Carl Allamby

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Carl started medical school after owning an automotive repair business for twenty-five years. He says it's never too late to do something you're passionate about!

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Undergraduate: Cleveland State University, 2015

Major: Health Science

Medical school: Northeast Ohio Medical University, 2019


As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I always knew I wanted to be a doctor. I also loved tinkering with anything that had a motor; I was always interested in learning how anything worked, this included the human body.

What experiences did you have that confirmed medicine was the right career for you?

I wasn’t able to take the traditional route into the medical field. Growing up in an area of low socioeconomic prosperity, finding a job to support myself was a necessity and didn’t allow for me to pursue education beyond community college. It wasn’t until many years later that I would rediscover my passion for medicine. At the age of 34, I decided to return to college to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business management. While completing my degree, I had to take an introductory biology course as my second to last class. Learning about some of the incredible basic functions of the body reminded me of my childhood ambitions to become a doctor. I decided after I finished this degree, I would begin to make a transition to the medical field.

After my decision to pursue medicine, I started volunteering at a hospital in the Cleveland area. Initially, I worked in a pediatric ward for immune compromised children, providing activities for them during their oftentimes long-term stay. In addition, I performed many hours of shadowing/volunteering in the emergency, urology, and neurology departments at this and other hospitals. Every exposure I had in medicine further solidified my choice to pursue a medical career.

Who or what inspired you?

The professor I had during the introductory biology course was an interventional radiologist. His wealth of knowledge, coupled with his desire to provide compassionate patient care, was inspiring and infective. After talking to him about why he enjoyed his career and how he felt about medicine, I was certain that becoming a doctor would be a career change I wouldn’t regret.

Did anyone encourage or discourage you from applying to medical school?

My wife, friends, family and many professors I had during my pre-med preparation have all been encouraging and supportive of my pursuits.

Was there one person who stands above the others as your inspiration to go to medical school?

While taking a general chemistry course, I expressed some concerns about being able to keep up with the demands of a medical education to my professor. This was one of my earliest classes in my premedical career and it was tough. My professor told me that he had no doubt that I had the intellect and work ethic to make it through the more rigorous courses that awaited me. His belief in me removed any doubt I had felt. In fact, he was the one who told me about NEOMED and encouraged me to apply. That nudge and note of confidence made a tremendous difference that helped quell the fear of giving up a career I knew so well, to pursue something I knew almost nothing about.

Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT exam?

I didn’t know how to prepare or what to expect from what I had heard was the most difficult test anyone could take. In addition, I knew it would be difficult to study for the exam while operating a business and caring for my family. Usually I would take classes over the summer but decided to take one summer off so that I could dedicate more time to MCAT prep.

What is your top MCAT tip for applicants preparing to take the exam?

Complete an assessment to find out what your weak points are and focus your studies on these areas of weakness while reinforcing your areas of strength.

Did you have any fears going into medical school?

I was concerned about finding a happy medium between digesting the enormous amount of material given to us on a daily basis along with juggling the responsibilities of being a parent and husband.

How did you prepare for medical school before your first day?

I spent a lot of time organizing my life so my transition to medical school would be less stressful. My wife and I had just moved into a new house in June and I had a lot of unpacking and organizing to accomplish. In addition, I had closed my automotive repair business of 25 years in June and had a lot of work to do in order to finalize its dissolution. As I imagined, the summer was pretty hectic and tiresome but somehow I got through it and was ready to get started with my new life and career.

What made your medical school the right fit for you?

I like that NEOMED has a focus on underserved communities in Northeast Ohio. Their dedication to training doctors who will be sensitive to the needs and problems seen in many urban and rural settings was an important attribute that made NEOMED the right fit for me.

What kind of financial aid did you need to pay for medical school?

I was provided a Choose Ohio First scholarship that paid for a significant portion of the costs. In addition, I received a few smaller scholarships and grants from NEOMED along with government loans.

What memory stands out the most from your first day of medical school?

My first day was like the beginning of a new life. I was proud of myself for finally living a dream I had deferred for so long.

What was your first year of medical school like?

It started off kind of rough. It was difficult to keep up with the overwhelming amount of material presented each day. I wasn’t sure if my studying habits from my undergraduate years would be sufficient enough to digest the academic demands of medical school. In addition, I had close to two hours of travel time each day and a family life to maintain. Eventually, I found my rhythm and was able to do pretty well at school and home.

Did you have to change any of your study habits?

