Gift to UIC Nursing creates Nita & Phil Francis Family Birthing Suite

Phil and Nita Francis

By Deborah Ziff Soriano

A $1 million gift from Nita and Phil Francis has named the UIC College of Nursing’s new state-of-the-art childbirth simulation lab, where nursing students will learn labor and delivery skills in a sophisticated simulated health care setting.

The Nita & Phil Francis Family Birthing Suite is part of an expansion to the M. Christine Schwartz Experiential Learning & Simulation Laboratory, a 15,000-square-foot teaching and learning facility on the lower level of the UIC College of Nursing. The Schwartz lab and Francis birthing suite will be ceremonially opened with a ribbon-cutting Oct. 12.

“This gift is allowing us to build the first high-fidelity suite on the UIC campus to simulate labor, delivery and postpartum scenarios,” UIC College of Nursing Dean Terri Weaver said. “This will be a draw, not just for nursing students, but students from related disciplines across the university to hone their skills.”

Nita Francis and Phil, former CEO of PetSmart, are both alumni of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Nita Francis also sits on the University of Illinois Foundation board of directors.

The gift was a natural fit for the couple because Nita Francis dedicated much of her nursing career to improving women’s health, from teaching prenatal care in Champaign, Illinois, to teaching menopause classes and managing an infertility clinic in Boston.

“Maternity nursing has been my passion,” she said. “Training a nurse is a lot more expensive than, perhaps, training a lawyer, but we need to prepare nurses for the tremendous variation of situations that they will face when they are practicing in the real world.”

Though Francis earned her nursing degree elsewhere, she discovered the UIC College of Nursing through her ties to the University of Illinois system, and came to admire the college for its commitment to preparing clinician-scientists.

The birthing suite will feature beds for mom and baby, a recliner, bassinet and high-fidelity manikins that can simulate a wide range of situations —from a smooth delivery to emergency situations for the mother or baby during labor, delivery and recovery. A control room will allow faculty to speak through the manikins, control their vital signs and assess student skills. 

It is designed to be nimble enough to support undergraduate students as well as post-licensure students who are learning to be neonatal nurse practitioners, women’s health nurse practitioners and midwives.  

“The beauty of a simulation lab is that it’s a safe place to learn,” said Susan Kilroy, director of the UIC Nursing Clinical Learning Resource Center, which includes the lab. “If students come to a crossroad when providing patient care in a simulation, they can continue participating in the scenario with no real harm coming to a patient. Later, their questions can be addressed during the debriefing by faculty members.”

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