John Carter (ER)

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John Carter
ER character
Dr carter.jpg
Noah Wyle as John Carter
First appearance September 19, 1994
(Pilot, "24 Hours")
Last appearance April 2, 2009
(15x22 "And in the End...")
Portrayed by Noah Wyle
Gender Male
Occupation Physician
Title County General:
Medical student (1994-1996)
Intern (1996-1998)
Resident (1998-2001)
Chief Resident (2001-2003)
Per Diem (2003-2005)
Attending Physician (2005)
Per Diem (2009)
Chairman of The Carter Family Foundation
NGO Volunteer
(2003, 2005-2008)
Family John "Jack" Carter Jr. (father)
Eleanor Carter (mother)
Robert "Bobby" Carter (brother, deceased)
Unnamed sister
Spouse(s) Makemba Likasu (wife)
Children Joshua Makalo Carter (son, with Makemba; stillborn)
Relatives John Carter Sr. (grandfather, deceased)
Millicent "Gamma" Carter (grandmother, deceased)
Chase Carter (cousin)
Born June 4, 1970 [1]

Dr. John Truman Carter III, portrayed by Noah Wyle, is a fictional character from the American television series ER. The character, called simply "Carter" by most other characters, was introduced in the pilot episode and appeared for eleven consecutive seasons. Wyle decided to leave the show as a regular character at the conclusion of season 11, despite offers to stay.[2] He cited a budding family and an already lengthy tenure on the show as reasons. Carter was then written out of the show by moving to Africa and marrying his love interest, Makemba Likasu, in the episode "The Show Must Go On".

Noah Wyle agreed to make two four-episode appearances in Seasons 12 and 13. While he did so in Season 12, his Season 13 episodes were pushed back a year to season 14. Because of the WGA Strike, ER was renewed for a 15th season (it was originally slated to end after Season 14), during which Wyle appeared in five episodes as part of the show's plan to bring back former regulars.

Character history[edit]

Carter arrives to County General as a third-year medical student. Carter is characterized as lacking the ability of the most gifted physicians. For example, on his first day at County, he nearly vomits in the emergency room after seeing a critically wounded patient and has to be consoled by Chief Resident Dr. Mark Greene. Carter does share a very dedicated and compassionate approach with his patients. He was initially interested in surgery and completed the first year of a surgical residency involving mentoring by a surgical resident: Dr. Peter Benton. Extended exposure to the emergency room reveals Carter's true passion and he decides to change his specialty to emergency medicine. The change of heart is to Benton's dismay. Carter laments the lack of patient connection in surgery. He specifically regrets the lack of thorough follow-up and care in the surgical field. In order for Carter to change from his surgical residency to an emergency medicine residency, he agrees to work for free (living off his family's wealth) for his first year, enabling County General to take him on despite its lack of funding for an additional position. As a resident his confidence grows, and he often does whatever is in his power (or, sometimes, things outside of his power, much to the annoyance of his superiors) to help patients.

Carter being held at gunpoint by guerrillas in the Congo.

Season 6-7[edit]

During Season 6, Carter and his friend and medical student Lucy Knight (Kellie Martin) were stabbed by patient Paul Sobricki (David Krumholtz), a law student suffering from schizophrenia. Knight is stabbed in the throat and dies from her injuries; Carter is stabbed in the back and his kidney is damaged, leaving him with lifelong kidney problems. As a result of Carter's chronic battle with pain, survivor guilt, and resistance to getting help, he eventually develops a narcotic addiction and begins to make a series of errors on the job. After Abby Lockhart catches him injecting left-over fentanyl from a trauma into his wrist, Carter's colleagues hold an intervention and Dr. Greene demands he go to an inpatient rehab center for medical doctors in Atlanta or be fired. Although initially opposed to going, Dr. Benton confronts him outside the hospital and boards the plane with him.

Upon returning from rehab in Season 7, Carter makes peace with his brain-damaged heroin-addict cousin, Chase, and apologizes for his long absence, saying, "I didn't want to admit to the fact that I was just like you." At the end of the season, Kerry Weaver returns Carter's application for Chief Resident because of his addiction.

