Today, after a career of fixing cars such as chevy’s and Ford’s, Dr. Carl Allamby does the same thing with people as an emergency medicine resident. Allamby graduated from medical school this year at age 47.
From fixing cars to fixing human bodies, Dr. Allamby now works at Cleveland Clinic Akron General Hospital. He is one of the few Black male doctors in the nation.
Allamby grew up in East Cleveland with two brothers and three sisters. His mother was a stay at home mother and his father was a photographer. Money wasn’t easily assecible for his family.
Working was more focused on than school growing. He got a job at 16 at an auto parts store in Cleveland.
“Through high school, I don’t remember a single person talking to me about college,” he said. “For us, it was mostly going and finding a factory job or go to the military. I ended up finding a job.”
His former customers rave about him.
“I’m telling you, this guy worked nonstop. He could fix the cars in his sleep,” said longtime customer Tawanah Key.
“He’s really smart, he can make a diagnosis on a car like nobody’s business,” said another customer, Karen Roane.
The work was hard, and vacations were rare. Still, he decided to finally enroll in college to seek a business degree.
“Most people go into business not because they’re good businessmen but because they’re good at whatever their trade is. I was good at fixing cars,” he said. “I just felt like if I really wanted to grow this and grow it right, I really needed a foundational education in business to really understand it.”
Decades after high school, he started taking night classes, one or two at a time.
There was one required class he kept putting off: Biology.
“My argument was, ‘I’m here for business, why do I even need to take a biology class?’” he said.
Finally, his counselor said he needed it to graduate. So he signed up.
And that’s when the auto mechanic shifted gears.
One class changed everything
The class was an overview of life. “Pretty basic,” said Allamby.
He considered a career in medicine, perhaps as a nurse or physician’s assistant. Being a doctor seemed impossible because of the years of study it would require. He was 40, had a family, and was still running a business.
Allamby’s amiable personality, not just his academic record, impressed the hiring committee at Cleveland Clinic Akron General Hospital, where he was selected for a three-year residency in Emergency Medicine.
“He’s got people skills most doctors don’t start out with, that customer relations mentality from his years in business,” said Dr. Steven Brooks, chair of emergency medicine at Akron General. “We were blown away by him.”
His bedside manner and his work ethic certainly distinguish him. But there’s something else that could really benefit patients particularly in urban areas: his race.
“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,” said Dr. Stephanie Gains, an emergency department physician at University Hospitals who mentored Allamby during one of his clinical rotations in medical school.
“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,’” Allamby said.
“We absolutely need more black doctors, he said, noting mistrust that has a long history, including the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis, where black patients were victimized.
“I think you remove a lot of those barriers when there is a person there who looks like you,” he said.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, less than 6% of medical school graduates nationally identify as black while 13 percent of the population is. The Association said the number of black males in medical school, despite a slight uptick last year, has been around the same since 1978.
“Some students of color, data just shows they aren’t encouraged to go into science and math and medicine. We kind of write them off before we find out what their desires are,” said Kimalon Dixon of the Cleveland Foundation, who as program officer orchestrated a grant for the Partnership for Urban Health to help change that.
“Programs like this are trying to undo the damage done by structural racism,” she said.
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