Education and Training: Master's degree
Salary: Median—$59,000 per year
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Medical illustrators are artists who work in the field of medicine. They make detailed drawings for textbooks and other publications used by physicians and students. They may illustrate the steps surgeons take during operations or draw pictures of both healthy and diseased body parts to show the effects of illness. Medical illustrators also build models of body parts for use in lectures or seminars. In some cases they help to create artificial parts, such as ears or eyes, for patients who need them. Their work may appear in television programs, films, and exhibits for court cases.
Medical illustrations are important to physicians and students because they show details of structures that are difficult to find in the actual body or in photographs. Artists are selective in what they draw, so their illustrations can be especially effective in showing the relationship of one body part to another. By studying these illustrations, medical students can learn about the body before they do laboratory work or treat patients.
Medical illustrators choose their techniques and media carefully because each illustration has a specific purpose. Drawings, paintings, and prints, for example, simplify information and show relationships between body systems. Sculptures and models show body parts and systems in three dimensions. For illustrations, artists may use paint, pencil, ink, charcoal, and chalk. For sculpting or making models, they use clay, wax, plaster, wood, plastic, or metal.
The training of medical illustrators, which includes both art and science, is intended to give them a comprehensive knowledge of the human body and medical techniques. However, many illustrators specialize in one branch of medicine, such as neurology, which includes the brain and the nervous system.
Many medical illustrators are employed by commercial art studios that create illustrations for textbooks and other publications. Some work for hospitals, universities, and research institutions, where they sometimes teach. Others work for museums and pharmaceutical companies. Freelance artists are self-employed and receive a fee for each project they complete.
Education and Training Requirements
Most schools of medical illustration require applicants to have bachelor's degrees and to have taken some courses in the biological sciences and in art. They must also show samples of their artwork. Graduate training programs for medical illustrators last two or three years.
Getting the Job
Job seekers can apply directly to hospitals, publishers, or pharmaceutical companies. College placement offices, professional associations and journals, newspaper classified ads, and job banks on the Internet are all sources of employment information, including freelance opportunities.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Medical illustrators usually advance by improving their skills—they may specialize in one particular field, for example. Those who work in hospitals can become senior illustrators and supervise the work of other artists, while those who work for commercial art studios can oversee all illustrations for large-scale projects, such as textbooks. Freelance artists build their reputations through quality work, which gets them more and better assignments. Some medical illustrators move into high-level teaching jobs.
The employment of medical illustrators is expected to grow as fast as the average for all jobs through 2014. Some of their best opportunities should come from new developments in medicine. However, this is a small field, so competition may be stiff.
Medical illustrators do much of their work in quiet, well-lighted art studios, laboratories, and offices. Sometimes they must sketch in operating rooms. Although they often work alone, medical illustrators must also be able to cooperate and to work closely with medical staffs, scientists, and publishers. In addition to artistic talent, they need the ability to do exact and detailed work.
Medical illustrators who work for hospitals, universities, pharmaceutical companies, or commercial art studios generally work forty-hour weeks. Freelance illustrators set their own schedules. All medical illustrators face deadline pressure at times.
Where to Go for More Information
The Association of Medical Illustrators
PO Box 1897
Lawrence, KS 66044
Earnings and Benefits
Earnings vary widely depending on skill, experience, and place of employment. In 2005, according to the Association of Medical Illustrators, the median earnings for salaried medical illustrators were $59,000 per year. Benefits for salaried workers include paid holidays and vacations and health insurance. Self-employed illustrators provide their own benefits.