When James H. (Jay) Carter Jr., PA, was a child, his favorite TV shows were about medicine (Emergency! and Marcus Welby, MD) and the military (Combat! and The Rat Patrol). His father, James H. Carter Sr., MD, served in the Army, was a much-celebrated professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center for over 20 years, and co-founded of the social work mental-health unit at Lincoln Community Medical Center in Durham.
It’s no surprise, then, that Jay’s adult life was a mix of both medicine and military, with a career as a physician assistant at Duke and a commander in the Medical Service Corps in the U.S. Navy.
“For my family, it was a rite of passage that you serve in the military,” said Carter. Much of his extended family was in the 82nd Airborne Division of the Army, and reunions always included arguments about who had had the lowest or highest jump. Jay was eager to enlist after high school, but his parents insisted on college first.
He completed his bachelor’s degree at Morehouse College, and went on to get his master of health sciences and his PA degree at Duke. Then, he joined the Navy Reserves, and would serve 29 years, including in both Operation Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Today, as a physician assistant in the Duke Department of Neurosurgery, Carter describes his work as “keeping the Friedman train on the track” – meaning Duke neurosurgeon Allan Friedman, MD, with whom he has worked for 35 years. He describes working with Friedman as intense and challenging -- becoming even more so after the Covid-19 pandemic hit and when Friedman assumed the role of interim chair of the department. On any given day, Carter will juggle admissions, surgeries, meetings, scheduling, insurance issues, assisting residents, and day-to-day operations.
Carter is one of the few physician assistants who holds a faculty appointment in the Duke School of Medicine, as assistant professor of neurosurgery. His wife, Brigit Carter, PhD, is also at Duke, and works as associate dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the School of Nursing. The two share a passion for service (Brigit trained as a nurse and also had a long career in the Navy), and also for the crucial work of promoting diversity and inclusion.
Jay is active in the Duke PA admissions committee, helping to keep minority recruitment at the forefront. He served as Minority Affairs Director and member of the board of the North Carolina Academy of Physician Assistants. He is active with diversity and inclusion initiatives in the Department of Neurosurgery. “I’ve always worked to keep diversity on the table,” he said.
With all his accomplishments, Carter says he is probably most proud of having worked with Friedman for all these years, assisting him in Duke’s unmatched care for brain tumor patients. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job,” he said.