Johns Hopkins MSN student sings to pediatric patients

Like many young girls, Mary Jo Holuba, BSN, enjoyed playing the part of a Disney princess when she was growing up.

Unlike many of those girls, the student at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, Baltimore, still enjoys playing the role. While Holuba studies how to care for patients, she understands the therapeutic powers of music as well.

Holuba, who started playing violin at age 4 and is a classically trained soprano, loves sharing her voice with the sick, usually younger children, and their families. A few times each month, often wearing the dress she made resembling Belle in “Beauty and the Beast,” Holuba visits hospitals and sings to patients and their families.

Her repertoire is wide, but usually includes songs from Disney favorites such as “Cinderella,” “Snow White,” “The Little Mermaid,” and of course, “Beauty and the Beast.”

“I enjoy the princesses,” Holuba said. “It’s whimsical and connected to the movies they’re watching all the time. Sometimes we’ll do ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ with smaller children. If they know a song I don’t, I’ll have them sing it to me and then we sing together. It incorporates the music therapy aspect.”

Holuba, who began taking voice lessons when she was 12, earned a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from New York City’s Barnard College of Columbia University in 2011. She began an accelerated BSN program at Johns Hopkins in May of 2011 and graduated in July 2012. She plans on completing an MSN pediatric primary care nurse practitioner degree by December. Holuba initially planned on music therapy as a career, but when her father, Stanley, died in January 2012 after a bout with multiple myeloma, it had a profound effect.

“Since I was very young, I had an exposure to hospitals,” said Holuba, whose sister, Nicole Holuba LaMarca, RN, MSN, CPNP, is a nurse practitioner at the Spinal Muscular Atrophy Clinical Research Center in Columbia University’s Department of Neurology. “My father had three stem cell transplants and after going through that, nursing was definitely the path for me. The nurses were such a big part of his treatment and recovery.”

Lynn Holuba, Mary Jo’s mother, said her daughter is completely in her element.

“Mary Jo has always been magical,” Lynn Holuba said. “She’s always been one of the most thoughtful people, wanting to include everyone, looking for the underdog in her class and helping them along.” Now, Mary Jo Holuba, who recorded a CD entitled “Simply Christmas” in 2010 and has performed at Carnegie Hall, uses her talents to brighten the days of patients and families.

“It’s nice to have different kinds of entertainment at a hospital where the time passes a little slowly,” she said. “I’ve been a family member on that end. It’s nice to have a little bit of that escape. Making the music is beneficial to the working side of the brain and makes it lighthearted. It takes away from more serious matters at hand.”

Holuba, a native of Saddle River, N.J., started her music therapy singing at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at New Jersey’s HackensackUMC. When she was headed to Hopkins, Holuba told administrators what she liked to do. She has been a regular performer at Dr. Bob’s Place, a palliative care facility for terminally ill infants and children in Baltimore.

Holuba is working toward becoming a pediatric NP and co-founded the Pediatric and School Health Interest Group at Hopkins, which focuses on physical and mental health issues in the community.

“It takes a strong person to do what she does,” Lynn Holuba said. “She connects so well with all people. It seems effortless for her. It’s part of her persona. She has the gift of being able to sing and loves sharing it.”

Joseph Stevenson is a freelance writer.

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