How to get into Medical Illustration

Posted: 4th March 2019-Likes: 1-Comments: 0-Categories: News, Work-Tags: fetus, foetal, foetus
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How to get into Medical Illustration

Are you curious about science and anatomy? Do you love creating detailed art? Were you one of those students that enjoyed science and art at school? If so, medical illustration could be for you.

But how exactly do you become a medical illustrator? Read on to find out what skills and education you need to become one, and what to do after your training. Let’s start!

What skills do I need to become a medical illustrator?

Because medical illustration combines the worlds of art and science, it is essential for medical illustrators to genuinely enjoy and be equally skilled in both illustration and the sciences. Here’s a rundown of skills and personal qualities needed to become a medical illustrator:

• Artistic ability with a good eye for detail
• Possess excellent drawing skills, through the use of traditional mediums, digital mediums or both
• Have in-depth knowledge and understanding of biology, anatomy and physiology, as well as the scientific and technology industry
• Possess great communication skills, both verbally, visually and in writing, as you’ll be working with a variety of clients, team members and employers, as well as using your visual content to convey complex information in an engaging, easy-to-grasp manner
• Be able to work well alone and as part of a team
• Be able to multitask projects, work under pressure and meet deadlines, as you’ll likely be working on multiple commissions, some of which require quick turnarounds
• Not be squeamish! You’ll likely observe surgeries and medical procedures, experience and draw from cadavers and biological specimens
• Be comfortable working with patients who may be ill and/or in upsetting circumstances. For example, you may need to draw their injuries or clinical signs of their disease or produce illustrations for medico-legal cases. A professional, empathetic attitude is a must

What education or training do I need to become a medical illustrator?

So you have the skills and you’re thinking of becoming a medical illustrator, but where exactly do you start?

As the profession is a blend of art, science, medicine and visualisation techniques, education and training is essential, and required by most employers and clients.

The most common pathway to becoming a medical illustrator is to apply for an accredited medical illustration training programme. All the programmes in the USA and UK (bar one) are post-graduate, and vary significantly in terms of admission requirements, training and coursework offered and certificates received.

See below for a brief rundown of accredited UK and US medical illustration training programmes:

UK medical illustration programmes

MSc in Medical Art, run by the University of Dundee
• Twelve-month, full-time post-graduate course


MSc in Medical Visualisation and Human Anatomy, run by the Glasgow School of Art in collaboration with the University of Glasgow
• Twelve-month, full-time post-graduate course

Medical Art Postgraduate Programme, run by the Medical Artists’ Education Trust
• Part-time post-graduate course
• Leads to membership of the MAA (Medical Artists’ Association of Great Britain)

Graduate and Postgraduate Certificates in Graphic Design in Health Care, run by Staffordshire University
• Twelve-month, part-time distance learning course
• Applications can only be considered for applicants already employed as a Graphic Designer in a healthcare setting.
• Graduate certificate – Graphic Design for Health Care University Graduate Certificate
• Postgraduate certificate – Graphic Design For Health Care PgCert

US medical illustration programmes

(Note that each of these programmes accept 16 or fewer students each year, so entrance into these is very competitive)

MA in Medical and Biological Illustration, run by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, USA
• Twenty-four-month, full-time post-graduate course


MSc in Medical Illustration, run by Augusta University
• Twenty-one-month, full-time post-graduate course


MSc in Biomedical Visualisation, run by the University of Illinois at Chicago
• Twenty-four-month, full-time post-graduate course

The syllabus and coursework vary from programme to programme, but all should include a combination of basic science courses in anatomy, pathology, microanatomy and physiology along with art courses such as graphic design, traditional illustration techniques, digital drawing, 3D modelling ad animation. Click on the links above to find out more about what each course offers.

As nearly all these programmes are post-graduate, you need to have completed an undergraduate degree, with most requiring a degree in a related discipline, such as art or biology. You should also expect to have to prepare a medical illustration and/or art portfolio if you decide to apply for one of these courses. Check out the website links provided with each course outlined above to find out more about the admissions criteria and prerequisites required. If you’re worried you may not meet the criteria for these or unsure about what to include in your portfolio (particularly if you come from a science background), it’s worth getting in contact with the related admissions office, who would be more than happy to help and guide you.

Do I have to get a medical illustration post-graduate degree?

There is no specific way of how to become a medical illustrator, and not all medical illustrators have completed a medical illustration degree. However, it is recommended, as the medical illustration field is competitive to enter, and employers as well as clients are more likely to work with those who are professionally trained. In addition, it also helps you, providing you with in-depth scientific knowledge, improving your artistic skills and your ability to use a wide variety of mediums.

What do I do after getting my medical illustration post-graduate degree?

You would have already assembled a paper or digital portfolio book/folder as part of your application for a medical illustration post-graduate degree, however having a portfolio website is ESSENTIAL for all medical illustrators and expected by most medical illustration employers (and clients if you decide to freelance and/or become self-employed).

A portfolio website is a special type of personal website, created with the purpose of presenting the creative work of its owner. Although a portfolio website is required by employers and client, it has many benefits:

  1. It allows you to professionally showcase your work and what you offer
  2. Inspires employers and clients to hire you.
  3. Help you show there is more to you than your resume. The way you write and the design of your website gives employers and clients an idea of what your personality is like.
  4. Offers plenty of flexibility, letting you change and update your content, layout and design quickly and easily.
  5. Endless ways to arrange and display your online portfolio.
  6. Increases your visibility, presence and accessibility. Most employers will do some research on you online before they employ you, so having your website come as the top result provides them with all the information they need.
  7. Helps you build your brand and reputation as a medical illustrator
  8. Easy to share. The world is online, therefore all you have to do is share your website link and the recipient can access your portfolio instantly.

