Cleveland auto mechanic becomes doctor at age 51, inspires others to pursue their dreams
CLEVELAND, Ohio - Many people have taken interesting paths to the field of medicine. Dr. Carl Allamby's story is different from most, however.
Allamby’s journey to physician started with a dream as a child in East Cleveland, something he never forgot, even when he opened his own auto repair shop.
"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 told Fox News Digital in a recent phone interview.
"When any of these fail us or suffer loss, emotions run high — and life as we know it can be turned upside down."
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But the journey for him from longtime auto mechanic in Cleveland to dedicated medical professional was far from easy.
Allamby's family moved to a small suburb of East Cleveland in the mid '70s, because it was one of few areas where his parents could afford to buy a home.
Decent-paying jobs were difficult to find, so his minister dad started working as a door-to-door salesman, while his mom stayed home to raise the family, which included his five siblings.
"We faced economic hardships throughout my upbringing and were on welfare for what seemed to be my entire childhood," said Allamby.
He recalls many days or weeks that his family went without lights, gas or water.
"And if not for government handouts," he said, "we would have been without food on many occasions."
Allamby added, "I remember having a desire at a young age to become a doctor — but my life circumstances led me to a much different place."
Allamby also told Fox News Digital, "As you can imagine, the situation my family and others in the neighborhood faced led to significant despair. 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."
Dr. Carl Allamby during his many years as an auto mechanic. For a long time, he struggled to make ends meet. But he never forgot his childhood dream of becoming a doctor. (Photos: Dr. Carl Allamby)
He went on, "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."
Allamby also said 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," he said, under his circumstances when he was growing up.
"My saving grace," added Allamby, "was our strong family structure. My siblings and I always stuck together and weathered our hardships as a team."
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He said his parents "always taught us the value of working hard for what we wanted and never giving up on your dreams, no matter how improbable. Most importantly, they taught us to treat people fairly, with dignity and respect."
Allamby focused on survival and, for the moment, put his big childhood dream on the back burner. But not forever.
Running an auto service
During high school, Allamby got a job at a local car parts store and began doing repairs and maintenance on the side.
Then, "after working multiple menial jobs and barely making ends meet, I took a chance on something I was passionate about and started my own business," Allamby said about going into the auto repair business.
He opened his first shop at age 19.
"In a sense, I started Allamby’s Auto Service mostly out of desperation and necessity," he said.
But it grew faster than he imagined, he said, as did the challenges of being a small business owner.
After a period of time, he needed a change — so he became a student at night while continuing to work his day job.
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He first enrolled at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio, starting in 2006 when he was 34. Originally he hoped to get a business degree, as Medpage Today noted of Allamby.
But he was required to take an intro biology course as his second-to-last class to complete his degree, as the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) noted.
"Learning about some of the incredible basic functions of the body reminded me of my childhood ambitions to become a doctor," Allamby told Fox News Digital.
So, in 2010, Allamby started to take pre-med classes at Cuyahoga Community College, in Cleveland, Ohio.
He was "always infatuated with the way things worked — and the human body seemed to be the most complex of anything I encountered, which always fascinated me," he told Fox News Digital.
He became active in volunteer work, too.
"After my decision to pursue medicine, I started volunteering at a hospital in the Cleveland area," he said. "Initially, I worked in a pediatric ward for immune-compromised children, providing activities for them during their often long-term stay."
"In addition," said Allamby, "I performed many hours of shadowing and volunteering in the emergency, urology and neurology departments at this and other hospitals."
Said Allamby, "Every exposure I had in medicine further solidified my choice to pursue a medical career."
From motors to medicine
Allamby was accepted into a program at Cleveland State University to prepare him for medical school.
"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," he said. "I had too many people counting on me and too many bills to maintain."
Allamby credits the support of his family, especially his wife, Kim, a physical therapist, for getting him through it.
In 2015, he started medical school at Northeast Ohio Medical University.
He was determined not to let his age difference hinder or intimidate him as he studied alongside his more youthful classmates.
"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."
Dr. Carl Allamby said that as he's gotten older, he's realized that "the human connection … and caring for others" is extremely important. (Dr. Carl Allamby/Cleveland Clinic)
He had many responsibilities to juggle as a husband, a father of four and a student who had to commute — but it forced him to be efficient with his time, he said.
"I worked very hard to stay ahead, but I think all of my responsibilities kept me focused on what needed to get done," he said. "That helped me to consume the large quantities of information that must be understood to succeed in medicine."
It turns out that being a mechanic prepared him well to become a compassionate 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 told Fox News Digital.
He learned to translate his experiences when he took care of patients as a doctor.
Allamby graduated from medical school at age 47 — and started his emergency medicine residency in 2019 at Cleveland Clinic Akron, as Medpage Today pointed out.
Attending physician in the ER
Allamby's dream finally came full circle in 2022.
He recently started his first job in an emergency room as an attending physician — the term used to describe doctors after they complete all their training — at Cleveland Clinic's Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.
He finds that he frequently draws on his experiences in his former career, realizing that "providing empathy, compassion and reassurance is often as important as providing appropriate medical care."
"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.
He added, "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 said.
Dr. Carl Allamby treats a patient. He began medical school in 2015 at Northeast Ohio Medical University and said he was "laser focused" on this new education once he began it. (Dr. Carl Allamby/Cleveland Clinic)
"Interestingly, as I have gotten older, the human connection and thought of empathy and caring for others have been equally important."
He learned it’s important to provide great customer service in medicine, too.
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Today, he practices in almost "every area of the body and provides care ranging from birth to death."
"I perform tasks ranging from life-saving invasive techniques, unimaginable to most, to minor surgical procedures."
Every day is different, he said — and just as with a car, his work in the emergency room has the "potential to go from 0 to 60 in seconds."
Caring for the community
Dr. Allamby said it is important and special for him to serve the people where he grew up.
"Whether running an auto repair business in my former career or now providing medical care for those in need, I’ve maintained a connection with my hometown throughout my working career," he said.
"So often I run into former classmates, neighbors, customers and friends — and it's always nice to lend a helping hand to those in their time of need, whether with their car or their health."
He said people "are limited mostly by the constraints and limitations" they place on themselves.
He believes almost everyone has roadblocks and challenges that can prevent them from becoming successful.
"What matters most is your attitude when facing these challenges," he said.
As for his former career, he still loves fixing things in his garage at home. He finds a new satisfaction in it because this time he doesn’t have to do it as "a means of survival."
His favorite car?
"My '94 Acura Legend was my favorite car, and Acuras in general are great machines," he said.
"But mostly, my favorite car is almost anything that is maintained well," he said.
What would he advise others who may have a big dream but don't know how to achieve it?
"I feel we all have the opportunity to make our lives better. If you want it, go after it. Don’t give up," he told Fox News Digital.
"Plan your work and work your plan. Your sacrifices today will produce advantages for tomorrow."