Spotlight on Medical Illustrators & Animators

If you have ever been to a doctor’s office or science classroom, chances are you have seen the artwork of a medical illustrator. These professional visualization specialists create imagery that advances medical science knowledge and empowers health literacy for patients and the public. They use their artistic talent to produce this visual content for a scope of media including medical journals, film and legal proceedings. We had a chance to get some information on this exciting field from an expert: Carolyn Holmes, M.S.,C.M.I., F.A.M.I., President of the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI). (EHC): What made you decide to get involved in medical illustration?
Carolyn Holmes (CH): I was majoring in Pre-med/Biology in college and taking as many art classes as my schedule would allow. A chemistry professor knew a medical illustrator and introduced us. As soon as I knew about the field I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do. About half of the medical illustrators come to graduate school with a fine art degree and the others come from a science background.

EHC: Which media or tools do you work with?
CH: I sketch in pencil, paint in Photoshop with a Wacom tablet and do layout and design on Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign. Other medical illustrators work in 3-D, animation or gaming. Some work in traditional media like watercolor or ink.

EHC: Please briefly describe your current position and where you are located.
CH: I own my company and am engaged in creating medical imagery for supporting expert testimony in medical litigation, such as personal injury or medical malpractice cases. My illustrations are used to educate the jury about complex medical concepts so they can make knowledgeable decisions. Other medical illustrators’ work is used to educate doctors, explain surgical techniques and disease processes and to enlighten patients and many, many others.

EHC: What advice do you have for students interested in going into this field?
CH: If you have a curious nature, enjoy creating realistic artwork and love science, medical illustration may be a good match for you. Look at the Association of Medical Illustrators website to learn more about prerequisites for the graduate programs.

EHC: What do you wish you knew before you chose to study this field?
CH: The industry has changed a lot since I entered the field, both the ways of producing medical visualizations and the mode by which they are disseminated to the world. It is important to be aware that all the many parts of this field, medical, visual and business, are experiencing rapid change which creates a lot of new opportunities but also a need to constantly adjust and continue to learn.

EHC: Are there any classes, programs or activities that have helped you succeed in this healthcare career?
CH: The majority of medical illustrators in the profession have a master’s degree from an accredited two-year graduate program in medical illustration. There are currently three programs in the United States and one in Canada that are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Each program accepts 16 or fewer students each year, so entrance into the schools is very competitive.

EHC: How do you stay up to date on happenings in the healthcare field?
CH: Certified medical illustrators have to follow a rigorous continuing education regimen and come up for renewal every five years. Annual Association of Medical Illustrators conferences, local and online learning and national anatomy and biomedical conferences keep us current in art and medicine.

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