Michener valedictorian uses love of art to help kids during radiation treatment

Headshot of Michener's 2023 Valedictorian Kayli Chen

When Kayli Chen was in middle school, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Hearing her mom often talk about how amazing her treatment team was, Kayli found herself shifting from wanting a career in education to wanting a career in health care.

After receiving an Honours Bachelor of Science from the University of Toronto (U of T) majoring in neuroscience and psychology, she applied for The Michener Institute of Education at UHN’s joint Radiation Therapy program with U of T, the Master of Education program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at U of T. Despite her various options, Kayli chose to enter the joint Radiation Therapy program as it felt like a good compromise between her interest in education and health care seeing as most of the partnered hospitals are teaching institutes.

On Saturday, June 17, she will be among more than 250 students in Michener’s Class of 2023 graduating and entering their chosen professions. Kayli will address them as valedictorian at the school’s second in-person Convocation ceremony since the COVID-19 pandemic made the ceremony virtual in 2020.

During her time in the Radiation Therapy program, Kayli was heavily involved in extracurriculars including being Student Council President, a member of the Joint Curriculum Committee, an ATOMS mentor and an Interprofessional Healthcare Students’ Association member.

One of Kayli’s favourite memories from her time at Michener was during the RTi3 Radiation Therapy conference when a group of first-year students approached her to tell her that they really appreciated all the help she had offered them and that she was their role model.

“I was so flattered to hear that, and I’m so happy that I was able to leave that kind of impression on them,” she says.

Kayli completed her clinical year at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (PMCC) while also working there part-time doing physics quality assurance (which often led to 11-to-12-hour workdays). During her clinical placement, she noticed that some of the youngest patients would become stressed and squirmy before and during treatment. She reasoned that a little artwork would help them relax, so at the end of each workday in Princess Margaret’s Radiation Medicine Program, she would stay late to paint radiation masks for children.

Collage of painted radiation therapy masks

Kayli says the most impactful moment for her goes back to the first pediatric mask she painted.

“The child was very angsty and only told me that he wanted a surprise, which made me worried that he wouldn’t like whatever I made for him,” she says. “Not long after I presented it to him, the nursing team told me that he’s a hard kid to please but when he’s happy, you know it – and he was so happy to get his mask! Sadly, the child passed away not long after, but knowing that I could bring him some joy in his last moments has changed my life.”

In her spare time, Kayli loves to make art, play video games, write and spend time with her friends and family. She’s also a huge Swiftie (Taylor Swift fan).

After graduating, Kayli hopes to continue building her skills and confidence as a Radiation Therapist at PMCC. Looking to the future, she strives to one day teach at Michener or U of T, as well as write a book and continue her passion projects.