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From Auto Mechanic To Doctor


And I wonder if anyone ever wheeled into the emergency room at the Cleveland Clinic Akron General hospital to be treated by Dr. Carl Allamby, looked up and said, hey, wait a minute; aren't you an auto mechanic? Dr. Carl Allamby graduated from medical school this year at the age of 47 after a very successful career running his own auto repair business. He joins us now from member station WCPN in Cleveland.

Dr. Allamby, thanks so much for being with us.

CARL ALLAMBY: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: And has anyone ever recognized you from your former occupation?

ALLAMBY: Actually, yeah. During my medical school training, when I was part of the family medicine clerkship, I walked into a patient's room, and he looked up and he said, Carl?

SIMON: (Laughter).

ALLAMBY: And I said - I said, yeah, buddy, I'm everywhere.


ALLAMBY: He was a longtime customer of mine who hadn't realized that I had left the shop.

SIMON: Well, what was the path from you looking into the hoods of cars to under the - into the insides of people?

ALLAMBY: Well, I was interested in medicine ever since I was a young child, but, you know, life kind of gets in the way. The neighborhood where I grew up wasn't really conducive to producing medical physicians.

SIMON: Did - this is East Cleveland you're talking about, yeah?

ALLAMBY: Yeah. East Cleveland, yeah. It was a pretty impoverished neighborhood. And so just not many opportunities to go into medicine there, but I ended up in the automotive career just by happenstance.

SIMON: Well, I've read that you just - you know, you loved tinkering with cars from the time you were a teenager.

ALLAMBY: Yeah, ever since my dad can remember. He said I must've been about 4 or 5 years old, and there was somebody in the neighborhood working on the car. I was usually standing on the bumper, under the hood and pointing at things and wondering what things were and sometimes even giving my own opinion of what I thought was going on.

SIMON: So from your teens into your 40s, you become an increasingly successful auto repair entrepreneur and businessman. What makes you, in your 40s, wind up in medical school?

ALLAMBY: I really wanted to grow the business or - I didn't really know exactly which direction I wanted to go into, but I felt like I needed some foundational training in business if I were to do this correctly. So I ended up checking out some local colleges to see who had a degree program and came across Ursuline College in Pepper Pike.

But it was while I was at Ursuline that I discovered my desire for medicine that came back from how I felt when I was a child. And it was during a biology class. And it was the first day of class when I walked in there, in the first hour, that my life changed.

SIMON: How? What happened?

ALLAMBY: Well, it was taught by a professor who was also a resident at a Cleveland clinic. He was an interventional radiologist. And he was teaching part-time at Ursuline. And when he came in the class, he just lit up. He was dead tired, eyes were bloodshot red. He would just oftentimes come off of his shift, straight to the college to teach. Just his enthusiasm for medicine, his breadth of knowledge about the human body was just so fascinating to me. And all of those ideas when I was a kid of wanting to become a physician and my intrigue of how things work just came rushing back.

And within that first hour, I came home and I told my wife, honey, I need to do something in medicine. And I wasn't exactly sure if it was going to be nursing or a physician assistant or become a medical doctor. But I just knew that I was going to have to pursue this further if I wanted to live life with no regrets.

SIMON: I'm going to guess when you walk into Cleveland Clinic Akron General it's not lost on you that there are not a lot of African American physicians.

ALLAMBY: That's absolutely true. I mean, we do have a pretty good representation of African American physicians there at Akron General. But in general, medicine is suffering for African Americans, for people of different minorities. And, yeah, I recognize that for what it is, and I'm trying to play a part in reversing that and encouraging other people not - and not just African Americans. I mean, people who are disadvantaged, people who come from places that normally they don't become doctors, you know, people who have always thought, I can never be that, or, I've never seen an example of that in my community - I want them to look at me as an example of what they can do if they really want to. And with the proper support and, you know, love from your family, you can achieve so much more than what you could ever believe.

SIMON: Dr. Carl Allamby in Cleveland, thank you so much for being with us, Doctor.

ALLAMBY: Thank you for having me, Scott. I really appreciate you having me on your show.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.