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M. Christine Schwartz: Leading role in simulation

M. Christine Schwartz
Simulation Lab Rendering

When she was choosing a college major, M. Christine Schwartz was attracted to nursing because of the many options within the field. She knew UIC’s College of Nursing had a great program and, having secured a need-based scholarship, finalized her decision.

During her OB-GYN clinical rotation, however, she found she was not fully prepared for the high-risk, real-life scenarios she faced.

“If I had been lucky enough to have a simulation lab experience as a student,” says Schwartz, “I would have been better prepared and confident in my ability that day.”

These days, sophisticated simulation experiences exist to prepare future clinicians in a variety of healthcare fields. One version of simulation is to employ live actors, known as standardized patients, to play roles of people in need of healthcare. Another version involves high-fidelity manikins that can do everything from maintain a pulse to give birth.

Now Schwartz has made a $5 million donation to the college to expand on its experiential learning and simulation laboratory, which she also funded, that opened in 2014. Thanks to both Schwartz’ empathy and her generosity, future UIC nursing students will have the good fortune to learn in an expansive simulation environment. It will be “one of the largest and best-equipped simulation training centers among nursing colleges anywhere in the United States,” says Dean Terri Weaver.

“I’m excited to be part of an opportunity that, in my opinion, you find nowhere else in life,” says Schwartz. “Where can you fail in a critical situation and come out on the other side, with no harm done? A sim lab provides students with an opportunity to touch, feel, respond, process and react in a situation that has the potential to save a life.”

All in
More than a year was spent designing the new 15,000-square-foot teaching facility, to be built in the lower level of the college’s building on the Chicago campus. Technology will be put in place to ensure access by UIC Nursing’s other five campuses in Illinois: Rockford, Peoria, Quad Cities, Springfield and Urbana.

The lab, due to open in 2019, will include examination rooms that replicate real-world circumstances in a safe environment. The space will also include four standardized patient rooms, each with a faculty supervised control room to oversee nursing scenarios and simulate visits with the patient. Other highlights include a home-care setting and a birthing center.

One of the features Schwartz is most excited about, in addition to the state-of-the-art technology, is a dedicated lounge for students.

“It is important for them to have their own space in which they can feel a sense of community and interact with their peers,” she says.

The difference it makes
“Since the original simulation laboratory opened, it has been a game-changer in the hands-on training of our students,” Weaver says. “Now, the expanded lab will be almost 25 times larger. That will increase its impact exponentially. We’ll be able to recruit and teach more students, and teach them using methods that put us ahead of the curve.

“As excited as I am for our students,” adds Weaver, “I’m equally excited for our faculty, because they’ll be preparing our graduates for actual healthcare challenges at a whole new level.”

The chance to empower faculty also motivated Schwartz.

“Until now, there have not been enough clinical opportunities or the right tools for faculty to expose students to all the possibilities of what they might encounter in practice,” she says. UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis agrees:

“UIC has one of the top nursing schools in the nation, and in order for it to remain so, its technology and educational methods need to be continuously evolving. With Chris’ gift, our nursing students will have a competitive advantage when going into practice.”

The donation is one of the largest in the history of the college, and makes Schwartz the largest lifetime donor at the nursing school. It exemplifies her passion to better humankind. The donation is also one of the largest ever at UIC.

“I’m really excited about the lab because it’s going to make my education way more immersive,” says Annette Lopez, a UIC sophomore honors student who will begin the BSN program in fall 2018 and who will be among the first students to learn in the sim lab. “It makes me feel even luckier to be able to go to UIC.”

“I hope this gift inspires more alumni to contribute to the schools that laid the foundation for their accomplishments,” Schwartz says. “People talk about ‘paying it forward,’ but we really need to act now.”