Initially, I tried to incorporate other methods of studying that were suggested by the academic services office on campus, but found it to be very difficult. Concept mapping and other active learning methods weren’t something I needed to do prior to medical school. Additionally, I had always been disciplined with my studies and believed I had a sound method. However, I needed to modify my practices to account for the increased volume. Working with academic services, I was able to create an effective active learning method that optimized my studying habits and allowed me to be efficient and effective.

Please describe your participation in extra-curricular activities, volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities during medical school or residency.

Currently, I am a member of several interest groups, including Emergency Medicine, Internal Medicine, and Family Medicine, where we participate in activities throughout the school year. I have also been appointed as a voting member on the NEOMED Admissions Committee and I am also a board member of the Community Advisory Board for the NEOMED/Cleveland State University partnership. Lastly, I am vice president of the Student National Medical Association for the NEOMED chapter.

What helps you manage your stress and stay motivated?

I exercise almost every day by weight lifting or running. It helps to recharge me when I am feeling run down. Also, spending time with my wife and children refocuses me and allows me to have a break from my studies.

How do you balance your personal time with medical school?

I have a long drive to school each morning which gives me time to myself. That, along with the gym seems to give me enough time to maintain my sanity.

How did you balance the demands of medical school with any additional obligations or challenges?

I work hard every day to find a balance between school, children, and my marriage. I try to remain cognizant of everyone’s needs and to never take any moment I have with my family for granted. When I am studying or at school, I try not to let myself become distracted by technology or other influences so I can remain efficient and productive. Lastly, I make sure I always save a little time for myself to do the things that make me happy.

What obstacles did you overcome in your medical school journey? What makes your story unique?

I grew up in an economically deprived neighborhood. The challenges I faced in school and at home were sometimes overwhelming. Quite often, my family and I went without some of the basic necessities of life, which was also a common occurrence for many of my neighbors and friends. I started working at the age of fifteen in order to contribute to the household and provide for myself.

I was always inquisitive about how things work and seemed to have an innate talent for automotive repair. By the age of nineteen, and after some extensive training at Cuyahoga Community College, along with a meager savings I created for myself, I opened an auto repair business. I became a master automotive technician by my mid-twenties and continued to grow the business for twenty-five years. During these years, I employed many family members and other residents of my local community.

Although I had many successful years in business, I felt there was a need to continue my educational growth. In the hopes of becoming a more effective and progressive entrepreneur, I decided to pursue a degree in business management. It was during this time that I rediscovered medicine and my dream of becoming a doctor.

What did you enjoy most about medical school?

I like that I get to learn something new almost every day. Also, the professors are immensely passionate and helpful. It makes the day much more enjoyable when the people you are around are invested in your success.

What surprised you the most about medical school?

The volume of work that needs to be digested on an almost daily basis.

Are you a member of a unique demographic? If so, please describe how that shaped your medical school experience.

I am African American male and much older than the typical student. I have four children, twins who are twenty-two, a seven, and five-year-old. With this, I feel I fit into many unique demographics and all of these have impacted my life in medical school. As most of my classmates are able to dedicate their time to school with fewer distractions, I must constantly juggle many demands. Additionally, the lack of African American males in medicine leaves me feeling isolated from many of my peers. Lastly, being one of the oldest in my class adds to the complexity of identifying with the traditions of my colleagues.

What specialties are your current top choices?

Emergency Medicine and Internal Medicine are my top choices for residency. During the time I volunteered in the emergency department, I enjoyed the fast-paced nature of the field. Having to analyze multiple data sources quickly while making decisions based on limited information is something I have always felt comfortable doing. I also enjoy the diagnostic nature of emergency medicine and feel it compliments what I have always done in the automotive field. Internal medicine also has many of these attributes and would allow me to stay connected with my patients and the community I serve. Both of these fields are a point of direct access for patients and can have a significant impact on the care and long-term outcomes of their healthcare experience.

What advice do you have for applicants considering a career in medicine?

Know why you are pursuing a career in medicine. It is a difficult path and there will be challenging circumstances that will test your patience, determination, and faith. Having a good understanding of why you chose this career will keep you focused during these times of despair and will allow you to persevere through the difficulties that are sure to occur.

If you had the opportunity to talk to a potential medical student, what would you tell him/her, off the top of your head?

Believe in yourself. There is no obstacle that cannot be overcome through unwavering determination and belief in your abilities. Don’t ever give up on your dreams. It’s never too late to do something you are passionate about!

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