THE MEDICAL ILLUSTRATOR
is the field of medical illustration?
Medical illustration is a unique applied art discipline comprised of
professional medical illustrators. It falls within the more general field of
is a medical illustrator?
A medical illustrator is a professional artist with specialized training and
advanced education in medicine, science, art, design, visual technology, media
techniques, and in theories related to communication, learning and management.
Collaborating with scientists, physicians, and other content specialists,
medical illustrators serve as visual translators of complex technical
information to support education, medical and bio-scientific research, patient
care, patient education, public relations, and marketing objectives. They
transform complex information into striking images that stimulate imagination,
facilitate learning, and record scientific discovery.
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.
definition of a medical illustration
A medical illustration is a visual representation that is the result of art
skills expressed in a tangible or virtual medium that conveys medical or
medical Illustrations are used
From the human genome to the latest robotic surgical technique, the demand for
accurate, effective medical illustration is continuously expanding. Medical
illustrations and animations appear in virtually all media and markets used to
disseminate medical, biological and related information:
- trade and consumer publications
- textbooks and journals
- patient education
- continuing medical education (CME)
- interactive learning
- trade shows
- veterinary, dental, and legal markets
Attorneys use medical illustration to clarify complex medical information for
judges and juries in personal injury and medical malpractice cases.
While medical illustrations are still widely and consistently used for print
and exhibits, the trend is toward greater use in multimedia and interactive
designs, particularly those involving animation. Many, but not all, medical
illustrators also work in three dimensions, creating sculptured anatomical
teaching models and museum exhibits, models for simulated medical procedures
and prosthetic parts for patients.
required to be a medical illustrator
Content and anatomical accuracy is paramount in the field of medical
illustration; images are designed and created to communicate specific content.
Therefore, it is most rewarding for detail-oriented individuals
genuinely enjoy and have natural ability in both art and science.
Because of the variety of assignments medical illustrators typically
experience, they should be accomplished in a wide range of art methods and
media production skills to meet the current needs of the biocommunication
industry. These methods and skills range from advanced drawing, painting and
sculpture techniques in tangible media, to functional concepts and techniques
involved in the production of commercial and graphic art, to up-to-date computer
graphic skills in still and motion media.
A strong foundation in general, biological and medical science is also
necessary to enable the illustrator to fully comprehend and then conceptualize
complex biological and medical information. Subjects range from structures in
the real world that can be directly observed to the theoretical and unseen,
such as molecular processes. Highly developed visualization skills to transform
such complex information into two-dimensional and three-dimensional images that
communicate to diverse audiences are essential.
Those interested in medical illustration should enjoy working alone and in
teams during problem-solving, and be able to work closely with clients to
understand not only the project itself but the client's often unspoken needs as
well. Writing, research and ancillary computer skills are also valuable.
A proven pathway to acquire the required skills and knowledge to be a
professional medical illustrator in today's marketplace is to attend a
graduate-level educational program that is dedicated to teaching medical
for a career in medical illustration
Most medical illustrators have a Master's degree from an accredited graduate program from one of five
medical schools. There are currently four accredited programs in the United
States and one in Canada, each accepting 16 or fewer students per year.
Accreditation is from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health
Education Programs (CAAHEP). Entrance into all of these schools is very
competitive. Course work
- human gross anatomy
Students concurrently take classes in everything from the use of electronic
media in surgical and conceptual illustration to storyboard creation,
interactive media development, web design, animation, 3-D modeling, and
prosthetics. Graduate programs in medical illustration are two years in length,
and admission requirements vary from program to program. For further
information on educational programs to obtain a degree in medical illustration,
please see Education.
do medical illustrators work?
Medical illustrators traditionally work at a:
- University, medical center, hospital clinic, or
- Publishing company (books or journals)
- Corporation, small business
- Medical legal or law firm
- Web, multimedia, or animation firm
- Veterinary school
- Pharmaceutical company
- Advertising agency
- Other (government, non-profits)
Today, many are self-employed while others set up small companies or work as an
employee or owner in larger commercial enterprises designed to provide services
to various markets.
A significant segment of the marketplace is devoted to medical legal
illustration, which focuses on producing demonstrative evidence to support
expert testimony in medical malpractice, personal injury, and product liability
litigation. Fast growing fields of work for the medical illustrator are in
computer modeling, animation and interactive design, all of which are in high
demand in a wide variety of markets, and which often require larger teams of
Some medical illustrators specialize in a particular facet of medicine, such as
forensic reconstruction, ophthalmological illustration, a specific surgical
specialty, or the making of prostheses, often accumulating considerable
recognition for their knowledge and abilities in that particular area. Other
illustrators become an integral part of the medical research team. Some
illustrators become content experts and are authors and co-authors of textbooks,
or of articles in which they have made major contributions.
a career in medical illustration with board certification
Many medical illustrators choose to enhance their careers by becoming board
is a program endorsed by the
Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI) to encourage lifelong learning and to
measure professional competency for practicing medical illustrators. This voluntary
certification program is designed to provide the practicing medical illustrator
with the recognizable and valuable Certified Medical Illustrator (CMI)
credential, which assures stakeholders of their current competency in the
There is no relationship between certification and membership in the AMI or any
other organization, so any practicing medical illustrator meeting the
eligibility requirements may apply.