Season 9-10[edit]

During Season 9, Carter begins sleeping with Abby after they were quarantined in the ER for two weeks because of the outbreak of monkeypox. However, Abby's brother Eric is diagnosed with bipolar disorder (like their mother) and his behavior becomes erratic. He then disappears. Meanwhile, the health of Carter's grandmother, Millicent (Gamma), continues to decline, and his mother, Eleanor, has difficulty accepting her divorce from Carter's father, Jack. Worse, Abby and Carter continue to disagree over whether or not Abby (a recovering alcoholic) should be drinking at all, even moderately. These personal issues come to a head when Eric reappears the same day Gamma dies. Carter is broken by his grief, yet Abby feels it is her duty to go and get her destitute brother, essentially leaving Carter alone to grieve. When the uninvited Eric behaves inappropriately at the funeral, even falling into her open grave, it marks the beginning of the end of Carter and Abby's relationship. About a month later, Carter cannot shake his grief or his troubles with Abby, and agrees to go to the Congo (without Abby's agreement) to join Dr. Kovač. While there, he mends his previous rift with Kovač (due to their mutual feelings for Abby) and they begin to understand one another better. When the clinic is overrun by a militia, Carter is threatened by guerrilla soldiers. He returns after two weeks in the Season 10 beginning episode. When Kovač is reported killed in Africa, Carter goes back to retrieve his body at the beginning of Season 10, bringing some hospital supplies with him. To his surprise, he finds Kovač still alive, but ill with malaria. He arranges for Kovač to be sent home, and he gives Kovač a "Dear Abby letter" for Abby that ends their relationship. Dr Carter remains in Africa for several months. He primarily works in Kem's AIDS clinic. They initially differ on approaches to treatment, but come to respect and end up in love with each other (see more about Kem below under "Related Characters: Romantic"). When Kem becomes pregnant, Carter asks her to come back to Chicago with him, and introduces her to his ER colleagues.

Kem's pregnancy ends tragically at eight months, however, forcing her to give birth to a stillborn son in "Midnight", to her and Carter's grief. He is supported emotionally by his father and by his friends Luka Kovač (whose children also died) and Abby Lockhart. Kem and Carter however, maintain their love for one another.

Season 11-12[edit]

During Season 11, Carter starts building an HIV/AIDS clinic adjacent to County General, with full funding by his family's charity foundation. It will be named after his stillborn son - "The Joshua Makalo Carter Center." Afterwards, he goes to Paris, where Kem is visiting her mother, who has fallen ill. After a very awkward reunion, their relationship begins to grow again, and Carter offers to go to Africa with Kem and start all over. She does not answer right away, but later accepts the offer. Dr. Carter goes back to Chicago to finish out his work with County General, and, after saying goodbye to his friends, goes to Africa to be with Kem. Before he leaves, Carter tells a drunk Archie Morris, "You set the tone"- the last words Mark Greene said to him on leaving County before his death, and which Dr. Morgenstern had said to Mark years before. When Morris responded with confusion, Carter chuckled and said "Never mind".

In Season 12, Carter appears in a four episode arc, working with a fellow doctor in Darfur, Sudan, where he is joined by Dr. Pratt and Debbie (Mary McCormack). Pratt informs him that Luka and Abby have reunited, and of her pregnancy.

Season 15[edit]

In the Season 15 episode, "The Book of Abby", long-serving nurse Haleh Adams shows the departing Abby Lockhart a closet wall where all the past doctors and employees have put their locker name tags. However, Carter's was absent; according to Haleh, he did not want to do it because it was "defacing government property".

Carter later returns in the Season 15 episode, "The Beginning of the End", in which he returns to the ER at County General after being in Africa. He explains to Cate Banfield that he will be in Chicago indefinitely, and is looking to pick up some shifts and keep his skills up. She agrees, after finding out that one of his teachers at the hospital was Mark Greene. He visits the Joshua Makalo Carter Center, taking time to clear snow accumulating on Joshua's name at the sign. At the end of the episode, it is shown that Carter is on dialysis[3] because of amyloidosis developing from schistosomiasis which irreparably damaged Carter's remaining kidney. He is back in Chicago to be placed on the US transplant list. Working in the ER once again, he has shown to still be a good doctor with good judgment, but is not up on the latest medicines and techniques used in the U.S. Eventually, his condition worsens, causing him to collapse while attending to a patient. While being treated by Dr Gates and Dr Morris, he went into V-tach, but was brought back thanks to Morris's quick-thinking. He was transferred to Northwestern Medical Center, where his nephrologist worked.

