New York City Chief Medical Examiner is graduate of White County High School


Jason Graham, M.D., a graduate of White County High School and an alumnus of Central View Elementary School, has recently been named the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City, and says that growing up in rural Tennessee has made all the difference in his career path.

“I grew up in Walling and went to Central View Elementary School. I got a lot of individual attention there that set the stage for future success,” said Dr. Graham.

He is confident that his time growing up in White County is what helped shape the future he is living.

After graduating from White County High School, in 1991, Dr. Graham had intentions of continuing his education a little farther from home, but ultimately enrolled in Tennessee Tech University as a chemistry major. Again, that decision kept him involved in the White County community and helped to shape his future.

“Going to Tech gave me the opportunity to have a very formative experience at the White County Community Hospital - an experience that introduced me to the real world of medicine,” he explained, saying that his time at the local hospital helped him develop a sense of being a public servant. “There was a real sense of community - neighbors helping neighbors.”

While at White County Community Hospital, Dr. Graham met the man who influenced the next step in his journey: to the top position in the premier agency in the field of forensic pathology. The New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner is responsible for investigating all sudden and suspicious deaths in the city; the operation of the country’s largest public DNA crime laboratory; the management of mass fatality incidents, including the World Trade Center disaster of 2001; and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I met my first physician role model while I was working at the hospital - Dr. Joel Johnson,” said Dr. Graham and further stated that it was then that he was inspired to pursue a career in surgery.

After graduating from Tennessee Tech, Graham’s journey took him to the University of Tennessee College of Medicine, in Memphis, where he spent four years.

“I also worked at the trauma center, in Memphis, which helped orient me toward a career in surgery,” said Dr. Graham.

His next stop was at Emory School of Medicine, in Atlanta, for a surgery residency, but, after a year of internship in general surgery, he began to realize he wanted to switch his focus.

“I went into pathology residency and then subsequently into forensic pathology,” he said and explained that the idea of being trained to apply medical knowledge to investigations was intriguing. “You can use your medical training and scientific knowledge to give answers to families, to solve sensitive puzzles for sudden unexpected, and often violent, deaths and serve both our systems of criminal justice and public health.”

After finishing his internship, in 2006, Dr. Graham began looking for what he calls his “first real job,” when a mentor in Atlanta introduced him to the idea of heading to New York.

“One of my mentors told me about a position open in New York City, which usually doesn’t happen as here we have our own, really robust training program,” said Dr. Graham, and he also stated it was just one more advantage of having been involved in small, close communities throughout his educational career. “I interviewed for the position and was completely impressed with the organization [the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City]. When I was offered the position, I accepted it on the spot.”

Dr. Graham worked under then-Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Charles Hirsch and was stationed in Manhattan. After a brief time in the Queens office, Graham returned to Manhattan as the Borough Deputy Chief, in Manhattan.

“In 2013, Dr. Hirsch retired, and Barbara Sampson became the Chief Medical Examiner. She asked me to be the First Deputy Chief of the entire city,” said Dr. Graham, explaining that it was a position he held until December 2021. “When Sampson stepped down from city service, I became the acting Chief Medical Examiner.”

Dr. Graham was officially appointed to the position of Chief Medical Examiner by New York City Mayor Eric Adams, on April 20, 2022. While now a long way from Central View Elementary School, in Walling, he credits his roots in the area and the support of his family, who still live near Sparta, with helping him reach where he stands today.

“I am deeply grateful to have grown up in Tennessee,” said Dr. Graham, adding that while he has been in New York for over 15 years, Walling will always be home.

Dr. Graham may hold the leading position in his field, but he can relate to young people who worry that growing up in a small town means they could miss out on important opportunities. He hopes his experience will inspire youth from the Sparta area as role models like Dr. Johnson once did for him.

“You are not disadvantaged in any way from coming from White County – or from the rural portion of the country,” he said in his message to White County’s youth. “Perseverance is the key. If you have a goal and you work toward it and focus, that, with the resources and support available in White County, you have a shot. It doesn’t matter where you start; it matters what you do.”

In conclusion, Dr. Jason Graham, the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City said, “I can tell you undoubtedly that the successes I have had, big or small, that foundation started in Walling. My success was forged in White County, Tennessee.”           


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