Carl Allamby is today an expert diagnostician after spending his childhood working as a car mechanic n his East Cleveland neighborhood.
He graduated from medical school this year at age 47.and currently works as an emergency resident doctor.
Allamby grew up in East Cleveland with two brothers and three sisters. His dad was a part-time photographer who also sold cookware door-to-door. His mom was a stay-at-home parent. Money was scarce.
School was never much of a priority, but working was.
He got a job at 16 at an auto parts store near where he lived. And because he knew his way around cars, customers started asking his advice on how to install the parts they bought.
So in 2006, decades after high school, he started taking night classes, one or two at a time, at Ursuline College. But there was one required class he kept putting off: Biology. Finally, his counselor said he needed it to graduate. So he signed up.
He considered a career in medicine, perhaps as a nurse or physician 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.
But he had role models this time. And when he brought it up to the two black doctors he’d befriended at the Severance Athletic Club, Drs. Kenneth Lane and David Headen, they told him to aim high.
“It was just incredible, the support they gave me, saying ‘You can do it, this is totally possible,’ ” he said.
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.”
Research in the United States had revealed that black patients fare better when treated by black doctors, but an apparent shortage of coloured doctors makes pairing the two together difficult.
“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.
Allamby was not ignorant of the need to succeed as a black doctor.
“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.
Allamby hopes to encourage the next wave of black doctors when they are young. He doesn’t recommend starting in your 30s.
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