For 10 years, medicine remained on the backburner as Myke Spencer became a teacher, then a school administrator, then a principal.

An educator's next lesson

For 10 years, medicine remained on the backburner as Myke Spencer became a teacher, then a school administrator, then a principal.
Mychael Spencer in white coat

FOR MYKE SPENCER, the seed for a career in medicine — one that would take almost two decades to germinate — was planted when he was 12 years old and a “Book Boy” at Wishard Hospital.

Book Boys were volunteers who came by the hospital after school or on Saturdays to take books to patients, to see if they’d like to play a game, or simply chat. Anything to help a lonely soul take their mind off being sick, hospitalized and often alone.  

Being a Book Boys wasn’t necessarily Spencer’s idea. He grew up on the near east side of Indianapolis in a neighborhood in which violence was common and too many young Black boys didn’t make it out. Spencer’s family wanted to keep him busy, and his grandmother worked at Wishard. So, he became a Book Boy. Fortunately, he discovered he liked being around patients. 

A couple of weeks into the volunteer role, Spencer found a door to a patient’s room slightly ajar. He asked the staff if he could go in. Sure, they said. The patient within might not be up for it but go for it. Inside, he found an old woman, terminally ill, confined to her bed and not in the greatest of moods. 

Something of an old soul himself, Spencer chatted up the woman. They talked about his school and his favorite subjects. They played some board games. He wound up spending most of his 4-hour shift with her. He walked out of the room with the seed of an idea: I might want to be a doctor. 

A week later, Spencer returned, looking forward to seeing his new friend. But she was gone. She had died. “I hadn’t experienced death that much, but it gave me the hope that, in that moment, on that day, I was able to be a light,” he said. For years, the experience stayed with him — and so did the idea of going into medicine. For years, though, his life took a detour — into education. 

Spencer attributes education to his survival. About the time he was a Book Boy, he was not the best student. “I don’t think I ever saw myself as smart. I never thought I would do well in school. I kind of just struggled academically, also socially,” he said. Finally, a teacher in middle school saw something in him and said, ‘You’re really smart.’ She put him in honors math. He made all A’s. “I think I needed a little more challenge and also just high expectations.” 

That experience led Spencer to want to give that spark to other kids. He became a teacher. Then a school administrator. And a principal. For 10 years, medicine remained on the back burner.  

myke spencer and a student stand with their arms around each other in a school hallway

And then COVID hit.  

It gave Spencer a chance to ask himself, “What’s my real passion in life?” It didn’t take him long to come back to the woman in the hospital — and medicine. He entered medical school and, while it has been challenging, Spencer had already been putting in long hours as an educator.  

Now, at age 32, Spencer is a third-year medical student and president of the IU School of Medicine Class of 2026. He knows that’s older than most. But he sees it as an advantage. “I’m a person of faith so I think it’s all destined to happen when it’s destined to happen. I think it was the right time,” he said. “I spent many years thinking I wish I’d done it younger and I’m just appreciative that I did it now. I just have more perspective that comes in.” 

Part of that perspective is his origin story — a kid struggling to find a promising future who became an educator who went into the homes of children and families facing socioeconomic challenges and barriers to good health. He hopes to bring that knowledge into a community where there is great need. “With medicine, people are at their most vulnerable,” he said. “People come to you because they feel you have something to contribute to their health. They don’t want to come and feel like they’re being judged.” 

Spencer’s abilities and leadership qualities have already impressed his peers and mentors. “Spencer is an extraordinary junior colleague and leader,” said Paul Wallach, MD, IU School of Medicine’s executive associate dean for education affairs and chief academic officer. “He has the attributes necessary to become an outstanding physician, and I predict his patients will be grateful for his care.” 

Even as Spencer moves forward in medicine, the educator in him hasn’t disappeared. He could see himself teaching in medical education. Maybe at a place like IU School of Medicine.

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Bobby King

Bobby King is the director of development and alumni communications in the Office of Gift Development. Before joining the IU School of Medicine in 2018, Bobby was a reporter with The Indianapolis Star. Before that he was a reporter for newspapers in Kentucky, South Carolina and Florida.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.