In the episode "Old Times", while a patient at Northwestern, he is visited by his mentor and good friend Dr Peter Benton, to whom he reveals that his marriage with Kem is going through a rough patch. In the same episode, Dr Benton acts a back-seat driver and supervises the operation to make sure Carter is well taken care of. Later, he gets a new kidney; the transplant was a success (unknowingly thanks to his old colleagues and friends, Dr Doug Ross and Nurse Carol Hathaway).

In "And In The End", the series finale, Carter uses his family fortune to finally open the Joshua Carter Center, a medical clinic for the underprivileged that fits into the plans he'd announced when his grandmother's will removed Carter's dad as the head of the family foundation and gave the job to Carter, where he said that he would switch their focus from art and cultural support to public health programs. Kem attends the opening ceremony and remains uncomfortable around him, looking unhappy when he says he misses her and steering the conversation to how she feels sad in Chicago because it reminds her of their son's death. Carter seems to register that Kem and he are finished as a couple, because later on, in a discussion with Tony Gates, Carter indicates he might come back to County for good; however, this is potentially contradicted by his earlier idea that he will leave Chicago if that's what it takes to save his marriage. Carter told a reluctant Kem he wished to see her again before she flew back to Paris. In the series' very last scenes, he is shown helping the staff deal with a mass-casualty case.

Related characters[edit]

Early in the series, Carter's plots typically stayed in the realm of the ER. In a symbolic gesture of this transference, he was told by Mark Greene "you set the tone" on Dr Greene's last day in the ER. Dr Greene had been told the same thing, by Dr. Morgenstern, in the pilot episode in Season 1 of the show, after Nurse Carol Hathaway's suicide attempt. Dr Carter, in turn, said the same thing to Dr. Archie Morris as Carter left the ER, although Morris did not understand the significance.


Eleanor and John Carter

Throughout the course of the series (particularly at the beginning of Season 8) we meet various members of Carter's wealthy family. His father, John (Jack) Truman Carter, Jr. (played by Michael Gross), is caring but stiff, and very acquiescent with his wife. He and Carter have an awkward relationship. Carter's mother, Eleanor (played by Mary McDonnell), is emotionally distant and cold. Her personality apparently became even colder after Carter's older brother, Robert (Bobby), dies from leukemia. Carter's grandfather, John Truman Carter, Sr. (portrayed by George Plimpton), is the most disappointed by Carter's career choice, and though Carter respects him, he also resents him for that. Carter's grandmother, Millicent Carter (played by Frances Sternhagen), is a benefactor of the hospital, even funding Nurse Hathaway's clinic. Carter is very close to his grandmother (whom he calls "Gamma") and intermittently lives at her home. They do occasionally argue, however, usually in regard to Carter's reluctance to participate in matters related to the family foundation. Chase Carter (Jonathan Scarfe) is John's first cousin and a "functioning" heroin addict. Carter, with the assistance of his colleague Anna, attempts to detox and rehabilitate him, but fails. Chase eventually overdoses, resulting in severe brain damage. Carter pleads for the family to keep Chase in physical therapy, and Chase improves significantly. Elaine Nichols Carter (played by Rebecca De Mornay), the ex-wife of another of Carter's cousins, comes to the hospital for treatment for breast cancer and she and Carter conduct an affair.


Carter had a number of unsuccessful relationships over his history on the show. Significant girlfriends (and the actresses that played them) are listed below:

