"That's half the battle, isn't it? Just showing up and saying yes."
—Dr. Thomas Andrew, former Forensic Pathologist
As soon as I saw this New York Times feature story, As Overdose Deaths Pile Up, a Medical Examiner Quits the Morgue, I knew I had to have Dr. Thomas Andrew on the show.
A shift from our typical author guest, Dr. Andrew is working on an incredible career pivot-in-progress. Upset by how many opioid deaths he observed after 20 years as a forensic pathologist (he performed over 5,800 autopsies in the morgue), Tom recently retired and is heading to divinity school so that he can counsel people in his community while they’re still alive.
I’m fascinated by his story, and I know you’ll love this conversation too about his views on life, death, learning, faith, resiliency, empathy, and next moves.
An excerpt from the NYT article:
"After laboring here as the chief forensic pathologist for two decades, exploring the mysteries of the dead, he retired in September to explore the mysteries of the soul. In a sharp career turn, he is entering a seminary program to pursue a divinity degree, and ultimately plans to minister to young people to stay away from drugs.
With 64,000 overdose deaths last year nationwide — a staggering 22 percent jump over the previous year — it is little wonder that overdoses, the leading cause of death among Americans under 50, are reducing life expectancy. They are also straining the staffs and resources of morgues, and causing major backlogs.
“After seeing thousands of sudden, unexpected or violent deaths,” Dr. Andrew said, “I have found it impossible not to ponder the spiritual dimension of these events for both the deceased and especially those left behind.”
More About Dr. Andrew
Dr. Andrew is the recently retired Chief Medical Examiner for the State of New Hampshire. He is board certified in pediatrics, anatomic pathology and forensic pathology, and has performed over 5,800 autopsies for purposes of investigating sudden, unexpected or violent death.
He is a member of the National Association of Medical Examiners, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, the American Academy of Pediatrics, College of American Pathologists, the Association of SIDS and Infant Mortality Programs and the College of American Pathologists.
Topics We Cover
- Starting in pediatrics, and his move to forensic pathology after being inspired by a mentor
- Dr. Andrew's "second pivot" into ministry after working 30 years in forensics
- What it takes emotionally to be a forensic pathologist; how he coped with the death and tragedy that he saw on a daily basis
- "Finding the balance between focusing on the task at hand and remaining compassionate and aware of the humanity of the person you are examining and their family"
- Staying centered in this line of work
- When Dr. Andrew first became aware of the opiate crisis
- Trends in doctors over-prescribing medications; what he sees as the solution
- What life is like post-retirement: struggling a bit with the lack of structure but working hard to maintain his knowledge of medicine while avoiding "mission creep"
- On spirituality often being left out of the conversation surrounding our work, even though it brings richness and openness
- The big question: what he learned about humanity, life, and death in the past 20 years?
Podcast: Pivot From the Morgue to the Ministry with Former Forensic Pathologist Dr. Thomas Andrew
- Dr. Andrew on the web
- Book recommendation: "Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic"
Check out other episodes of the Pivot Podcast here. Be sure to subscribe via iTunes, Google Play or SoundCloud, and if you enjoy the show I would be very grateful for a rating and/or review! Sign-up for my weekly(ish) #PivotList newsletter to receive curated round-ups of what I'm reading, watching, listening to, and new tools I'm geeking out on.