Senior Rebecca Phillips, of Urbana, Illinois, was chosen to speak on behalf of the School of Nursing at the Fall 2019 commencement. Phillips is a full-time neonatal intensive care unit nurse, full-time student and mother of three.
Phillips is motivated by her passion for helping children, which stems from her background as a child in the Department of Child and Family Services system.
Phillips’ first adoptive mother suffered from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a condition that causes a caregiver to either fake symptoms or create real symptoms in the person they care for. The woman left her at a lake at the age of four, when she was found by bicyclists.
Phillips was placed in the DCFS system a second time, and bounced around different foster homes until she came to stay with the Garfields before being adopted again.
Phillips credits the Garfields with changing the trajectory of her life.
“That probably was the biggest turning point in my life, even at four years old. They just provided a place of love and respect, and they cared so much about me even though I wasn’t biologically their child,” Phillips said.
Through the Garfields, Phillips learned how to care for those in need.
“I think one of the things that I’ve learned from them was caring for other people very passionately, and so I think that’s why I fell into the jobs that I have in life and why nursing was just such a good fit for me,” Phillips said.
This rocky start inspired Phillips to advocate for others, especially in her work in the NICU.
“Kids are so innocent, and they don’t ask for the cards they’ve been given, and they’re not always able to change that,” Phillips said. “But as health-care providers, we can be advocates and we can research and we can do things to make their quality of life better.”
Phillips believes that health care is about more than just physical care.
“Sometimes it’s not the medicine and operations and X-rays; sometimes it’s getting a board game and just sitting down and playing a game with a child, drawing and coloring pictures or holding a hand,” Phillips said.
Andrea Scroggins, a former co-worker and longtime friend of Phillips, said by treating children with such remarkable kindness, Phillips often leaves a lasting impact.
“Rebecca was getting thank you notes at home or sometimes at work from her manager from these families, thanking her for taking extra care of their kids,” Scroggins said. “They send her pictures and updates on their babies, and I think it takes a really exceptional nurse to get that kind of recognition.”
Phillips worked as a paramedic for 16 years, but wanted to do more to help children in need. She got her associate’s degree for nursing and started in the NICU, then decided to continue to pursue her education.
Phillips acknowledges her husband, Mike, for helping her achieve her dreams, through both physical and emotional support.
“He is just the most loving, kind and decent human being that I’ve ever met in my life,” Phillips said.
Mike is proud of his wife’s accomplishments, as are their children.
“She just had to give her big capstone presentation … I was sitting in the corner of the room, listening to her give it,” Mike said. “I texted all the girls when she was done, I was like, ‘she killed it!’”
Phillips is applying to graduate school at the University of Illinois at Chicago for her Doctorate of Nursing Practice in pediatric acute care.
“It’s just nice to have opportunities to be able to expand my ability to care for people,” Phillips said.
Phillips will be speaking at 2 p.m. Friday during the School of Nursing graduation ceremony in the Vadalabene Center.