Medical Illustrator

A medical illustrator specializes in artistic renderings of health-related information for education and research purposes. Learn about job duties, degree coursework, admissions requirements and employment outlook.

Is Medical Illustration for Me?

Career Overview

The medical illustrator is a commercial artist who combines his or her drawing skills with an advanced education in anatomy and science to produce visual representations of complex medical information. As a medical illustrator, you might collaborate with physicians and scientists and even observe lab procedures and surgeries to produce a technically correct visual image. These visual renderings are used in education, research, public relations and patient care.

Traditionally, medical illustrators work with an assortment of art mediums. However, modern advances in technology mean that you might be an art director or producer who develops animated movies using digital technology, in addition to creating traditional illustrations. You can work as a freelance artist contracting to produce graphics for books and medical journals. On the other hand, you might want to work for a lawyer in the medical-legal field, or you may hold a position in a medical teaching facility, medical publishing house, pharmaceutical company, advertising agency or animation firm.

Employment Outlook and Salary

If you have superior drawing skills, an eye for detail and a love for art and science, becoming a medical illustrator may pique your interest. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the outlook for jobs in fine art, including illustrating, is slower than average; however, there will be a greater demand between 2012 and 2022 for illustrators who complete their work on a computer ( reported in April 2014 that the majority of medical illustrators made between $39,149 and $74,543, annually.

How Can I Become a Medical Illustrator?


To work in medical illustration, most employers require you to have at least a bachelor's degree that includes a combination of art and premedical courses. However, most medical illustrators have a master's degree in medical illustration. According to the Association of Medical Illustrators (, four programs in the United States and one in Canada are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) as of April 2014. Entrance into these programs is extremely competitive, since each program accepts 16 or fewer students each year.

To be admitted to an accredited program, you need to submit a portfolio and program application. The portfolio generally consists of life drawings, renderings in pen and ink, samples of oil painting or watercolor and some examples of digital work. As part of the program, you take classes in cell biology, human anatomy and pathobiology while honing your artistic talents in illustration, modeling, computer animation, photography, drawing and illustration classes.


The Board of Certified Medical Illustrators (BCMI) offers a certification exam for illustrators who wish to have the credential. While the certification is not a requirement, the designation of Certified Medical Illustrator (CMI) denotes competency within the field and might be an advantage when seeking employment. To be eligible to sit for the exam, you must have a degree from a recognized college or university program in medical illustration or have a minimum of five years of full-time work experience. You also must have taken a course in human gross anatomy with hands-on dissection.

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