Inspired by personal experience, Teryl and David Schawk are helping nurses pursue educational opportunities that might otherwise be unavailable to them.
Life was hectic when Teryl and David Schawk were first married. David was traveling worldwide to build his family’s business, the SGK Group—experts in producing artwork, packaging and other brand assets. Teryl was working as a nurse at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in the intensive care unit—returning from maternity leave following the births of daughters Kelly, Colleen, and Kara.
With three little girls, David’s long hours and frequent absences, and Teryl’s dedication to her job, the Schawks practiced teamwork: Teryl worked weekends and Mondays, so David could care for the children when he was home. “We had the challenges that often face young families,” David says.
When his business took off, David tried to help Teryl by telling her that she did not have to work anymore. But she never even considered leaving her profession. “I always wanted to be a nurse, and I sacrificed and worked hard to put myself through school to become a nurse,” Teryl says. “I love caring for patients. Why would I want to give that up?”
Growing up in Palos Heights, Teryl began her nursing career as an 11-year-old hospital volunteer. After high school, she worked for a year before she could afford to attend college—and continued working as a nurse’s aide to make ends meet throughout her student days at Moraine Valley Community College. She graduated with an associate’s degree in May 1977 and started work at Lutheran General Hospital the next day. She’s been there ever since.
Once her daughters were in school, Teryl returned to school herself. To juggle her responsibilities as a mom and a working nurse, as well as a student, she attended Northern Illinois University part-time for a decade before obtaining her bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1998. Transitioning to surgical intensive care after intensive care was divided into specialized medical and surgical units, she ultimately acquired certifications in critical care nursing, trauma nurse critical care and trauma nurse specialist.
Over the years, Teryl earned a reputation as not only an excellent bedside nurse, but also as an encouraging colleague. “When a patient is in decline, Teryl is the nurse who will stand beside her peer, offering the assistance required at such a difficult time,” shares longtime coworker and nurse Bruce Campbell. “She is always willing to give of herself to benefit others.”
A choice to help others
David soon began to understand that he could best honor Teryl by supporting nursing education. “I saw how she had struggled to get through school.” he says. “We wanted to help others obtain degrees and training with less financial burden and stress.”
In 2005, the Schawks created the David and Teryl Schawk Nursing Endowment for Research and Education. The fund helps nurses obtain certifications, complete degrees from the bachelor’s to the doctoral level, attend educational conferences and conduct research studies.
Endowment monies are also used to purchase training equipment ranging from mannequins to video cameras to software. The fund even covered the cost of bone-marrow transplant certification for the entire oncology unit, making Lutheran General’s unit the first in the U.S. to achieve this level of preparation.
Investments in the future
Since the endowment was first established, the expanding role of nurses, constant changes in technology and Advocate’s laser-like focus on safety have made advanced nursing education more important than ever. Teryl believes that knowledge increases nurses’ confidence, which, in turn, improves safety and ensures the highest quality of bedside care.
Inspired by the Schawks, community and associate donors have added to the endowment, so that its impact is growing continuously. “It’s something that will always be there,” Teryl says. “With others donating to it, it’s become quite successful, so we’re very excited.”