What is a Medical Illustrator?

An interest in both medicine and the visual arts might lead you to consider a career as a medical illustrator. Professional medical illustrators have training in both disciplines and that training allows them to create pictures for a variety of media.

Medical illustrators have to be well versed in human or animal anatomy, depending on the types of illustrations they are providing. Their work may be published in medical journals, websites, magazines, or other types of media that promote medical education or healthcare marketing. It’s an interesting and diverse field, and according to the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI), also a small one, with only about 2,000 professionals currently practicing worldwide.

Types of Work

As mentioned, the types of work that medical illustrators are called on to do vary a good deal. The variety stems from both the diverse kinds of media that might be used to the diverse reasons illustrations are needed. Roughly a third of currently working illustrators are self-employed. They might be drawing for textbooks or journals that offer training for new generations of physicians and vets, providing images for healthcare websites, or creating illustrations for journals that provide advertising for the pharmaceutical industry.

Because the kind of work varies so much, illustrators may sometimes find themselves collaborating with a variety of other professionals such as graphic designers or even film directors. As technology advances, so do the demands for medical illustrations that can creatively capture the attention of medical students or healthcare consumers, providing them with details that help them to learn well or to make informed health decisions.

Training for Illustrators

Medical illustrators need to be trained both in art and in medicine. There are masters degrees available in the field, but right now only four schools are accredited in North America, which means you have to work hard to have a hope of being accepted. Students in these highly sought after schools study drawing, color, computer animation, web design, and other artistic skills, but they also study anatomy, physiology, surgical illustration, and other medical topics (depending on areas in which they want to specialize). Those who have studied medical illustration can work for certification and maintain that certification by taking continuing education courses. Some illustrators also go on to get doctorates in the field, which can be especially helpful if they are working in tandem with medical schools.

As you can see, medical illustration is a fascinating and demanding career choice. Pursuing it can take a great deal of commitment, but the field seems to be growing as the internet and other technological advances open up opportunities for people to learn more about health related issues such as diseases, medicines, and prosthetics.

If you are interested in learning more, it can be a good idea to start at the website of the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI). In addition to providing information about how to become a medical illustrator, they also provide award winning samples of medical illustration that can give you a good idea of the types of work being done in the field today.