From the Oval to the Vatican


January 12, 2021

Dr. Lile headshot
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Laura Lile’s education, jobs and most importantly, intuition have taken her to some interesting and unique places – arguably most unique, the Vatican.

“I grew up in Ada, Ohio, a town of about 5,000 people,” said Laura Lile, MD, RPh, BSPharm ’87. “I was supposed to be a trial lawyer – my dad, brother and sister are lawyers and my mom was the dean of a business school, but I walked into a chemistry lab in high school and fell in love with it. So I decided to announce to my family that I wanted to be a pharmacist because I would get to interface with patients and use my love for chemistry.”

Dr. Lile felt like pharmacy was her calling. After receiving her bachelor’s degree from the The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy, she began managing a retail pharmacy, which allowed her to learn more about the business side of pharmacy. She began to notice that some patients wouldn’t take their medication because they didn’t like the flavor and she wanted to be able to use her background in compounding to find a remedy. She also wanted to be able to deliver medications to the patients so they wouldn’t have to come in to the store.

“I knew very quickly [after working in retail] that I wanted to do things differently and better,” Dr. Lile said. “I woke up one morning and knew that I was going to open my own pharmacy or go to medical school; I never dreamed I would end up doing both. At first though, I thought that opening my own pharmacy would be easier.”

Dr. Lile continued to do things her own way.

Her independent pharmacy was one of the first drive-through pharmacies in the Midwest. She petitioned for lower countertops so that she could better interact with her patients. She installed a compounding lab with a large picture window so that customers could see what apothecary-style mixing and individualized medicine could look like. She even provided a cappuccino maker and small dining tables so that patients could enjoy a nice cup of coffee and feel at home in the store.

“One philosophy I had as a business owner was making sure to look people in the eye when they came into the store and welcome them, and to spend time with every customer before they left the store,” she said. “I learned so much about family dynamics and genetics – it nurtured my curiosity about what I could do in patient care. Connecting with my customers and the community was incredibly important to me.”

Dr. Lile says she always let her intuition guide her. And that’s why one morning, after her middle child was born, she woke up and knew it was time to go to medical school.

“I just kept forging forward on what I loved doing and what I thought was right,” she said.

She enrolled in Medical College of Ohio in Toledo. Dr. Lile felt like her background as a pharmacist gave her an advantage over her classmates; she knew the medications and was able to spend more time learning diagnostic skills.

Upon graduation from medical school, Dr. Lile began working near a retired nun care facility. One day, a few of the nuns came over to Dr. Lile’s clinic and told her that they’ve been waiting for someone like her.

“These nuns said they had been waiting for a woman MD and they asked if I would be the medical director for their facility,” she said. “So I was able to put systems into place to take care of the nuns, bishops, priests and was able to help put in place programs for hospice for them as well.”

Dr. Lile shaking hands with Pope FrancisIt isn’t entirely clear what led to the invitation from the Vatican. Dr. Lile said she believes that many things worked in her favor in addition to one of her closest friends, Sister Teresa Milne, writing often to the Vatican writing to the pope often to say that Dr. Lile needed to go to the Vatican to help care for him.

“Pope Francis was a chemist before he was a priest. He was looking for a more natural approach to health care and was looking for preventative health care that could help end marginalization of health care. Resources that might have gone to reactive management of chronic disease can be used in service to the poor,” she said. “It seems like we are prepared for things our whole lives that we might not realize. Pope Francis had on his platform that they were looking to incorporate more women into their leadership team, so it really seemed like all of the stars aligned.”

Dr. Lile went to the Vatican for three days of presenting (or courting) in November 2019. She read numerous books on the Vatican to learn everything she could about it. While she was there, the Vatican had a private mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, which just so happened to be about physicians. The time ended with a private audience with Pope Francis.

“I was not sure what to present the Pope in private audience,” Dr. Lile said. “What was I going to give him of significance? I realized that our commonality was chemistry so I gave him a beautiful alabaster mortar and pestle with an inscription. It was a really special moment to present that.”

Mortar and pestleDr. Lile will be going back to the Vatican in early 2021 and will then head to Jordan to take a mobile unit into remote areas of the country to assist with COVID-19 patients. She is currently working in Rwanda on clinical trials on therapeutics for the treatment of COVID-19 that can be cost-effective and safe for all.

All of these wonderful experiences Dr. Lile had begun at Ohio State.

“The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy fostered my love of chemistry, and my time at Ohio State was so formative – such a diverse experience,” she said. “Working with Anne Burns, I was able to spend extra time in the compounding lab making elixirs. She was so influential in my life. Most people ran from the compounding lab, but I loved it. It stands out in my mind when I think about my time at Ohio State.

“I knew something great was going to happen at Ohio State,” she said. “It is my hope that all students at The Ohio State University expand their minds to encompass all the possibilities that lie ahead.”