How to Become a Medical Illustrator

How to Become a Medical Illustrator: Career Path Guide

If you want to become a medical illustrator, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for you. If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for a career as a medical illustrator:


Those who become medical illustrators are individuals who have advanced education in medicine and science, and are also talented artists.


They must be able to translate complex medical and biological information into captivating images. Medical illustrators must be able to use their skills, knowledge and competencies to create image with a high degree of accuracy and attention to detail.


A career as a medical illustrator is a great fir for those who have a genuine interest in illustration, biology, science and medicine. 


If you’ve determined that you’re interested in becoming a medical illustrator, you’ll need to know how to do it. Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a medical illustrator. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Medical Illustrator

To become a medical illustrator, you typically need at least a bachelor’s degree that combines both art and pre-medical coursework. Although this may be the minimum education needed to work in this field, it is very common for medical illustrators to have a master’s degree in medical illustration, as many employers require it.


According to the Association of Medical Illustrators (, only four medical illustration programs in the United States and one in Canada are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).


Entrance into these programs is highly competitive, as each program accepts a maximum of 16 students per school year.


Medical illustration programs generally consist generally consist of scientific coursework in areas such as cell biology, human anatomy and pathobiology, as well as illustration-based coursework in areas such as computer animation, photography and illustration.




Medical Illustrator Job Description

Medical illustrators prepare medical illustrations for use in textbooks, informational pamphlets and other publications that are used by patients, students and medical professionals. The title "Medical Illustrator" is a broad term, as job skills job skills may include animation, multimedia, interactive development, illustration, web and graphic design, depending on the project or the employer. 



Medical Illustrator Job Duties

• Prepare medical illustrations such as those of a healthy bodily system versus a diseased bodily system, in order to demonstrate the difference between the two

• May collaborate with medical professionals and scientists 

• Receive instructions from client or employer, regarding the needs of the project

• May observe lab procedures and surgeries

• May conduct own research, such as dissecting cadavers and studying relevant medical articles

• Keep up with trends in emerging media

• Prepare and maintain a portfolio demonstrating body of work

• Build models of body parts for use in lectures, seminars and medical treatment facilities

• Select technique for illustration based on the purpose of the illustration

• May use mediums such as clay, wax, plaster, wood, plastic, metal, pencil, ink, paint and others



Becoming Certified as a Medical Illustrator

Aspiring and current medical illustrators should also consider becoming certified medical illustrators. This is usually accomplished by passing tests (consisting of written and practical components) given by the Board of Certification of Medical Illustrators.


Although certification is on a voluntary basis, it is highly recommended, as it demonstrates a commitment to the profession of medical illustration, as well as demonstrates a certain level of skill, knowledge and competency in the field of medical illustration. Some employers may also either require certification from medical illustration candidates, or give preference to candidates that have certification. 



Where Do Medical Illustrators Work? Who Hires Them?

Many medical illustrators are self-employed as freelancers, although there are medical freelancers that are able to find full-time work with various types of employers. Below are examples of employers that are able to use the skills, knowledge and competencies of medical illustrators:


Clients of Freelance Medical Illustrators:


• Medical professionals

• Hospitals and clinics

• Local, regional and federal government departments

• Publishing houses

• Pharmaceutical companies

• Attorneys

• Law enforcement agencies

• Advertising agencies


Full-Time Employers of Medical Illustrators:


• Medical publications and trade journals

• Publishing houses

• Colleges and universities

• Medical schools

• Hospitals and clinics

• Local, regional and federal government departments





Medical Illustrator Salary: How Much Do They Make?

Earnings of Salaried Medical Illustrators


The salary level of medical illustrators can vary substantially, depending on factors such as their level of experience, their level of education, where they work, the type of medium they use for their illustrations, the sort of royalty or commission agreements they have, and many others.


According to the Association of Medical Illustrators, the median salary for a medical illustrator is $61,000 per year, and can range up to $150,000. Medical illustrators that work in supervisory and director positions earn a median salary of $75,000 and $93,000 per year respectively (2009 AMI survey data). It is also worth noting that according to the survey around 46% of salaried medical illustrators work freelance jobs to supplement their income.


Earnings of Self-Employed Medical Illustrators


The earnings of self-employed medical illustrators is also dependent on many factors, such as their abilities, the level of demand for their work, their level of entrepreneurial skill, their marketing abilities, their pricing levels, and many other factors.


According to the Association of Medical Illustrators, the median income for medical illustrators that are self-employed is $79,000 per year, and can range all the way up to $250,000 per year (2009 AMI survey data). 



Where is the Work of Medical Illustrators Used?

The work of medical illustrators can be found in almost any media or market that needs medical illustration to disseminate medical, biological and related scientific information, including:


• Trade and consumer publications

• Advertisements

• Textbooks and medical journals

• Medical, biological and scientific information websites

• Patient health education materials

• Interpreting medical evidence in personal injury and malpractice lawsuits

• Continuing medical education (CME) materials

• Interactive learning materials

• Trade shows exhibits and promotional materials

• Museum exhibits

• Veterinary, dental, and legal markets



Why Are Medical Illustrators Important?

From educational materials, to advertising media, medical illustrations are needed to translate complex medical, biological and scientific information into captivating illustrations for a variety of purposes. They greatly assist individuals by stimulating the imagination, facilitating learning, interpreting medical evidence and recording scientific discovery.



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Careers Similar to Medical Illustrator

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Medical Illustrator, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Medical Scientist

Medical Writer

Children's Book Illustrator

Scientific Illustrator

Technical Illustrator



References: How to Become a Medical Illustrator

Please use the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a medical illustrator.


Occupations in Alberta:Illustrator.” (March 21, 2015). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved January 3, 2020.

Occupational Employment and Wages:Fine Artists, Including Painters, Sculptors, and Illustrators.” (March 29, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved January 3, 2020.

Medical Illustration:Careers.” (n.d.). Association of Medical Illustrators website. Retrieved January 3, 2020.



Scholarships for Becoming a Medical Illustrator

Scholarships listed for majors that apply to becoming a Medical Illustrator can be found on the following pages:


Biology Scholarships

Fine Arts Scholarships

Graphic Design Scholarships


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Becoming a Medical Illustrator: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a medical illustrator, as they will provide you with many of the skills, knowledge and competencies necessary to succeed in this profession. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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