For those who cannot code and build a website from scratch, website builders are probably the best way to make a portfolio website. There are many website builders available (free and paid), such as, Wix and Squarespace, and most have a variety of templates to choose from. If you decide to go with a website builder, we recommend exploring and comparing each website builder’s tools and functionality before choosing one.


When pursuing a career as a medical illustrator, it is beneficial to become a member of one or more medical illustrator associations. Joining an association provides you with a competitive advantage because it shows your commitment to the profession, the desire to maintain necessary professional standards expected of you as a medical illustrator, and it allows you to become active, informed members of the industry. You can read more about the advantages and opportunities of joining relevant memberships here:

Associations relevant to medical illustration include:

  1. Institute of Medical Illustrators (IMI)
  2. Medical Artist’s Association (MAA)
  3. Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI)
  4. Association Européenne des Illustrateurs Médicaux et Scientifiques (AEIMS)

You also have the opportunity to join the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS) register, which is accredited by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA). The Academy for Healthcare Science is a UK governing body whose aim is to protect the public by accepting only those medical illustrators who meet high standards for their training, professional skills and behaviour.

Please note that the memberships and registers available to you as a medical illustrator may differ according to where you live worldwide, and the above list is not exhaustive. The above associations are voluntary, and you can join more than one, however this may or may not be the same in other countries. We recommend researching memberships and registers available to you each to find out what each offer and what is most suitable for you.

Depending on the associations you decide to join, the membership you choose and the register you sign up to, you may also have to undertake mandatory Continuing Professional Development (CPD). The aim of CPD is to ensure medical illustrators continue to learn and develop their knowledge and skills throughout their career, resulting in safe and efficient working practices, thereby protecting the public and the medical illustrator themselves. CPD also helps medical illustrators develop on their current role, meet the requirements of their employer, achieve their career goals and demonstrate they are fit to practice.

Get in with the crowd

Once you’ve finished your training, completed your online portfolio and joined some memberships, it’s all about networking, whether you’re looking for employment or not.

Conferences are excellent places to meet people in the medical illustration field, discover new technologies and industry news and get inspiration. They are a great way to connect with other medical illustrators and maybe even speak with potential employers or clients. Many membership associations, including the ones listed in the last section, hold conferences, and they may even be held near you.

Working as a medical illustrator

What medical illustration jobs can I get?

The jobs available to medical illustrators are hugely diverse. Some places that employ medical illustrators include:

  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Publishing companies
  • Hospitals or clinics, as part of private or public healthcare services (e.g. NHS in UK)
  • Medical schools, academic medical centres or universities
  • Research institutions
  • Creative services agencies or businesses
  • Web, multimedia or animation firms
  • Law firms (medicolegal)
  • Advertising agencies
  • Other (e.g. non-profits)

Some medical illustrators are also self-employed, and they may work alone or form creative teams, collaborating with allied professionals such as writers, graphic designers, photographers, or filmmakers.

What is the medical illustrator salary like?

Earnings vary significantly according to the experience, education, and ability of the artist, the type of work, the company they work for (or if they’re self-employed) and where in the world they are working. In general, medical illustrators with more diverse skills and experience tend to receive higher salaries.

For example, typical starting salaries for junior medical illustrators working in the NHS (UK) are between £20,000 and £24,000. According to 2013 AMI survey data, the median salary for a medical illustrator or medical animator is $62,000; and the median income for a self-employed medical illustrator is $82,000. However, it should be noted that the earnings of self-employed illustrators may be less predictable than those who are salaried, due to changes in the marketplace and competitive forces.

Professional development

Medical illustration is a profession and field in continual growth. Medical research is at the core of many medical illustration assignments, so medical illustrators need to stay up-to-date with the fields of medicine and science. Many medical illustrators will also be dependent on digital technology; therefore, they will need to keep up with trends in digital mediums, learn new platforms and stay up-to-date with current software. Medical illustration memberships can help keep you up to date, especially if they require CPD and/or conferences, however it is up to the medical illustrator to stay knowledgeable.

Becoming a medical illustrator – essential

So if you’re seriously considering becoming a medical illustrator, here’s our essential checklist to help get you started. Good luck!


Check you have some of the required skills to become a medical illustrator. Remember you can always learn these skills so don’t worry if you feel you don’t match them just yet


Check out all the medical illustration training programmes that are available to you. We only mentioned UK and Us accredited training programmes, so you may want to research further medical illustration programs in other areas worldwide.


Look at the admissions criteria of the training programmes you are interested in. You may have to complete an undergraduate degree in science or art before applying.


Get in touch with the programme faculty or admissions office with any questions. If you’re worried you may not meet criteria or unsure about what to include in your portfolio, they will be more than happy to help.


Start planning your application process. You may need to take workshops or additional training to improve your skills. You will also be expected to prepare medical illustration/art portfolio.



Build your portfolio website. If you cannot code and build a website from scratch, website builders are probably the best way to make a portfolio website. we recommend exploring and comparing website builders before choosing one.


Find medical illustrator memberships and/or registers that suit you. There are many advantages and opportunities of joining these, and we recommend those available to you each to find out what suits you best


Reaching out to other medical illustrators, joining memberships, following relevant medical illustration social groups and attending conferences are all great ways to network, and may even help you find employment.

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