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Please Say Thank You

American Journal of Medicine Editor Joseph Alpert

Joseph S. Alpert, MD, AJM Editor-in-Chief

I frequently get letters from readers regarding one of my editorials or commentaries. Editorials and commentaries in The American Journal of Medicine (AJM) are expressions of opinion by the author of the piece. Of course, most observations in the Journal deal with medical topics, although occasionally they will stray into remarks about life in general or current events. As editor in chief, I feel that it is my duty to write one of these short essays nearly every month. Readers usually communicate with me by e-mail or with typed or handwritten correspondence. Usually, the letters are complimentary or point out an additional piece of information that expands on the remarks that I have made. Rarely, the reader will take me to task by disagreeing with my point of view. I answer every one of these messages either with a return letter or e-mail message, depending on the form that the reader employed. I very much appreciate these communications, both positive and negative, because they tell me that what I am writing is being read and digested and resulting in a reaction strong enough that the reader was moved to respond. At times, these letters result in a back-and-forth discussion between the reader and myself in order to clarify or amplify our opinions.

As noted already, most of the letters that I receive are complimentary, and I must admit this gives me a great deal of pleasure. I always write back thanking the authors for their kind words. Responding in this way was one of the earliest lessons I learned from my mother who had been both a journalist and a high school English teacher. I still remember her saying: “Joseph, it costs you nothing to say thank you.” I have taken this coaching lesson to heart and have passed it on to my own children and my trainees. One of the best Christmas presents that I have received in recent years was a set of 2 handcrafted antique fountain pens. The calligraphy that results from writing with these instruments is nothing short of beautiful. Since receiving this gift, I now answer all my personal letters to the editor with these pens. Often, when the letter writer includes personal confidences, I will respond using a note card purchased at a museum store. These cards usually depict a painting by a well-known artist. I think my mother would have approved of this practice!

One of the best moments of my early career occurred following a lecture that I gave at medical grand rounds at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (now Brigham and Women’s Hospital) in Boston. The next day, I received a short handwritten note from the Chief of Medicine, Dr. Eugene Braunwald, stating that he had very much enjoyed my presentation. I was truly ecstatic when I read this short correspondence, and I have saved it to this day. This kind act led me to do a similar thing during my time as Chair of Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, congratulating young faculty following their grand rounds presentations. Dr. Braunwald’s memo helped fuel enthusiasm for my subsequent career choice, and I hope my positive messages have the same impact.

Hallmark cards, producers of time-honored greeting cards, have the following advice for first-time thank-you note writers:

  • 1. Greeting. Don’t forget to make sure you’re using the correct form and spelling of the person’s name, as well as anyone else’s mentioned in the note.
  • 2. Express your thanks. Begin with the two most important words: Thank you.
  • 3. Add specific details about the event or gift or remark for which you are expressing thanks.
  • 4. Look ahead to possible contact in the future.
  • 5. Restate your thanks.
  • 6. End with a phrase reflecting your regards such as sincerely, best wishes, or another friendly expression.1


Perhaps the readers of the Journal might think that this essay is a bit too simplistic and not necessarily deserving of publication. However, I disagree. Personally, I find the current public environment in the United States to be overloaded with negative and often hurtful invectives. One small attempt to change this undesirable atmosphere is to ask the readers of the Journal to please remember my mother’s dictum: “It costs you nothing to say thank you.”

And, in that spirit, my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has helped me and the Journal through the years that I have been the editor: Thanks to all authors for providing us with such excellent material and to our readers for following us; to the 2 wonderful publishers, Jane Grochowski and Pamela Poppalardo, for their help and encouragement; to Elsevier for the daily work efforts of their outstanding editorial staff and to their executive leadership for giving us total editorial independence; to the staff of the Journal here in Tucson, and the technical supervisors and technicians throughout the country who manage our cyber publishing vehicle, both groups enabling us to provide a quality publication every month; and finally, but far from least, to my family and spouse for their never-ending support and love.

As always, I look forward to hearing from our readership at our blog at or at my personal e-mail address:

To read this article in its entirety please visit our website.

-Joseph S. Alpert, MD

This article originally appeared in the June issue  of The American Journal of Medicine.

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