How Can I Become a Medical Illustrator?

Explore the career requirements for medical illustrators. Get the facts about job outlook, salary and degree requirements to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Health Informatics degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Medical Illustrator?

Medical illustrators create images to educate and explain complex biological processes. They are professional artists who also have training in science or medicine and who collaborate with scientists and researchers to represent scientific information visually. Their images may be used in a wide range of applications, including textbooks, communication with patients, public relations, or research. They may use traditional media to produce their illustrations, such as by hand drawing, or they may use high-tech media forms. Individuals will need to complete a graduate degree program to work in this field. Read on to learn more about job growth, salary and key skills.

Degree Required Master's degree
Education Field of Study Medical illustration
Key Skills Artistic ability, creativity, interpersonal skills, visual skills
Certification Certification is voluntary
Job Growth (2014-2024)2% (for all fine artists, including painters, sculptors and illustrators)*
Median Salary (2015) $46,460 (for all fine artists, including painters, sculptors and illustrators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education or Training Do I Need to Become a Medical Illustrator?

According to the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI), most medical illustrators have a master's degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs ( Before enrolling in a master's degree program in medical illustrating, you need to obtain a bachelor's degree. In your undergraduate program, you may wish to focus on biology and chemistry, as well as take some art classes. Some aspiring medical illustrators earn an undergraduate degree in one of the sciences, while others major in fine arts.

You often need to submit a portfolio, along with your undergraduate academic records, as part of the master's degree program admission process. Common coursework in a medical illustration program includes human anatomy, medical procedures, sketching methods and multimedia techniques. Most programs take two years to complete.

Do I Need to Be Certified?

Though certification isn't required, you may choose to seek professional credentials in order to demonstrate your ability. The Association of Medical Illustrators offers the Certified Medical Illustrator designation. You're qualified to take AMI's certification exam after completing a medical illustration degree program or accumulating five years of full-time work experience as a medical illustrator. The examination consists of a written section and a portfolio review of your work.

What Would I Do?

Medical illustrators create images used for medical training or education. Your drawings could be an exact replica of part of the human body, or they could serve to explain bodily functions at the cellular or molecular level. Your work could appear in textbooks, on doctor's office walls or even in museums. You need to have a strong science background because part of your job is to provide visual representations of biological processes. You could work at a university, for a private firm or for a pharmaceutical company.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Those interested in medical illustration may wish to consider some related alternative careers that combine fine arts with practical applications. For instance, graphic designers create images to communicate ideas to consumers through ads or brochures. Graphic designers require a bachelor's degree to gain entry-level employment. Industrial designers work with businesses and engineers to develop ideas and designs for new products. They also only require a bachelor's degree to enter the field.

Those who are more interested in high-tech media than traditional media may want to consider becoming multimedia artists and animators, who create digital graphics and illustrations for things like video games and movies. They strive to make computer-generated images (CGI) look realistic, much like medical illustrators aim to make their images realistic and anatomically correct. Multimedia artists and animators must hold a bachelor's degree.

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