Carter, Joye Maureen 1957–
Joye Maureen Carter 1957–
Dr. Joye Carter was the first black female chief medical examiner in the United States. She served as chief medical examiner in two major American cities, Washington, D.C., and Houston, Texas, before starting her own forensic consulting firm. Carter is also an author with two books under her belt: My Strength Comes From Within, an autobiography, and I Speak For the Dead, a book that examines the emotional turmoil that family members experience after the loss of a loved one. While her career has been centered around death, Carter has devoted much of her time to programs designed to prevent injury and loss of life. She developed Save Our Kids, a teen driving program in Houston. She was also the first director of the Healthy People 2000 Anti-Violence campaign in Washington, D.C. Carter also wrote a monthly newspaper column addressing various health issues, and was involved with the Houston Medical Forum and the Gulf Coast Sickle Cell Association. Providing expert testimony on gamma hydroxy butyrate (GHB), the date-rape drug, Carter was instrumental is getting a bill passed that made GHB and similar drugs illegal. She is particularly concerned about the death rate among African Americans and has appeared before several groups to talk about prevention. While speaking to a group of black journalists in 2001, Carter explained that she saves lives by talking about what she does, and by demonstrating how lifestyle choices can make a difference. She hopes that her efforts will help to defeat some of the threats that are posed to the black community.
Carter was the youngest of four daughters born to Russell and Marjorie Hart Carter on June 3, 1957, in Wellsville, Ohio. Throughout her life, Carter was often an oddity. She suffered from a case of the “toos:” too brainy, too thin, too tall, and she spoke too white! Carter was a good student who loved to read and enjoyed doing well in school. Her favorite books were fairy tales, myths, the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien, and books about heroes, such as George Washington and George Washington Carver. She was given the nickname of “blood and pus” for her predilection toward the more macabre stories of Edgar Allan Poe and for her attraction to the actor, Vincent Price. Although at one time Carter thought about writing mystery novels, she now avoids reading them altogether. When asked why, Carter responded “my life is a murder mystery,” quoted on the Dr. Joye Carter On-line! website.
Born Joye Maureen Carter on June 3, 1957, m Wellsville, OH; daughter of Russell and Marjorie Hart Carter Education: Wittenberg University, BS, 1979; Howard University, MD, 1983, Military Service: US Air Force, major, 1989–92.
Career: Booth Memorial. Hospital, New York City, NY, Intern, 1983–84; Howard University Hospital, Washington, resident, 1984–88, chief resident in pathology, 1988–89; Dade County, Miami, FL, fellow in forensic pathology, 1988–89; George Washington University, Washington, associate professor, 1989, director of forensic science masters program, Armed Forces Institution of Pathology, 1989–92, deputy chief medical examiner, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, 1991-92, assistant clinical professor, 1992; Howard University, assistant clinical professor, 1991; Washington, D.C, chief medical examiner, 1992–96; Harris County, Texas, chief medical examiner, 1996–2002; author, 2001–; began self-publishing company, Biblical Dogs; J & M Forensic Consulting, independent forensic consultant, 2002–.
Selected memberships: DC Medical Society, 1992–96; American Academy of Forensic Science; National Association of Medical Examiners; Aerospace Medical Association; National Medical Association, secretary of pathology section, 1992–94; founder, Save our Kids, 2000–; Healthy People 2000 Anti-violence campaign; chairperson, Scientific Advisory Committee to the Bread of Life; president, Houston Medical Forum.
Awards: Honoree, Metro’s Annual Black History Month Celebration, 2002; Contemporary Black History Maker, Houston Community College, 2002; inductee, Lou Holtz Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame, 2002.
Addresses: Office —P.O. Box 301063, Houston, TX 77230-1063.
While still in elementary school, the Carter family moved to East Liverpool, Ohio, where Joye was the only “person of color” in her fifth grade class. It was during her fifth grade year that Carter first connected to who she was as a black person after her teacher used her as an example of someone whose ancestors come from Africa. However, the teacher’s remark contained no history, no cultural anthropological information, or geography—just a remark that Joye could stay out in the sun longer because her skin was dark. Feeling singled out, embarrassed, and angry, Carter chose to respond rather than react (or keep quiet), to the teacher’s statement, and then asked to be excused from the classroom. Carter explained in her book My Strength Comes From Within, “I learned that I would never, ever be embarrassed about my ethnic background again. That there was something valuable in me, and I vowed never to covet any other physical characteristics of anybody. It wasn’t that in my fifth grade I began to hate. In fifth grade, I learned to accept my background and to be proud of who I am I honestly cannot recall another time when I bowed my head, except to worship God, and I’m proud of that now.” Interestingly, that same fifth grade year, Joye became the first female newspaper carrier in her town.
