Pioneering Pathologist Anna R. Graham, MD, Retires

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

By Jane Erikson

When Anna R. Graham interviewed at the UA College of Medicine in 1970, she was asked about her plans for having children.

She answered the question - which today would lead the interviewer straight to human resources – and took her place with the Class of 1974. She stayed for her residency, then joined the faculty. Year after year she excelled in whatever she did, becoming one of the college’s most respected faculty members and a recognized leader In the field of pathology.

“I have mixed feelings, as you can imagine,” Dr. Graham said days before she retired on February 14. “Teaching has just been the love of my life. There’s something so very special about imparting knowledge to students who are eager to learn.”

Medical students recognized Dr. Graham’s extraordinary dedication to teaching by honoring her with their Basic Sciences Educator of the Year award. It’s an uncommon honor that has been given to just five faculty members in the College of Medicine, and Dr. Graham received it three times, in 1988, 1993 and 1997. She was further honored with the College of Medicine’s Basic Sciences Educator Lifetime Teaching Award in 2000.

After growing up the youngest of four sisters in Quakerstown, PA, young Anna Graham moved to Tucson with her parents, who came to Arizona for health reasons. They might have gone to Phoenix, but Anna wanted to go to medical school, so they chose Tucson instead.

She enrolled at The University of Arizona, then completed her undergraduate studies at Arizona State University, graduating with high honors in 1970 with two bachelor’s degrees, in chemistry and zoology.

After entering the UA medical school’s Class of 1974, she remained at the UA for her residency in pathology, which she completed in 1978. She was elected by her peers to serve as chief resident that year.

By her third year of medical school, she knew she wanted to go into radiology or pathology. She chose the latter, having been mentored and inspired by Jack Layton, MD, the founding head of the Department of Pathology. “He’s a wonderful man, and I felt empowered to follow him in his field,” she recalled.

Her other reason for choosing pathology: “I wanted the final answer,” as to what was going on with a patient. “Doctors who examine patients can make their best guess at a problem, but pathologists find out for sure.

“The other thing I like about it is the diversity – when I look at a specimen it can be from an 82-year-old woman or a 6-year-old child. During the course of the day, I have touched many lives.”

Dr. Graham has been a pathologist at what is now The University of Arizona Medical Center, and a consulting pathologist at hospitals around the state, since 1978. She became a full professor of pathology in 1990, and professor emerita in 2008, when she cut back to half-time. She was named Scholar in Residence with the Arizona Telemedicine Program (ATP), which is based at the UA, in 2009.

“I’ve had the privilege of working with Dr. Graham on many projects and innovative programs over the past two decades,” said Ronald S. Weinstein, MD, Dr. Layton’s successor as head of the Department of Pathology, and founding director of the ATP.

“She has been one of my closest collaborators. With luck, we’ll have her come back and do encore performances on future projects every now and then.”

Dr. Graham has earned the respect of colleagues nationwide, and served as a leader in the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) since the 1980s. In 2001, she was elected president and also served as interim CEO for several years. The ASCP is the largest pathology organization and is responsible for training medical technologists.

Dr. Graham is married to Larry Graham, a retired Pima County Deputy Sheriff. They have been involved in their church’s prison ministry for several years. It’s an activity that she wants to be more involved with, now that she will be fully retired.