Stephen Travarca/Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital
Carl Allamby’s career path could be summed up as the plot of a feel-good movie. Hovering over the details, this is the story of a once-poor boy on the wrong side of Cleveland, who went from fixing cars to fixing people, from mechanic to doctor.
And technically, this is all correct. Allamby went from owning an auto repair shop almost out of high school to recently starting his first job as an attending ER physician at Cleveland Clinic’s Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.
But the more exact truth is that in this case, the social and economic mobility of Allamby – that which embodies the so-called American Dream – was of the tortoise versus hare variety; it spanned decades.
“If anyone were to watch most of my life over the past few years, it would be me sitting in a quiet room studying and working through loads of information,” he told NPR.
“And that’s the horribly boring part,” Allamby added with a laugh.
The 51-year-old is thoughtful and deliberate with his words, reboots often sentences to get what he just wants to say. He answers questions as he approaches his work: Slowly and steadily.
“I think sometimes people just watch the end product of someone’s hard work,” he said, reflecting on his own journey. “But you know, [by doing that] you kind of miss the part where people do all the hard work to be successful.”
From an early age, Allamby knew he was capable of more.
As a child, Allamby was not a particularly good student. Elementary school was fun, he said, and he was bright and interested in the subject. “But over the years, life has become more complex,” he explained.
In college, he said, the pressures that came with growing up in and around poverty shifted his focus from academics to basic survival. It was 1980s East Cleveland, and gang violence was common in his neighborhood, he recalls, adding that even the walk to and from school was strenuous. “And you’re embarrassed to come upstairs and get your free lunch.”
He became an academic marginal student, but inside, “I knew I was capable of so much more”.
This father worked as a door-to-door salesman, but with five siblings, it was clear that Allamby, like his siblings, would also have to contribute financially to keep the house afloat. He got his first summer job at age 13. At 15, he started washing dishes at a local Italian restaurant, before becoming a line cook.
“I had to support myself to buy my clothes, my school supplies and different things that I needed throughout the year or just to meet my basic needs like food,” Allamby said.
Graduation from high school came and went without fanfare, although by then Allamby was living on his own and had landed a job at an auto parts store. That’s where he learned about cars, and he often picked up small repair jobs he was working on at a store across the street. At first he rented out part of the space, but eventually had enough business to buy the place. He was 19 years old.
Carl Allamby Clinic/Cleveland
He was a community college poster boy
Despite his unremarkable student record, Allamby acknowledged he had a lot to learn about cars before opening his first auto service shop.
“I started going to the local community college, Cuyahoga Community College, and taking automotive classes at night,” he said, adding that at the time he was the youngest student of all his classes.
The experience helped him begin to reframe his thoughts on education. It was tough juggling his fledgling business and classes, he said, but he was good at it. He loved learning the inner workings of cars, how things are connected.
Fifteen years later, feeling a little restless with a desire to improve his business, he enrolled in a four-year night school program at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. This time, he wanted an undergraduate business degree. He was 34, married, raising children and running two auto shops.
“It was a fantastic moment,” he said unequivocally. “I no longer had those burdens that I had as a child. And when I was in class, I was able to focus 100% on the lessons being taught, getting the most out of the class. ” He allowed himself to take full advantage of the education, he added.
Moreover, he unearthed a long-buried dream. Inspired in part by Denzel Washington on Saint Elsewherehe confessed, “I had thought, when I was a young boy, that I wanted to pursue a career in medicine.”
One of the requirements for his degree was an introductory course in biology. It was the penultimate course he had taken before graduating. (what he did summa cum laude.)
“When I took the biology class, it was just phenomenal. I loved it from the moment I first walked into it,” Allamby said.
The feeling stayed with him, and soon Allamby was having a conversation with his wife. “I came home and told him that I was thinking of pursuing something in medicine in the medical career,” he recalled. It would be a break from the relentless routine of servicing cars nearly 365 days a year, he thought.
Despite his enthusiasm, Allamby said he wanted to be sure medical school would be a good idea. “Because I was hesitant at first, I went to retake classes at the local community college. I was going to evening classes or early morning classes, and I did a phenomenal job and got A’s in all my classes.
He eventually transferred into a program at Cleveland State University that guaranteed him a spot at Northeast Ohio Medical University, if he did well.
He did. Once again he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree summa cum laude, and in 2015 Allamby began his medical studies.
Stephen Travarca/Cleveland Clinic
He benefited from being an older student
He was by far the oldest student in each class, he said. In fact, he recounted several instances of a classmate watching him walk into a room, sit up straight, and introduce himself. “Then they would ask me if I was the teacher,” he said – and they would be surprised when he explained that he was “one of them”.
Yes, there was some embarrassment, he admitted. But in many ways, Allamby explained, he felt a certain advantage. “Younger students face very different circumstances…but I was very focused. I knew how to stay focused on the task at hand.”
He added: “There’s a kind of internal stigma that sticks with you when you’re an older person, that you’re an older person. But my philosophy has always been to be comfortable being uncomfortable. comfortable. And the more uncomfortable situations I can put myself in, the more I can grow.”
During his years in medical school, Allamby continued to run his two automotive service businesses. But as he got closer to realizing his dream of becoming a doctor, he decided to sell them.
Allamby graduated from medical school at age 47, quickly beginning an emergency medicine residency at the Cleveland Clinic Akron. Now, at 51, he has recently completed all of his training and has been hired as an attending physician at Cleveland Clinic’s Hillcrest Hospital.
When asked if he felt different now that he is a doctor, Allamby said not much had changed.
“I know that when I show up at the hospital, people see me as someone they can rely on to take care of their health needs and guide them. But I’ve been dealing with this for a long time,” he said. “In the automotive industry it was surprisingly similar, because people gave me the same kind of trust and the same kind of responsibility when it came to taking care of the car.”
At the time, he says, he felt “a huge responsibility for a big part of people’s lives – their cars. And that people rely on me. I’ve felt that, you know, almost my whole life. as an adult. it hasn’t changed much.”
Allamby’s rules for living
In recent years, Allamby has been asked to speak publicly about his journey from fixing cars to saving lives. When he does, he avoid using language that makes it exceptional. In fact, he tries to do the opposite, emphasizing the methodical nature of his slow rise through the college ranks.
Succeeding at just about any task requires a three-pronged approach, he said. First, you need to devise a plan. Then you have to do sacrifices to truly dedicate themselves to a field of study. And, finally, you have to find the conviction to stay the course, even when the going gets tough.
“There will be times when you feel like giving up, but those are the times when you really have to push forward and rely on the people around you,” Allamby said. “People giving you positive feedback in order to kind of fill your bucket so you can keep going.”