The family moved again, this time to Indianapolis, where Joye attended high school. As a high school student, Carter found a job in the kitchen of a local hospital where she first became acquainted with the morgue. Years later, as a college student, Carter worked in the department of pathology at the University of Indiana Medical School. While working as a lab assistant, she witnessed her first autopsy. Carter explained in her autobiography, “I was so excited that I could learn so much through examinations without talking to a patient. Boy, That was it for me! I knew what I was going to do, and I would never be persuaded to do anything else.”
Even though Carter moonlighted in the morgue at the University of Indiana, she received her undergraduate degree from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, and attended Medical School at Howard University on a military scholarship. She completed postgraduate medical education in internal medicine and pathology at Booth Memorial Hospital in New York City, and at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C. Carter, who received her forensic training in Miami, is board certified in anatomical, forensic, and clinical pathology.
After finishing her medical training, Carter joined active service as a major in the Air Force. Although she was headquartered in Washington, D.C, and worked for the Armed Forces Medical Examiner Department at the Walter Reed Hospital Complex, she had the opportunity to travel around the world as a military officer. Carter quickly rose through the ranks, receiving several promotions, and eventually attaining the position of assistant medical examiner. Having spent many years in the Washington, D.C, medical community, first as a medical student and then as a medical examiner for the armed forces, Carter knew a lot of people and had built a solid reputation. During the time she was stationed in Washington D.C, the city was in dire need of a permanent chief medical examiner, and Carter was aggressively recruited for the job. In fact, the city persuaded the Pentagon to allow Carter to resign her commission early. Initially, Carter thought that she could not handle the position of chief medical examiner in a city that suffered from so many homicides, but her life-long mentor from Florida, Dr. Joseph Davis, encouraged her to accept the position.
In January of 1992 Carter became the chief medical examiner of Washington, D.C., making her the first black female chief medical examiner in the United States. During her time in Washington, Carter was a strong advocate for organ harvesting law changes and was very strict about the way in which she ran her morgue. In 1996 she reported to the Supreme Court on the nature of death investigations in South Africa and how the system could be improved. In 1996 Carter resigned her position in Washington, D.C., and accepted the job of chief medical examiner in Houston, Texas, becoming the first female in the state of Texas to hold that position. In Houston Carter dealt with many high profile cases such as the autopsy of Enron executive J. Clifford Baxter and many cases involving Gulf War Syndrome. In 2002 Carter left the medical examiner’s office and started her own forensic consulting business.
In her autobiography, Carter also talks about her spiritual connection to her profession. “I am a Christian. I have believed in the Doctrine since I was a small child. The reason I approached forensic pathology without trepidation is based upon my fundamental Christian beliefs, that the soul at death separates from the body, and we are left with a shell. That shell is the body I examine in an effort to tell the story of why that person died. I see no reason to fear that dead body.” Dr. Joye Carter lives and works in Houston with her dogs. Carter is an animal lover and is an active participant in dog adoption programs. She currently works as a consultant and physician through her own company, J & M Forensic Consulting.
My Strength Comes From Within, Biblical Dogs, Houston, TX. 2001.
I Speak for the Dead, Biblical Dogs, Houston, TX, 2003.
Carter, Joye M, My Strength Comes From Within, Biblical Dogs, Houston, TX, 2001.
Houston Chronicle, December 31, 2001.
“Blacks Have Higher Death Rate” Daily Cougar News, www.stp.uh.edu/vol67/59/news/news3.html (August 14, 2003).
Dr. Joye M. Carter Official Website, www.joyemcarteronline.com (August 14, 2003).
“Joye M. Carter, M.D.,” Lou Holtz Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame, www.louholtzhalloffame.com/honorees/2003 (August 14, 2003).
—Christine Miner Minderovic
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