From Fixing Cars to Saving Lives, an MD Mechanic on a Mission

Ryan Syrek, MA

Disclosures

September 24, 2019

Every new doctor feels overwhelmed, but few have to field questions from national media outlets while literally just starting their residency.

At 47 years old, Carl Allamby, MD, realized a dream long deferred. Having spent decades repairing vehicles, he changed course, stepping out from underneath a car's hood onto a medical graduation stage and into the national spotlight. Now an emergency medicine resident at Cleveland Clinic Akron General Hospital, Allamby's journey was first detailed in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and was then picked up by social media and news outlets around the world.

Allamby is adamant that his story serve not only as inspiration but as exposure for key issues that prevent certain groups from representation in the field of medicine. His ambition of becoming a doctor was nearly suffocated by coming of age during the crack epidemic. Now raising his own children, Allamby is as dedicated to his new patients as he is to using his story to motivate the physicians of the future.

Can you tell me a bit about your journey into medicine?

As a young person, you have these dreams of becoming something special, these big things that you want to be. But then you get lost in the things that life steers you toward. When I was really young, I wanted to be a doctor. I remember in high school I used to write "Dr Allamby" on papers sometimes. I would get in big trouble by my English teacher, who would say, "Hey, you have no idea what it takes to be a doctor!" But somewhere, I lost that desire.

I grew up in a really poor neighborhood. Both my parents lived at home, but only my dad worked, and he didn't have a great-paying job. He lost his job as a minister when I was about 5 years old, and we got evicted out of our home. It was right at the height of the crack epidemic that hit East Cleveland and many other underprivileged suburbs pretty hard. Growing up in that environment, there wasn't a lot of opportunity. Just surviving in school was more important than good grades.

As I progressed through junior high and high school, there weren't many jobs in my neighborhood. I ended up getting a job at a parts store, where a gentleman remembered me helping my dad out. I think I was about 16 when I walked in and asked for a job. He said, "You know, I really don't need the help, but I remember you and your dad working so hard and you being so helpful. I've got to hire you, just to give you a shot."

From there, people would come in the parts store and say, "Hey, can anybody put these on?" So I would offer my services, and my boss was okay with me fixing the cars in the parking lot at the end of the day after I got off work. Things just grew from there. By the time I was 19, I quit the parts store and just worked on cars full-time and opened up my business.

So how did you find your way back into wanting to become a doctor?

I was at a point in my business where it was close to the 20-year mark, and I was just looking for that next new thing. I enrolled back into college in order to get a business degree. Toward the end of that program, I was forced to take this biology course. They had to drag me kicking and screaming. On that first day of biology—very elementary stuff, you know—it sparked my interest. It made me remember, "Wow, this is what I wanted to do from a young age!"

I remember thinking that medicine was going to be the next big thing for me. I would reinvent myself and go in a different direction. I've always enjoyed helping people. My parents always taught me to do things out of love for doing it, not because it pays a big check. Do it because you want to do it. Medicine was like the ultimate in giving back to humanity. At the stage of life that I'm in, I want to pass on knowledge to that next generation in order to make our world as palliative a place as it can be.

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