Behind the White Coat: Art exhibit reveals the human face of future physicians

Brian and his dogThe Ohio State University College of Medicine champions medical students who come from diverse backgrounds, experiences and callings. Each in-coming class brings together students who share the passion and potential to improve people’s lives through innovation in research, education and community service. Students have complex lives themselves and pursue interests that lie outside their passion for medicine. They’re long-distance runners, parents, volunteers, and musicians. 

Third and fourth-year medical students Elizabeth Auckley and Phillip Anjum are artists. 

Auckley, a visual artist, believes the practice of medicine is more than just understanding the mechanisms of disease. It is an art in itself that centers connection and perception. She met Anjum, a videographer and photographer, while participating in the college’s Humanism in Medicine program, a student-led organization that recognizes the humanities as an essential part of medical practice studies. Eighty percent of medical students at the college participate in the program, which is comprised of sub-programs and groups that coordinate and work together to merge health and creativity. 

For two years, Auckley and Anjum collaborated on a project, which is now titled “Behind the White Coat.” It’s a collection of portraits of medical students in their “happy” places, with pets, family and friends, doing what they love, and it’s on exhibit at Ohio State’s Urban Arts Space Downtown through May 7, 2022.

“Phillip’s idea was to take black and white portraits of our classmates, showing how they like to spend their time and what they identify with as a person,” Auckley says. “Then I would paint the color back in over the prints as a symbol of the personalization and the complexity of each person, really highlighting who they are outside of medicine.” 

The result is a collection of vibrant portraits that illustrate each student’s unique spirit and human face, while representing the collective disorientation and overwhelm that comes with being a medical student and interacting with vast amounts of academic, clinical and hands-on learning. The artwork shows the human faces of future physicians, who the students hope the community will see as people first, and medical professionals, second.

“We hope that by showing these portraits, we can encourage people to live their lives as who they are and still enjoy their hobbies and their personal lives and families and friends,” Auckley says, “And realize that's a part of everyone's lives.”

Linda Stone, MD and retired dean of the Ohio State College of Medicine, founded Humanism in Medicine. She says that the program exemplifies one of the ways in which the college recognizes the power and importance of leveraging creativity and human expression to deliver compassionate care and thrive as human beings.

“The arts are one way to remind us of how much we mean to each other, how much those in healthcare give each day and how many ways we help others heal,” Dr. Stone says. “Many of the arts-based programs provide stress reduction for hard working students, healing for the healers, and the best of care for our patients.”

Stone says Humanism in Medicine and other programs such as Medicine and the Arts, exist to serve thousands of staff, patients, faculty and students in and around Ohio State. 

“The entire community is welcome to participate in these activities which promote a compassionate approach to illness, healing, living and working in healthcare,” Dr. Stone says. “This exhibit is a powerful glimpse into who medical professionals are as human beings.”

Auckley and Anjum’s collaboration was first featured in The Voices in Humanism program which was on display at the Ohio State University’s Medical Heritage Center. The program collected and preserved pandemic-related art and writing created by students, residents, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the health care community to share personal struggles to understand the impacts the pandemic had on our patients, families, community and the profession. Other organized efforts include an annual art fair which features work from students, residents, faculty and staff, a writing group that publishes an annual literary magazine entitled The Ether Arts, and improv, singing, theatre and orchestra groups. 

Behind the White Coat is presented in partnership with Urban Arts Space's Hybrid Arts Lab, a multi-venue learning lab that experiments with how art is imagined, made, viewed and understood.  

Photo caption: Auckley and Anjum’s portrait of medical student Brian Fowler and his dog Roscoe


Phillip Anjum is a fourth-year medical student at the Ohio State University College of Medicine. Throughout his time in medical school, he has honed his skills as a photographer and videographer. His work focuses on capturing intersections between art and medicine. This most recent collaboration allows him to challenge the limitations of traditional digital photography while simultaneously highlighting the strength of artistic collaboration between medical students. He is currently applying to residency programs with plans to practice primary care. 

Elizabeth Auckley is a third-year medical student at the Ohio State University College of Medicine. Elizabeth has practiced oil and watercolor painting during her medical education with a growing interest in portraiture. This collaboration has expanded her work to mixed media and a new technique, using washes of oil paint, to shine light on the wonderful humanity of her peers and collaborator, Phil. Elizabeth is completing clinical rotations and excited to explore her interest in internal medicine.