While music remains an important part of Laura Wozniak’s life, it’s medicine that now has her full attention.
A third-year student at the UNLV School of Medicine, she’s well on her way to a career as a primary care physician, where she says she’ll treat the whole patient, serve as an active team member in the health care system, and be “an advocate for patients and the community.”
No doubt about it: Working for the betterment of others is what Wozniak is all about.
It didn’t take a medical degree for her to get started.
She recalls that when she was a little girl her father, a high school principal, told her that if she did well in academia “one day I could utilize this foundation for the betterment of others.”
Taking that advice to heart, she graduated as valedictorian of Coronado High School in Henderson and then went on to graduate with honors from UNR, earning a bachelor’s degree in molecular microbiology and immunology and a minor in community health sciences.
As an undergraduate, she was a volunteer and then worked in an emergency room as well as a physical therapy intern, providing encouragement to patients at a most difficult time. Instead of hitting the beach to work on a suntan during a school break, she volunteered in highly underserved community centers, feeding, cleaning, bathing, and spending quality time with patrons. “I was struck by how loving and positive they were despite the challenging health problems they had to endure.”
In Reno, she volunteered at a syringe exchange program for injection drug users. She assisted in running the program, educating drug users in sterile and safe habits, and also provided resources for further health care and support. “I think they listened more because I wasn’t passing a value judgment on them,” she said, noting that the program helped some users quit their drug habits.
Currently, she’s involved with the medical school’s student council, serving as the wellness chair.
“I feel very strongly about mental health, especially the mental health of those working in the health care system. I strongly believe that taking care of yourself, in turn, helps you take care of others. It’s disheartening to see the level of physician burnout and the fact that physicians are twice as likely to commit suicide (as) the general population.
“I am grateful to work with Dr. Annie Weisman, director of wellness and integrative medicine. Under her guidance, we were able to create a wellness room on campus to help encourage students to take time to relax and take a break from studying. Student government and faculty also worked together to bring a psychologist to our campus specifically for medical students.”
Wozniak is on a full-tuition scholarship, compliments of the Engelstad Foundation, a nonprofit philanthropic organization that has donated millions in scholarships to UNLV students. The Foundation also has donated considerable funding toward a new, $155 million medical school that has its groundbreaking later this month. “It means so much to have someone supporting the betterment of health care in Nevada,” she said.
Wozniak didn’t always see herself helping people through medicine, however. She thought she’d help mellow them out through music.
A middle school band teacher had a huge influence on her — “From him I gained a strong sense of discipline” — after she took up the French horn, ingraining in her the phrase “practice makes permanent.” She played the instrument in the Clark County Honor Band, Nevada All State Band, and the All Star High School Honor Band at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
“Even though I’m now going into medicine … music is something I still uphold and cherish,” she said. “I still find time to make music with friends, including current medical school colleagues.”
She and four other students — Gregory Schreck, Tyler Blackwell, Darlene Julian, and Tristian Bakerink — have formed a band, Desert Yeti, that has occasionally played at the ReBAR in downtown Las Vegas. COVID-19 has wiped out appearances there in the last few months. “In the band, I’m playing bass,” she said. “It’s really a good outlet from all the studying we do.”
The discipline she learned from her music teacher carried over to athletics, where an injury ultimately sparked her interest in medicine.
“I became a cross-country runner and competitive swimmer throughout high school with plans to continue in college. Unfortunately, I hurt my hip running and needed to have surgery.”
In a wheelchair for the better part of two months, Wozniak was impressed by how the medical field — from nurses to physical therapists to physicians — got people back on their feet and positive about the future.
What she learned from that healing process — and from subsequent shadowing of physicians in several fields of medicine over the last few years — drives her to become a physician with a meticulous work ethic and an unwavering dedication to patient care.
“Medicine is more than just the application of science and the use of intricate biomedical devices,” she said. “It is a commitment by physicians to engage in the practice of medicine with an unwavering sense of compassion for each unique case.”
And working for the betterment of others.