeast Ohio Medical University in Rootstown.”
Allamby would go on to complete two years at CSU, earning his second undergraduate degree. He even aced Northeast Ohio Medical University’s entrance exam in 2015 and was only more successful from there.
“The stakes were high, like, ‘Man, I really can’t fail,’” he admitted, recalling the long nights, heavy workload and limited time with his family.
“There were a lot of days where it was like, ‘Oh my God, I have this mound of paperwork to go through, and all of this information to understand, how am I ever going to get this down?’” he added.
But Allamby handled it like a pro, acing all of his classes to ultimately become Dr. Carl Allamby. Fellow physicians said it wasn’t just his race, but Allamby’s bedside manner and work ethic that helped him stand out from the rest.
“He’s got people skills most doctors don’t start out with, that customer relations mentality from his years in business,” Dr. Steven Brooks, chair of emergency medicine at Akron General, told the outlet. “We were blown away by him.”