Medical Illustrator: Education and Career Facts

Medical illustration programs are rare; the handful of accredited degree programs that do exist are offered at the master's degree level. Read on for information about the job description, medical illustration program application requirements and career prospects. Schools offering Health Informatics degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What You Need to Know

Medical illustrators create visual depictions of medical information, combining artistic skill and scientific knowledge. Academic programs are competitive for this very specific career, so a strong background in both art and science will be important for acceptance into a program. Medical illustrators work in educational settings; for advertising agencies, medical publishing companies or pharmaceutical companies; as well as in gaming, animation and interactive media.

Programs Master's degree in medical illustration
Courses Biological and medical science; artistic methods including painting, drawing and modeling; computer graphic skills
Career Medical illustrators may work for medical and dental schools, medical publishers, pharmaceutical companies, advertising agencies or media companies, either as a salaried staff member or on a short-term contract basis as a freelancer

What Does a Medical Illustrator Career Look Like?

Medical illustrators execute visual representations of medical data, such as sketches of muscles and bones from the human body or illustrations that accompany explanations of surgical procedures. As a medical illustrator, you may produce pen and ink drawings or multimedia animations. Your work may appear in medical school teaching materials, videotapes, computer programs or wall charts. You might also work in medical research or as part of a team developing industrial programs. To become a medical illustrator you typically need a master's degree in medical illustration.

How Can I Qualify for a Education Program in Medical Illustration?

To qualify for admission to a graduate program offering training in medical illustration, you often need to demonstrate both academic aptitude and artistic talent. Some applicants major in biology or another science, while others pursue art degrees. Although courses in both art and science are strongly recommended, no particular major is required. An essential element of your application is your portfolio. You may be asked to submit a variety of illustrations representing a range of subjects, including figure drawings of the human body.

Where Can I Study?

As of 2015, there were three programs in the U.S. and one in Canada that offer training for medical illustrators and are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), the accrediting body for medical illustrator programs. Programs at each of these schools are highly selective, with entering class cohorts as small as five students. Each master's degree program is designed for full-time study; most are two years long. Your coursework focuses on both art and science, including human gross anatomy. In addition to your coursework, you may be required to produce an independent project or write a thesis as a requirement for graduation. As an experienced medical illustrator, you may wish to obtain optional board certified status through the Board of Certification of Medical Illustrators, which requires passing a written examination and earning a positive evaluation of your professional portfolio.

What Are My Career Prospects?

Medical illustrators work in a variety of environments, including medical and dental schools, medical publishers, pharmaceutical companies and advertising agencies. According to 2013 survey data from the Association for Medical Illustrators (AMI), the median salary for a medical illustrator is $62,000 and can range up to $100,000. Those in supervisory or creative director positions can expect a median salary of $85,000, ranging as high as $175,000. AMI also found that nearly 46% of salaried medical illustrators supplement their pay with freelance work.

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