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STUDENT LIFE: The Best Medicine

Heather Halaska at Nursing Formal
Heather Halaska at Ensemble 2013

They say that laughter is the best medicine. And it’s probably not a stretch to suggest that Heather Halaska embraces this philosophy wholeheartedly.

Halaska, a senior BSN student at UI, enjoys finding humor in everyday life … and loves using the hilarity of a situation to put a smile on someone’s face. She recently took time out of her hectic schedule to talk about music (including her love of percussion), what sparked her interest in nursing, why she chose Iowa, and what area(s) of practice have caught her attention.

Where are you originally from?
Home, sweet home is in Joliet, IL. It’s about an hour south of Chicago.

If you had to choose one word to describe yourself, what would it be?
I’m rather funny, if I do say so myself. I love making people smile! I seriously believe laughter is the best medicine and I like incorporating that into my patient interactions during clinical.

When (and why) did you decide you wanted to go into nursing?
I think I finally figured out I wanted to be a nurse late in high school. I loved biology and anatomy and I knew I wanted to work with people—to help them somehow. If I’m not mistaken, my mother suggested being a nurse. As soon as she said it, it was one of those “Oh, duh!” moments where you smack your forehead and wonder why you didn't think of it first. After that I immediately started searching for a great nursing program! Thanks mom!

Why did you choose the University of Iowa to pursue your degree(s)?
I must have looked at dozens of colleges before coming to look at Iowa. As an Illinois resident, I had the misconception that the state of Iowa was going to be very dull. Obviously Iowa City changed that belief—it’s beautiful here! When I came to visit, I just fell in love with the campus. Also, I knew I needed a collegiate football team that I could watch religiously from now until the day I die. That’s important. After learning more about the nursing program here, I decided to look no further and signed up the same day of my visit.

How would you describe your educational experience at UI?
It’s been great! I feel like I’ve had really good experiences with professors and TAs over the years. Everyone is really helpful and genuinely wants to make sure their students understand the materials presented to them … especially in my nursing classes, where there are 80+ students—our teachers always make an effort to put the name with the face. It makes me feel reassured and comfortable in the CON. We’re going to be a great group of nurses because of the hard work put in and the attention our professors give us. It’s been a great three years. In a way, it’s almost sad to think I’ll be graduating at the end of the year!

Are there any particular areas of the nursing profession that have piqued your interest?
I have especially loved pediatrics and psych so far. I was quite interested in the communication techniques used with these groups, and how this affects their care. I’m in my pediatric practicum now and it’s a lot of fun. I love making those kids smile and laugh—they really deserve a good laugh.

Do you see yourself wanting to further your education and go for a graduate degree?
I’m really bad with planning my future. I’ve been flirting with the idea of midwifery recently, but I’d really like to get into the field and gain some experience before exploring the possibility of a graduate degree.

Who or what inspires you?
Growing up, I was really inspired by Bonnie Hunt. I always thought she was the funniest woman on the face of the planet and I totally wanted to be just like her. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized she was an oncology nurse in Chicago for several years. Small world! I bet she was really great with her patients.

You are part of the choir at UI’s Newman Center, correct?
Yes, I am! I’m the drummer for the Newman Singers. Wherever they go to perform, I go too! We’re usually in Iowa City, but sometimes on the weekends we’ll drive over to the Chicagoland area or around Des Moines and play at local churches there. It’s amazing to see how this choir can heal people in a way that doesn’t involve NIC, NOC and NANDA.

How long have you been a musician & singer?
Oh man, whoever told you I can sing is a vicious liar. I wish I could sing like my friends in the Newman Singers can! Those kids are blessed with some serious talent. I can hum awkwardly in the background, does that count? (Hahaha)

Instrument-wise, I’ve been playing the drums for about 10 years. In high school I got really into playing other types of percussion and broadened my horizons a bit.

What’s your favorite music genre?
I love older music, especially jazz and rock. The 50s and 60s are probably my favorite eras of music. Lately I’ve been warming up to that hip hop music that the young people listen to.

So the drum set is your favorite instrument?
It’s so fun and energetic, and a great stress reducer. Seriously, next time you’re stressed out about something, go find a drum set and just let it all out. It’s awesome. I really miss playing mallet instruments too … especially the marimba.

Describe how you manage your time/workload during an average week? (e.g., juggling music, your studies, and the rest of what life throws your way)
I just take everything one week at a time. If I try to plan or work too far ahead, I’ll end up inappropriately prioritizing assignments. I write down when everything is due on a calendar, but I also write down when I should be working on something specific. Usually, it’s all getting started about a week before the due date. That way, nothing is taking me by surprise. If there’s a test coming up, I’ll study for that frequently and when I need a break, I’ll switch subjects, take a quiz or (let’s be honest) take 10 minutes on Facebook.

Newman Singer gigs happen primarily on the weekend which is great. I love having that time to talk with friends and members of the community as well as play the drums. I try to see it more as my time to relax and not so much a part of my workload. It makes handling stress a little easier that way.

What do you like to do in your free time?
I have a sad, sad addiction to movies. It’s a problem really. I think I watched Beauty and the Beast twice in four days. I can’t even be mad at myself for that—it’s a fantastic movie. Also, I’ve been trying to teach myself how to play the ukulele. It sounds like a tropical mess, but I’ll get there someday! I don’t want to brag, but I can almost play seven chords. (Oooh!)

Where do you see yourself five years from now?
I picture myself happily working in a hospital setting—hopefully on a pediatric floor. I can't wait to get out there and start contributing!

It would also be really neat to be a nurse on the set of a major Hollywood film. What if Ryan Gosling gets a terrible paper cut, and needs the help of a highly trained and competent nurse? Pick me!

Coming back to reality, I belong in the Midwest. I would really like to stay around this area for a few years. Iowa City will always be my home away from home. Go Hawks!

Posted On: 
May 7th, 2013