The certification program is administered by The Board of Certification of
Medical Illustrators (BCMI), an independent body that objectively measures and
evaluates exam results and awards certification to applicants upon successful
completion. The BCMI follows the standards of the National Commission for
Certifying Agencies (NCCA) and the National Organization for Competency
Assurance (NOCA), recognized leaders in setting quality standards for
credentialing organizations to ensure the health, welfare, and safety of the
A Certified Medical Illustrator has successfully passed examinations dealing
with business practices, ethics, biomedical science, drawing skills, and has
undergone a rigorous portfolio review. Competencies are maintained by meeting
specific continuing education requirements and must be renewed every five
years. Please note however, the CMI credential is not necessary or required for
a medical illustrator to be a skilled and successful practitioner. For more
information see Certification.
a medical illustration career through Continuing Education
Medical illustration is a profession in continual growth. Medical research is
embedded in nearly every medical illustration assignment, sometimes requiring
learning to use medical instrumentation, doing one's own cadaver dissections,
organizing computer searches or studying relevant medical articles.
Like most other disciplines that have become more dependent on digital
technology, medical illustrators also have to keep up with trends in emerging
media as well as undergo periodic training to learn a new platform or new or
updated software. To help the medical illustrator remain current, the AMI
maintains a listserv, publishes a weekly AMI eNews, offers extensive job placement
services, and co-publishes The Journal of Biocommunication,
a quarterly academic journal.
In order to maintain certification, however, more formal continuing education
is available through the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI) as well as
outside educational venues. Continuing Education Unit (CEU) credits are offered
for workshops and educational sessions presented at each AMI
annual meeting, at AMI-sponsored regional
meetings throughout the United States, and for educational experiences in
outside venues that meet the criteria for CEUs.
potential for the medical illustrator
Earnings vary according to the experience and ability of the artist, the type
of work, and the area of the country where one works. The title "Medical
Illustrator" is a broad term. Depending on the type of employer and
services provided, job skills may include animation, multimedia, interactive
development, illustration, web and graphic design.
In general, medical
illustrators with diverse skills and more responsibility for concept
development command higher salaries. The median salary for a medical
illustrator is $61,000 and can range up to $150,000. Those in supervisory and
director positions earn a median of $75,000 and $93,000 per year respectively
(2009 AMI survey data). About 46% of salaried illustrators supplement their
income with freelance work.
Earning potential for self-employed medical illustrators varies widely
depending on the type of work (e.g., pharmaceutical, medical-legal,
advertising) and an individual’s skill. Success as a self-employed medical
illustrator does not result solely from the ability to create beautiful art.
Business savvy and ability in marketing and self-promotion, pricing and
negotiation, and business management are fundamental.
The median income for a
self-employed medical illustrator is $79,000 and can range up to $250,000 per
year (2009 AMI survey data). Earnings for business owners who employ other
creative staff are even greater with a median of $83,000 and up to $420,000 per
year. Due to the vagaries of the marketplace and competitive forces, the
earnings of self-employed illustrators may be less predictable than those who
are salaried, but the highest earnings are generally made by those artists
whose entrepreneurial expertise, art, and professionalism keep them in constant
In addition to earnings from a salary or freelance projects, some medical
illustrators receive royalties from secondary licensing of existing artwork.
These reuse arrangements with stock art agencies, publishers, and clients can
provide a supplemental, and sometimes significant, source of income.
outlook for medical illustrators
Currently, the employment outlook for medical illustrators is good due to the
highly specialized nature of our work and the relatively limited number of
medical illustrators graduating each year. Our profession remains very viable
due to growth in medical research that continually reveals new treatments and
technologies that require medical illustrations and animations to explain them.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, “Demand for multimedia artists
and animators will increase as consumers continue to demand more realistic
video games, movie and television special effects, and 3D animated movies.
Additional job openings will arise from an increasing need for computer
graphics in the growing number of mobile technologies. The demand for animators
is also increasing in alternative areas such as scientific research and design
Medical illustrators are also employed as research faculty within healthcare
institutions where their unique aptitude is valuable in visualizing,
interpreting and summarizing data as well as creating effective, testable
patient education tools. Lastly, emerging technologies in informational media
delivery systems such as mobile devices (iPads and cell phones), health gaming,
and digital medical imaging systems require an expanding array of specially
designed digital images and thus, the need for newer, more cutting-edge medical
illustrations and animations to populate these devices.
For a more complete list and explanation of career fields of work for the
medical illustrator read