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The Now, The New & The Next in Careers

The Artful Scientist: A Career in Medical Illustration

25 Feb 2013 5:32 PM | Anonymous
By Sharon Wiatt Jones

Due to the expertise of medical illustrators:

  • Students at the New York University School of Medicine perform dissections on virtual cadavers.
  • The Smithsonian Museum uses animation to accompany an exhibit, “Genes and Jazz.”
  • Surgery and other procedures are demonstrated on “The Doctors” television show.

Combine your passion for biology, art, computer science and communications to enter the career that Johns Hopkins University Medical School has labeled “Art as Applied to Medicine."

What Medical Illustrators Do. They transform complex information into visual form in fields such as medical research, patient education, marketing or advertising, and law.  By combining biomedical-communication and applied art, medical illustrators use a wide variety of skills, such as these: Art (drawing, print media, digital media, 3D modeling, web design), Instructional design (storyboarding, visual technology, learning theory, training techniques), Biology and medical science (anatomy, physiology, pathology, and surgery).

Why It’s an Attractive Career. You may want to consider medical illustration if you want to:

  • Make an impact
  • Clarify issues for juries in medical malpractice, personal injury or product liability cases
  • Create prostheses for patients disfigured by accidents or disease
  • Enable researchers to explain breakthrough discoveries
  • Work in widely diverse settings
  • Choose from employers such as medical schools, law firms, pharmaceutical companies, animation studios, or the media
  • Use specialized skills, in limited supply, with an expanding job market
  • Qualify for a career that offers potential for a six-figure salary or become an entrepreneur
  • Enter a field with increasing demand, especially in computer modeling, animation, and interactive design
  • Apply your skills to new challenges, adapting to advances in medical research and emerging technology

Educational Requirements.  Medical illustrators typically complete a two-year master’s degree in Biomedical Visualization or Medical and Biological Illustration. Accredited programs are available from three medical schools in the U.S. and one in Canada. Highly selective, they accept fewer than one in four applicants. Successful graduate school applicants demonstrate strong preparation, with an art portfolio and excellent grades in premed courses. Some students want to specialize in creating custom-designed prostheses for the face, eye or body, and study anaplastology for one year following a master's degree. Professionals who pass a board exam may become a Certified Medical Illustrator (CMI). Not all employers require a master's degree for medical illustration positions. Some illustrators enter the career with a bachelor's degree (i.e. medical illustration, art, graphic design) or master's degree in a related field.

Compensation. A 2009 survey by the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI) revealed these median annual salaries or income: Salaried employees: $61,000 (up to $150,000);  supervisors: ($75,000); and directors ($93,000). Self-employed: $79,000 (up to $250,000);  business owners with artistic staff: $83,000 (up to $420,000). Medical illustrators using digital interactive and animation skills usually earn more. Approximately 46% of salaried AMI survey respondents also reported freelance income. Some illustrators received royalties from their art.

Types of Employers: University medical, dental and veterinary schools; healthcare institutions; law firms; media companies (publishing, television, film, web, video game); marketing, advertising, and public relations firms; museums and art galleries; pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device companies; nonprofits and government agencies.

Examples of other job titles in this career field include 3D medical animator, interactive user-interface designer, and prosthesis designer/anaplastologist. Common Specializations: Animation, Interactive design, Health gaming, Digital medical imaging system, Clinical anaplastology, Forensic reconstruction, Ophthalmological illustration.

More Information: Association of Medical Illustrators; Guild of Natural Science Illustrator;

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