  • Liz (Liz Vassey), a patient who Carter sees during season 1. They have several sexual rendezvous until Carter realizes she has given him an STI when he complains of pain and discharge from his lower region. Doug Ross eventually diagnoses Carter's issue as gonorrhea. His trysts with Liz end shortly thereafter and she is last seen when Carter sees her flirting with another doctor in the ER.
  • Harper Tracey (Christine Elise), a fellow med student, dated Carter during Season 2. She cheats on Carter very early in the relationship with Dr. Doug Ross. Carter forgives her, only for her to dump him a few months later because Carter tricks another med student in order to get a procedure.
  • Abby Keaton (Glenne Headly), a pediatric surgeon from Southside Hospital reassigned to County when Southside closes. She begins a pediatric surgical rotation with Dr. Peter Benton. Carter is Benton's intern, and Carter and Keaton begin working together, eventually embarking on a clandestine relationship that ends when Keaton leaves for a volunteer mission to teach Pakistani surgeons.
  • Carter develops a close friendship with Anna Del Amico (Maria Bello) during Season 4, but his crush on her is never reciprocated. She was a new resident in the ER. They kissed only once, when she bailed Carter out of prison. She eventually returns to Philadelphia and makes up with her ex-boyfriend, a doctor and former painkiller addict.
  • Roxanne Please (Julie Bowen), an insurance saleswoman and patient of Carter, the two began dating in Season 5. The relationship falls apart for many reasons, including both of their busy work schedules, and perhaps because Carter liked Med Student Lucy Knight.
  • Lucy Knight (Kellie Martin) Both liked each other through their constant discussions. Carter and Lucy kissed only once, because he decided to break things up before they started because she was a medical student and it was wrong. They continued to be friends, until her death in Season 6.
Carter with Kem in the Congo.
  • Elaine Nichols (Rebecca De Mornay) First appears when she comes to the ER from a fender bender. Elaine is Carter's cousin Douglas' ex-wife. Their relationship to Elaine is just sex, though Carter wanted it to be more. She stops seeing Carter, when she finds out he knows that she has Breast Cancer. She later has surgery to remove the cancerous breast, when Carter tries to console her, she simply tells him to leave her alone, though Carter does not give up, and she finally tries at the relationship again, but stops taking Carter's calls. Later she moves to Europe for a few months, and bluntly tells Carter to not call her when she returns.
  • Rena Trujillo (Lourdes Benedicto), Carter dates Rena off and on during Season 7, until he finds out that she is still a student and is only 19. He tries to rekindle the romance because he still has feelings for her despite her age, but she dumps him because she knows he has feelings for Abby Lockhart.
  • Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield), When Carter started his ER rotation as a 3rd year student in 1994, he met Susan Lewis a (then) 2nd year resident. Carter immediately developed a crush on her. After her devastating breakup with another doctor, he attempted to console her with a kiss, she stopped him telling Carter they should just be friends. Susan Lewis left ER early in Season 3 to take a position in Phoenix, Arizona, returning in 2001. Once back at County the two rekindled their friendship and there the two finally admitted their feelings and that she also had a crush on him. After finally dating, Carter and Susan began to realize an earlier spark is now gone, largely due to Carter's obsession with Abby. They split amicably after Susan tells him to "tell Abby."
  • Abby Lockhart (Maura Tierney) a nurse in the ER. Carter and Abby become involved during Season 9 after Carter inserts himself into her relationship with Luka Kovac, leading to their break-up. After a series of personal crises and general dysfunction on the part of them both (see "Key Events" above), their relationship finally dissolves when Carter goes to the Congo for several months. He breaks up with Abby by letter. Carter cannot cope with Abby's unwillingness to make changes he wants, and does not propose, dooming their relationship. They remain good friends and colleagues until the end of Season 11 when Carter leaves County; by the time he returns in Season 15, Abby has started her own family with Luka and they have departed for Boston
  • Makemba "Kem" Likasu (Thandie Newton) begins dating Carter in Season 10. A French/Congolese AIDS worker in the Congo Africa, Carter meets Kem while working for Doctors Without Borders. They have a passionate, fast-paced romance culminating in Kem's pregnancy. However, she loses the baby after nearly eight months of pregnancy, and begins to shut down emotionally. Carter proposes, but she does not answer and moves back to Africa. During their separation, they date others, but when Carter visits her while she is in France, they reconcile, and give their relationship another chance. During Season 11, we learn Kem and Dr Carter have married. In the series finale, Kem returns to Chicago to visit the Joshua Carter Center, posthumously named after their son, and leaves with some hope that they will reconcile.
  • Wendall Meade (Mädchen Amick), a social worker in the ER, with whom Carter has an affair while separated from Kem during Season 11. She ends the relationship with him after he admits that he does not love her, realizing that he was not ready for a new relationship.


  1. ^
  2. ^ *Coleridge, Daniel R., "Noah Wyle's 'ER' Dilemma," TV Guide, December 3, 2004
  3. ^ The Beginning of the End, NBC episode summary

External links[edit]

Other offices
Preceded by
Jing-Mei "Deb" Chen
Chief Resident
Succeeded by
Archie Morris