Scott Spite (right), shown with mentor Douglas McMillen, now associate vice chancellor for academic affairs.
When Chancellor Susan Elrod recently stopped by a local Walgreens for a Covid-19 booster shot, she struck up a lively conversation with the pharmacist. She was impressed by his demeanor and pleased to hear that IU South Bend was his alma mater.
This was not the first time that Dr. Scott Spite had casually befriended one of the university’s chancellors. Back in his student days, he would bring lunch to his girlfriend, Allison, who worked at the time as a secretary in the chancellor’s office. Spite found it easy to chat with then-chancellor Kenneth Perrin.
A contributing factor is Spite’s friendly and confident manner, which also makes him a perfect fit for his profession. He and Allison are now married and have a family, and he credits IU South Bend as an essential building block in his happy life story.
He had never been an honor-roll type early on in his academic pursuits, and when he graduated from Penn High School and matriculated at IUSB, he was initially undecided about what kind of major he wanted to choose. A fortuitous visit to a pharmacy with his grandfather in 1999 helped the 19-year old set his future in motion.
He put his hand on my shoulder and said, You should hire my grandson. He doesn’t take drugs.’ That’s how I got my first pharmacy technician job, Spite said.
Sensing that the pharmacy world was a good fit, he majored in economics and he tailored the remainder of his college courses to include the kinds of chemistry and science classes to put himself in line for a career as a pharmacist.
His initial progress was adequate, but the arrival of a mentor Douglas McMillen made a crucial difference.
He inspired me from a learning standpoint, Spite said. He taught organic chemistry, and that can be one of the most difficult courses you can take at any college. Because of him, I nailed those classes. I took 19 credit hours one semester which could have been ridiculously too much and I still got straight A’s aside from one B+.
Professor McMillen not only helped ensure Spite’s success as an undergraduate; he helped point the way to the next level.
I had to take my pharmacy college admittance tests during the time I was in my second semester of organic chemistry, and we hadn’t yet gotten to some of the topics that were going to be covered, so he spent one-on-one time with me, crash-coursing me in chemical reactions, Spite said. I ended up scoring in the 93rd percentile.
After completing the pharmacy program at the University of Illinois Chicago in 2006, Spite embarked on his professional career. Not surprisingly, the arrival of Coronavirus in early 2020 considerably impacted his world.
The community pharmacist is the first go-to person for anyone with an illness or condition that needs acute care. Pharmacists are the most easily accessible healthcare providers. There’s no appointment needed. When Covid hit, obviously we were essential providers. It used to be that I was the person who would tell someone with high blood pressure how to use a blood pressure monitor. Suddenly, I needed to become an expert in deciphering the differences between information and misinformation. People were asking me if the vaccine had a microchip in it, Spite said.
Treating people with poise and dignity in such situations is not really part of a pharmacist’s training, and he had to find the resolve needed to convince skeptics that the injections were indeed helpful. There was also the matter of the logistics of getting an enormous amount of shots distributed.
It takes empathy, he said. It was one of the most daunting things I’ve ever faced professionally.