Denisonians in Health Professions: Art Therapy

A path to health professions: art therapy - michelle-chavez-241x300.png image #0

Michelle Chavez ’07 (Oldford)

Role:  Art Therapist

Graduate School attended: Adler University, 2010 graduate

Fun Fact: I grew up on a horse farm. 

Describe the process you went through to select your career path: what impacted your decision? 
When I graduated from Denison I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career.  I knew that I wanted to work with children, and that I loved art, so I used that as a starting point.  I looked into different career options and stumbled upon art therapy.  Art therapy seemed like a perfect way to combine my interests in psychology and medicine with my love of art.  Even though it was unplanned, I had almost all the courses necessary to pursue the Master’s Degree required to be an art therapist. 

As I moved through my graduate work and narrowed my interest field, I was drawn to working in the medical environment.  Art therapists practice anywhere that psychological services are offered, and I was drawn to the unique needs of pediatric patients undergoing hospitalized treatments. 

What are your favorite aspects of your profession?
Easily, the best part of my job is getting to know patients and families.  People think of children’s hospitals as sad places, and while of course some moments are sad, for the most part kids are just trying to be kids, and I can help build up coping skills, and process difficult moments through art.  The kids and families that I work with are incredibly resilient and I am inspired by their strength on a daily basis.          

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
Art therapy is a greatly misunderstood profession, so it gets tiresome explaining that I’m not doing “crafts” with the patients, that I am a licensed counselor and that we are doing therapy, just using art instead of words.  We are constantly having to justify our services. 

Describe what a typical day looks like for you.
My days never look the same, which is one of the things that I love.  There is no monotony.  But “typically” I do a few hours of administrative work in the morning, answering emails, placing supply orders, etc. I spend late mornings either providing supervision for my intern or providing art therapy to patients in our outpatient hematology/oncology area.  I usually have patient rounds or staff meetings over lunch.  After lunch I have one-on-one bedside sessions with patients, mostly in our Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, Pulmonary unit (seeing patients with cystic fibrosis), Oncology unit, and with post-surgical and trauma patients.  Once a week I have a scrapbooking support group with families with infants in our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  The end of the day I spend charting on my sessions.  I have to be self-motivated, and I work within a large multi-disciplinary department, collaborating with art and music therapists, child life specialists, school teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, and chaplains.         

What advice would you give a student interested in pursuing your field?
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in art therapy, as an undergraduate take as many different kinds of art classes as possible.  It never ceases to amaze me how many classes I look back to when patients let their imaginations run, and we end up making giant sculptures, molds, sitting and painting, or drawing together.  I also always think it’s a good idea to attend a professional conference in the field you’re thinking of pursuing.  It’s an easy way to get an idea of what’s going on in the field, clarify any misconceptions, and meet people in the field.   

Denisonians in Health Professions: Physician Assistant

Denisonians in health professions: physician assistant - tiffani-dorn-294x300.png image #0Tiffani Dorn ’12

Role: Physician Assistant 
Professional School attended: Ohio Dominican University, graduated 2014           
Fun Fact: I am a youth leader and also lead mission teams to Honduras annually.

Describe the process you went through to select your career path: what impacted your decision?
I initially decided on going into medicine when speaking with a gentleman who ran a mission organization in Haiti. I asked him for advice as someone who wanted to do mission work. He said one of the best things to do is to learn a skill that I could use on the field. That was the summer before starting college, so I started looking into medical school at that point. However, in the back of my mind, I was concerned with the amount of time and money it would take before I could practice on my own.

In 2009 after my sophomore year, I went to Haiti for 3 weeks for a medical mission internship. Fortunately, that summer there was a PA from Kentucky working there with his family for 2 months who mentored me. After learning about the PA profession and that PAs can do almost everything that a physician can with a much more condensed schooling and tuition cost (though still a huge commitment), I decided that’s what I wanted to do.

I did a medical mission internship in Ghana in 2011 to get more experience in healthcare and serve the underserved.

What are your favorite aspects of your profession?
The best part about being a PA is having the knowledge and skill set to really help people. As compared to other healthcare providers (MDs, DOs, and NPs), PAs do not have to specialize in a certain field so we can transition between specialties. So far, I have worked in urgent care as a solo provider and in orthopedics seeing patients in the office and first assisting in surgery. I also like having the autonomy to see my own patients and do what I think is best for their care, while also having a physician who I can consult if I see something I have not seen before.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
Any job in medicine is challenging. It is mentally challenging (in a good way!) to assess patients and come up with the best treatment of care for that unique person. It also has its social and bureaucratic challenges in both the work setting and with patients who may think differently than you or may not be compliant with their healthcare. Also, the paperwork is my least favorite and most time consuming thing.

Describe what a typical day looks like for you.       
In my orthopedic job, my typical day consists of seeing patients for follow-up, post-op, or walk-in appointments. I do a history and physical exam of each patient, order and interpret testing (x-rays, MRI, CT, labs, EMG, etc.) when needed, give joint injections, fit braces, give rehabilitative exercises, place casts and splints, and whatever else is needed. In surgery, I work as a “first assist”. This includes helping prep the patient for surgery, retract tissue, suction, close the incision (suture/staple), dress the wound, and help get the patient back to the post-op area.

In my urgent care job, I was the only provider on my days there. I would see each patient that came in, diagnose them or order proper testing, and prescribe medication. I would also do any procedures and perform physicals.

What advice would you give a student interested in pursuing your field?
I would advise you to shadow in the field to see if it is something you really enjoy! I have had multiple students shadow with me and love answering any questions and showing them what a PA does! I would also advise you to really think about your motivations for wanting to be a PA (or whatever you decide) and use that as inspiration when times get tough or stressful.

What Does the Fox Say: What General Advice Do You Have for Us?

What Does the Fox Say?-2

Dear DocFox –

We are through the first couple of weeks of school, any general advice you have for us?


The Fox Says:

Admittedly, I used to despise inspirational quotes.  I have never purchased or read a single Chicken Soup for the Soul book.  Maybe it’s the fact that I’m now in my 40’s, or perhaps it’s my time spent working with college students, but I tend to look at some inspirational quotes from a new perspective.  And it may sound cheesy, but I have become inspired by the quotes.


“Life isn’t about finding yourself. 

Life is about creating yourself.”



There is some question as to the accuracy around whether or not this quote is attributed to Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, but regardless of who said it first, it has become – as a Career Coach – my absolute favorite “quote du jour.”  Let’s replace “life” with “college”, however.


College isn’t about finding yourself. 

College is about creating yourself.”



Should you take time to explore?  ABSOLUTELY!  However, you must work for your success and own the actions that you take. In the Knowlton Center, we talk a lot about the importance of student agency.  Exploration is a piece of agency.  Explore opportunities and then show up, be engaged, and work hard to create your academic, personal, professional, and co-curricular self.


And, isn’t that one of the best parts of a liberal arts education?  From the diverse curriculum to the variety of opportunities, you have many mediums in your reach.  Denison is your canvas … now it’s up to you to create you.