Lesson 22: You can never say “thank you” enough.

Hopefully, we have learned from the past twenty-one lessons that a successful chief medical examiner has certain character qualities and attributes.

The successful chief is courageous and full of integrity, demanding what is due and ready to leave the job if asked to do something wrong or harmful.

The successful chief is frugal and fiscally smart, spending government funds and earning money for the office in a way that taxpayers would approve.

The successful chief is a visionary, always anticipating what lies ahead.

The successful chief is patient and willing to move slowly at first after accepting a new position.

The successful chief is a positive person who accepts responsibility for flaws in the system rather than seeking to berate others.

The successful chief maintains a low profile and is humble enough to allow others to help.

All of these attributes are important, but this lesson covers the most important attribute. Above all other attributes, the successful chief must have the ability and capacity to utter sincerely two simple words.

Thank you.

Why is something so seemingly simple and ordinary so important? The answer to this is also simple but paradoxically also incredibly profound. The chief medical examiner’s ability and capacity to say “thank you” over and over again to the people working in and outside of the office shows that the chief understands. He or she “gets it.”

The men and women who work in a coroner or medical examiner office are unsung heroes. They willingly work in an environment with health hazards and bad odors. An unknowing lay public often considers what they do with a combination of disdain and unwanted morbid fascination. Those in society who are comfortable and happy do not recognize what these men and women do. Those who are suddenly bereaved angrily descend upon coroner or medical examiner staff over the telephone or in person, often looking not only for answers but also for ways to manipulate through their grief. Too often, too many people look for ways to benefit financially from death, and too often, the medical examiner investigators, autopsy aides and clerical staff are subjected to these manipulations. Although people who respond to disasters are subject to intense stress as they try to help in a crisis, people who work for a coroner or chief medical examiner have to endure similar stress over a long period of time.

Yet they do so without complaint. They do not respond angrily at the bereaved because they recognize when people are going through the worst time in their lives. So many who work for a coroner or medical examiner are kind and professional under all kinds of circumstances. They choose to do the work they do when they could be doing something else because they care about people—even people who do not behave well and who do not recognize the sacrifices on their behalf.

We all know that “money equals appreciation,” yet these men and women do what they do for very little. They have often asked me for a raise, but I also sense that they need from me something more than a raise in pay, as nice as that would be. They need to sense from me that what they do is important and necessary. They need to sense that someone appreciates their hard work and their dedication, even though they work willingly without that appreciation.

It costs the chief medical examiner nothing when he or she says “thank you” to these unsung heroes, yet it motivates the caring people who work for that chief. It is like receiving a tall, cool glass of water when you are thirsty.

Unfortunately, the foolish chief may become lazy and careless. The foolish chief may think of people as indentured servants who exist to satisfy his or her needs. Foolish chiefs may become so preoccupied with personal concerns that they fail to recognize those who play vital supporting roles.

Volunteer organizations rely on banquets and special ceremonies to thank those who donate time, effort and money because these organizations realize they would not accomplish much without dedicated people. Leaders of government agencies may take for granted the hard work and dedication of their employees because employees are salaried, yet receiving a salary is no guarantee for devoted, professional service. We have endured the lackadaisical attitudes of too many in government to believe that. If you as a new chief medical examiner hope to do better than most government agencies, you would do well to learn to say “thank you” as often as you can.

When I mention saying “thank you” often, I am not recommending a recital of words without sincere understanding and appreciation. Those words are not a talisman to be used for its magical power. They are to be uttered sincerely and truthfully at appropriate times and places. They are to be spoken in group settings and to deserving individuals.

For example, at the conclusion of office meetings, I would take the time to thank everyone for their dedicated service and professionalism. I would acknowledge that I could not do what I did so well except for the fact that they do what they do so well.

I also believe an “attitude of gratitude” expressed to others and particularly to God also enlarges our hearts and our characters. We learn and we grow as we recognize how fortunate we are to be alive, to be able to do what we love to do, and to be able to serve in such an important way.

With that in mind, I want to say “thank you” to you, the reader of this treatise, for taking the time to consider what I have written. I hope as you consider your role as a chief medical examiner that you will be able to learn the same lessons and derive the same blessings as I have over my career.