Medical Illustrator Education and Training Program Information

Oct 20, 2021

What Is a Medical Illustrator?

Are you interested in both art and science? Then a career as a medical illustrator could be for you. A medical illustrator is a professional who has experience in both the arts (drawing, graphic design, 3D-printing) as well as the life sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, medicine). This unique combination of skills and experiences allows medical illustrators to use artistic media to capture scientific and medical concepts. For example, medical illustrators may create diagrams that show the normal function of certain parts of the body as well as diseases that can cause these body parts to lose their function. Medical illustrators may also depict medical procedures like surgeries. The artistic visualizations that medical illustrators create can be used in textbooks and other media to teach scientists, doctors, and other professionals.

Medical Illustrator Education Requirements

Coursework teaches students to draw or create images of human and animal bodies as well as plants. Bachelor's degree programs offer a comprehensive combination of science and art education and master's degree programs focus on topics like business, multimedia and modeling. Online courses and programs are generally not available in this field.

Students are required to have a high school diploma or GED certificate and are encouraged to take numerous prerequisite classes in art, biology and chemistry. A portfolio and essay are typically required for admission to a baccalaureate pre-medical illustration program.

Medical illustration bachelor's programs typically require high school coursework to include at least two years of biological science as well as some art training. As with most art and design programs, applicants may need to submit proof of art studio experience as well as a portfolio.

Individuals interested in a master's program are required to hold a bachelor's degree related to the field of arts, sciences or education for admittance to a graduate program in medical illustration. They are asked to submit a portfolio with a minimum of 20 examples, letters of reference, and a letter of intent; they must also complete a personal interview. Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores are sometimes needed. Prerequisite courses may include anatomy and physiology, drawing, graphic design, computer graphics, developmental anatomy and tissue studies.

Medical Illustration Programs

There are a variety of educational programs you can pursue if you are interested in becoming a medical illustrator. These programs can help you meet the medical illustrator education requirements. At the undergraduate level, you can study pre-medical illustration to prepare you for graduate coursework in medical illustration. Alternatively, you can earn a bachelor's or a master's degree in medical illustration in order to give you the advanced skills you will need to become a successful medical illustrator. Read on to learn more about each of these degree options and decide which is the best one for you.

Bachelor's Degree in Pre-Medical Illustration

Titles for medical illustration programs may include biological, scientific and biomedical illustration or visualization. Pre-medical illustration degree programs typically prepare students for graduate coursework. The biological aspect of the degree focuses on plant and biology art, while the pre-medical portion relates to human and animal anatomy, medical terminology and artistic rendering techniques for vertebrate tissue, molecular cell biology and related topics. This program may result in a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Fine Arts.

Students applying to pre-medical illustration programs are sometimes required to do so in their second year of study on a 4-year degree plan. The first year consists of introductory courses and enables students to build a portfolio.

The curriculum provided in a pre-medical illustration college program is a comprehensive mixture of art, design and scientific coursework. Subjects may include:

  • Drawing and design fundamentals
  • Basic art design software
  • Concept and digital drawing
  • Insect, animal and human biology
  • Human physiological characteristics
  • Developmental biology principles

Bachelor's Degree in Medical Illustration

A bachelor's program in medical illustration combines traditional artistic methods with computer technology and biological sciences. Students learn medical illustration techniques by drawing, painting, sculpting and digitally creating images of human and animal anatomy. Computer animation techniques involving 2- and 3-dimensional design add a modern slant to this undergraduate degree program. This program does not vary substantially from a pre-medical illustration program, but may be preferred by those who don't intend to pursue a graduate degree.

A high school diploma or its equivalent is required for acceptance to this undergraduate program. Drawing, painting and sculpting are all courses included in a medical illustration bachelor's degree program, but graphic and digital design are emphasized as well. Coursework entails:

  • Illustration in dimensions
  • In-motion artwork
  • General, human and animal biology
  • Gross human anatomy
  • Surgical art composition
  • Computer animation methods

Master's Degree in Medical Illustration

A medical illustration graduate program is typically two years long and may offer concentrations in computer animation, digital illustration or prosthetic design. Although programs typically result in a Master of Science, it is also possible for students to gain a Master of Arts or Master of Fine Arts. Program names may vary from 'medical illustration' to 'biological visualization,' among other variations.

Regardless of the title, these programs offer similar objectives. Research and business management classes are provided in addition to coursework focused on advanced biomedical sciences, surgical observations and multimedia studies. Students learn how to apply new skills while addressing research topics in the medical field.

Programs differ in the structure and delivery of coursework. Some medical illustration curriculums are pre-planned, while others offer extensive electives to choose from. Medical illustrator requirements for subjects may include:

  • Clinical science principles
  • Educational design
  • Business fundamentals
  • Craniofacial characteristics
  • Modeling and simulation
  • Anaplastology methods

Medical Illustration Schools

Have you decided to pursue one of the three medical illustrator degree options? If so, the next step is to select a school where you can earn the degree you need to become a medical illustrator. The table below lists information on some colleges and universities where you can train to become a medical illustrator. Read below to decide if you want to study at one of these anaplastology schools.

School Type Location Degrees Offered Tuition*
Augusta University 4-year, Public Augusta, GA Master's $5,504 in-state, $18,772 out-of-state (2019-2020 Graduate school tuition)
University of Illinois at Chicago 4-year, Public Chicago, IL Master's $13,276 in-state, $23,850 out-of-state (2019-2020 Graduate school tuition)
Johns Hopkins University 4-year, Private Baltimore, MD Master's $55,350 (2019-2020 Graduate school tuition)
Rochester Institute of Technology 4-year, Private Rochester, NY Bachelor's $45,890 (2019-2020 Undergraduate tuition)

*Source: National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

How much does a medical illustrator earn in a year? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports illustrators among craft and fine artists. Craft and fine artists, including painters, sculptors and illustrators, are projected to see little or no change in employment from 2019-2029, according to the BLS. The median annual salary of fine artists, including painters, sculptors and illustrators, was $48,760 in May 2019, per the BLS statistics.

Of course, the salary that a medical illustrator will earn varies based on their geographical location. This is because the cost of living is different in various cities and states, and salaries are adjusted to reflect these differences. The top five highest-paying states for craft and fine artists, including medical illustrators, as of May 2019 are reported in the table below:

State Average Annual Salary (2019)
New York $97,360
California $94,000
Connecticut $77,530
New Jersey $70,910
Washington $60,120

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

The job availability for medical illustrators will also vary by state and city, as some states have a higher demand for jobs of this type. The states with the highest employment for craft and fine artists, including medical illustrators, is depicted in the table below. Data are reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2019.

State Employment (2019)
California 2,220
New York 1,700
Florida 880
Texas 700
Ohio 500

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Medical Illustrator Do?

Medical illustrators typically use their artistic skills to illustrate medical concepts or structures using diagrams or models. These professionals may illustrate body parts, diseases, or medical procedures. Their works can be used in textbooks and other teaching formats. Medical illustrators can earn a wide array of jobs after they complete their training. These include many jobs in addition to creating medical illustrations. For example, after obtaining a graduate degree in medical illustration, individuals are qualified to enter teaching careers. Other potential positions are:

  • Medical media artist
  • Legal graphic artist
  • Medical art producer
  • Creative director
  • Consultant

Earning a bachelor's or master's degree in medical illustration will prepare the student for a career that allows them to combine artistic and graphic skills with principles of biology. Those who successfully complete the medical illustrator needed requirements often find work in the teaching segment. They may also enter a career in developing various forms of illustrative and graphic materials representing anatomy and physiology of both animal and plant specimens.

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