TCOM’s ‘Car Doc’ is working around the clock to help COVID patients

By Steven Bartolotta

1995 TCOM alum, Dr. Martin McElya, is known as the "Car Doc". His practice became the first drive thru clinic in the State of Texas.

There are tireless workers, and then there is Martin McElya, DO.

The 1995 Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine (TCOM) graduate and his north Dallas Neighborhood Medical Center practice have been a beacon of hope as they took swift action and came up with a way to safely test and treat patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When this dreaded virus hit our shores, we knew it was coming our way,” said Dr. McElya. “We had an office meeting in January of 2020 about it, and at the time we wanted to come up with an idea to make it safe for our patients to test and treat – doing it outside was the safest plan. As the virus spread, we saw one or two patients, then it was three cars outside, then 90, then 200 and then over 1,000 were coming to our office.”

Known as the “Car Doc,” Dr. McElya’s practice became the first drive thru clinic in the State of Texas. The clinic, which opened on March 11, 2020, has treated a staggering number of patients. His office has performed more than 115,000 COVID tests at an average of 224 tests a day. On Dec. 21, 2020, at the height of the pandemic, his office conducted 940 COVID tests.

Dr. McElya’s statistics are impressive. At one point during the pandemic, they operated 146 straight days without a day off. Dr. McElya typically works seven days a week and clocks in with about 90 hours a week in seeing patients. His clinic has closed for only 14 days since March 11, 2020. Holidays and bad weather were the reasons for those closures. Overall, his clinic has been open for more than 500 days and counting.

Dr. McElya’s practice emphasizes safety through a rigorous screening process.

In October 2020, the American Osteopathic Association honored him with a COVID-19 Initiative Award that recognizes members of the profession who are selflessly serving patients on the front lines of the pandemic.

The clinic is also a family affair. His daughter, Alyssa McElya, is the Chief Operating Officer for the clinic and has been by her father’s side working countless hours from the beginning.

“I grew up with this type of mentality embedded into every grain of my being,” said Alyssa McElya. “If you are going to do something, do it to the best of your ability and do it well. It also came out of necessity, we never planned to get to the office around 4:30 a.m. every day, but the patients kept getting there earlier and earlier. I could not ask my staff to get there at such an obscene time as 4:30 a.m. It had to be done, and someone had to do it, so, I did it!”

Determination is a McElya trait. It’s why Dr. McElya got into TCOM after he graduated from the University of North TexasAfter spending time working as a commercial airline pilot, he decided he wanted to study medicine. When he applied to TCOM, he was not accepted. But he didn’t lose hope, instead, he took his case directly to the admissions director and asked for an interview.

“We were sitting there talking, and I saw he had pictures of airplanes all over his walls, so I asked, ‘Do you fly?’ The next thing I know we are talking about flying and airplanes for almost an hour,” Dr. McElya said. “He looked at my application, liked what he saw and said, Martin, you go back and get one more letter of recommendation, apply in a few months and you will see a different outcome.’”

The rest is history. He received his doctorate in 1995 from TCOM, completed his residency in 1998 and began his family practice. As the pandemic has waxed and waned through the months, he has been asked often about the vaccine. He goes back to his osteopathic roots for answers.

“I get it every day, but as frustrating as it is, the posture I’ve adopted is empathy,” Dr. McElya said. “That’s been the most effective way to get people to open their minds. I listen to their concerns and I am here as a mouthpiece to inform them as much as I can about the vaccine. Those who go into DO schools, those are the people who have the empathy, who are willing to look at all facets of the patient, diet and so much more.”

Dr. McElya, who has been a source of comfort for so many, described the last 18 months as “controlled chaos.”

Throughout the chaos, the McElya father-and-daugther team’s dedication has been unmatched. When people ask why they do so much, Alyssa McElya’s answer is heartfelt: “I truly believe it’s the kind of effort you put into things you care about and are invested inThis is not only a job for me; it’s my father’s lifelong work and passion. To me, this is the way you act and the things you do when you truly care about what you are doing and who you are doing it with!”

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