By Andy Simmons
CARL ALLAMBY HAD A PROBLEM. It was his auto-repair business. He’d started it at the tender age of 19, working alone out of a rented bay in a friend’s garage. Over the years it had grown into two shops with 11 employees, but Allam by had become antsy, yearning for something more. At first, he thought it must have to do with growing his business even further. So at the age of 34, the Beachwood, Ohio, resident decided to go for his bachelor’s degree in business management.
There was a wrinkle, however: After taking classes part-time over the next five years, Allamby was told he had to take biology to get his degree. The last biology class he had taken was in ninth grade. What do I need to take biology for, thought Allamby.
Turns out, it was the best thing to have happened. Biology class rekindled a childhood dream that he had tucked away somewhere deep within himself. “After the first day, I remembered this feeling of wanting to be a doctor back when I was younger,” Allamby says. “I kind of lost that dream somewhere through high school and through life. When you’re young, you feel you can be anything, and then the world teaches you much differently.”
Born in East Cleveland, Ohio, Allam by and his five siblings were raised by their stay-at-home mother and a father who sold home goods door-to-door. “As you can imagine, that didn’t pay so well,” Allamby says.
Growing up in a poor African American neighborhood, he faced low expectations and numerous barriers to pursuing his dream. His school didn’t offer the advanced science classes that might have led him on a premed path. Even if it had, doing well in school could prove dangerous. “You could get into a lot of trouble just for being the class nerd,” Allamby says. “There were often times you wouldn’t carry your books home due to the threat of being jumped.” So he set aside thoughts of becoming a doctor in favor of a more realistic career path—fixing cars.
But a different Carl Allamby walked into that biology class at age 39. The world may have knocked him around once or twice, but it hadn’t flattened him. He was ready to live his dream. With the support of his wife and family, he soon decided to skip business school in favor of the science classes he’d need for a second career as a health-care worker. Becoming a doctor when he would be approaching the age of 50 was clearly insane. He would instead become a nurse, a physician assistant, or a physical therapist like his wife, he reasoned.
But Allamby’s chemistry professor at Cleveland State University stopped him after class one day. “Carl,” he said, “you’re like the oldest guy here. What’s your end game?”
Allamby went through the spiel he’d developed about how he’d like to become a doctor but it would be more practical to aim lower.
“Why not a doctor?” the professor asked. “You have a great intuition for the work. You will go a long way.”
He was right. Allamby aced all his courses. “It took someone standing on the outside to tell me what I didn’t even see in myself,” he says.
And so in 2015, Allamby cut ties with his past. He auctioned off his two shops and everything that was in them. “I sold my whole life in a matter of hours,” he says. “It was liberating.” Then he started at Northeast Ohio Medical University.
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