One moment...

Home/ Careers/ Arts and Humanities in Health/ Medical Illustrator

Medical Illustrator

Overview

A medical illustrator is a professional artist with extensive training in medicine, science, communication and technology. Medical illustrators create visual material to help record and disseminate medical, biological and related information. They have the medical and scientific knowledge to grasp complex scientific information, parse it down and transmit the essence in a succinct visual message that is accurate, educational and beautiful.

Medical illustration is a relatively exclusive field: although the need for their services is great, there is just a small cadre of these highly specialized artists in practice. This is partly due to the small number of medical illustration program graduates. The Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI) estimates a total of just 1,200 medical illustrators in all of North America.

It's also partly due to the rapid growth in health-related research and development. As new treatments and technologies arise, so does the need for accompanying illustrations and animations. Not surprisingly, then, the employment outlook for medical illustrators is excellent.

The median salary for a medical illustrator is $63,000; those in supervisory and director positions earn $77,000 to $102,000 per year, respectively (2009 survey data).

Medical illustrators work closely with physicians and scientists. They produce visually driven content for journals, books, magazines, advertising, film, television, Web, interactive and mobile media, virtual reality, exhibits, demonstrative evidence and presentations. In addition to producing such material, medical illustrators often function as content developers, creative directors, consultants and administrators within the general field of biocommunication and as business owners and entrepreneurs in the marketplace.

Some medical illustrators specialize in a particular facet of medicine. If they are especially talented, they can become highly respected and sought-after for their skills in such areas as:

  • Cellular / biochemical animation
  • Surgical / medical device illustration
  • Medical-legal exhibits
  • Prosthetic devices

Although the majority of medical illustrators produce work for print and online media, some also work in three dimensions, creating sculptured anatomical teaching models, models for simulated medical procedures and prosthetic parts for patients.

There is also an expanding need for Web-based interactive learning programs, and many illustrators become authors and co-authors of textbooks and medical articles. In addition, as more people demand better information about their own bodies and healthcare options, the need has grown for medical illustrations in patient education and public health initiatives.

Working Conditions

Medical illustrators work in a wide range of settings. Many work for medical schools or large academic health centers. Others work in hospitals, clinics, medical legal firms, publishing companies, research institutions, veterinary schools or medical education companies. Some medical illustrators work solo, while others are part of large team-based multimedia departments.

Experienced medical illustrators also may start their own businesses, head a group of illustrators or become a director of a biomedical communication department.  

Academic Requirements

Because content and anatomical accuracy is paramount in the field of medical illustration, it is most rewarding for detail-oriented individuals who genuinely enjoy and have natural ability in both art and science.  High school students contemplating medical illustration as a career should take a college preparatory program with as much emphasis on art and science as possible. In college, students should concentrate on art and biological sciences before applying to a master’s program.

The majority of medical illustrators have a master's degree from an accredited graduate program in medical illustration. There are currently three accredited programs in the United States and one in Canada, each accepting between four and 16 students each year. The curriculum typically includes both medical science courses and art practice and theory courses.

The Board of Certification of Medical Illustrators is an independent body that administers a two-part test to verify the competency of medical illustrators. The test includes a written examination that takes approximately a half day to complete and a stringent portfolio review. Certification is entirely voluntary, and not necessary to become a skilled and successful practitioner.