Alumna’s $10M gift will seed nursing anesthesia program

Photo of Christine Schwartz
Christine Schwartz (Photo: Mark Mershon/UIC College of Nursing)

Early in Eileen Collins’ tenure as dean of UIC’s College of Nursing, she explored ways to collaborate with the University of Illinois Hospital.

The hospital had an urgent need for certified registered nurse anesthetists, highly trained nurses who administer anesthesia. Feasibility studies were completed on how to meet that need, and the idea gained momentum. It piqued the interest of Christine Schwartz, an alumna and longtime supporter of the College of Nursing and a member of Collins’ external advisory board.

Schwartz’s interest and input further shaped the project as it progressed through architectural drawings and budgets, until she committed a transformational $10 million to make it a reality. Her donation, the largest gift in the College of Nursing’s history, will establish the Nurse Anesthesia Program at UIC. The program will begin the accreditation process in June.

“One person taking action makes a difference, and I am proud to be the lead donor on major nursing projects in hopes others will join,” Schwartz said. “We are making nursing students’ dreams come true, allowing for recruitment of stellar faculty, building pride and creating momentum, all to keep the College of Nursing among the top in the nation.”

“UIC’s long-standing mission calls on us to provide the broadest access to the highest levels of educational, research and clinical excellence,” UIC Chancellor Marie Lynn Miranda said. “Chris Schwartz’s generous gift is accelerating this mission. Her support is allowing us to launch a state-of-the-art program that will position the College of Nursing squarely at the forefront of training, discovery and innovation. Chris brings both generosity and insight regarding how UIC, especially the College of Nursing, can address pressing barriers to care across Illinois and nationally.”

Excellence in clinical practice starts in simulation labs. Therefore, this gift will fund the build-out of simulation labs and student space on the college’s second floor to train future nurse anesthetists. In these labs, students will be able to interact in safe, simulated clinical environments and learn without causing harm.

“Chris Schwartz has changed the game for the College of Nursing so many times, and seeding our Nurse Anesthetist Program is no exception,” Collins said. “Her backing allows us to define how nurses can lead, to create the interdisciplinary education opportunities to get them there and to fuel the College of Nursing’s mission to transform health care.”

UIC’s Nurse Anesthetist Program will be a lifeline for nursing students and communities across Illinois. The demand for skilled anesthesia providers is pressing in both rural Illinois and Chicago, and jobs in this field are projected to grow 18% in the next decade. Among Illinois’ 102 counties, 31 lack registered anesthesia providers, according to research from the UIC College of Nursing. Schwartz’s gift will allow the UIC College of Nursing to help bridge this gap by bringing critical anesthesia professionals to the communities that need them most. It also directly feeds a tenet of UIC’s mission: to serve Illinois as the principal educator of health science professionals and as a major healthcare provider to underserved communities.

“Demand for rural health providers has been a crisis for almost two decades, as hospitals close because they can’t attract or afford certain providers to the area,” said Susan Krawczyk, the newly appointed director of the Nurse Anesthetist Program. “If a patient needs surgery, and there is no anesthetist available, they must wait longer and travel farther for care. Chris’ gift is going to allow us to train highly qualified nurse anesthesia professionals who will be able to fix that.”

This isn’t the first time Schwartz has changed the face of the College of Nursing. She has given generously and intentionally over two decades to create the Schwartz Experiential Learning and Simulation Lab in the nursing building’s lower level and renovate the lobby. In each project, she demonstrated her tireless advocacy for students and her strong belief in the benefit of dedicated spaces for them.

“Students carry a lot of stress and need to engage, relax and prepare in a calming environment. We are always thinking of them and their well-being, and I want that reflected in the projects we tackle,” Schwartz said.

Krawczyk added, “We need a safe space for students to connect, and to have a leader like Chris who puts student wellness at the forefront is amazing.”

When the project is completed, UIC will name the second floor in her honor. It will add to her towering legacy of compassion for students, tremendous generosity and dedication to uplifting nurses as leaders. And it will amplify her call for others to act on opportunities to make a difference in the lives of nursing students and Illinois communities.

“Nurses lead; that’s what we do,” Schwartz said. “The Nurse Anesthesia Program is a dream; it’s the win-win we look for. I hope others will join in supporting it.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email