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What is Medical Illustration?

Before the invention of cameras and computers, every illustration in a medical journal or medical textbook was drawn by talented artists. Today, although many of the images found in these publications are photographs, there are still a handful of medical illustrations.

Basically, medical illustration is a cross between medicine and art. This type of illustration involves drawing detailed images of certain aspects of medicine or biology. The drawings produced by medical illustrators are meant to create a visual representation of certain aspects of medicine or biology, particularly hard to photograph aspects. For example, these illustrations can be used to depict individual blood cells in a vein, or they can be used to create an image that distinguished the individual muscles in a muscle group.

Medical illustrations are commonly used as teaching aids in medical textbooks, or as visual aids in medical journals. These illustrations might also accompany text in pamphlets or on posters, which can help a layperson better understand a complicated medical situation. Lawyers and forensics experts will also sometimes choose to use medical illustrations to help a judge or jury better grasp a certain situation, such as a gunshot wound.

In some cases, medical illustrations may also be used to make 3-D models of organs, body parts, or other biological objects.

What Does a Medical Illustrator Do?

The majority of medical illustrators work very closely with doctors, surgeons, and professionals. The types of images that a medical illustrator creates will often depend on the illustrator’s specialty, as well as his client’s needs. For example, a medical illustrator that specializes in forensics will often team up with law enforcement officials or attorneys in order to create a visual representation of wound ballistics.

A medical illustrator will usually begin drawing by hand with traditional art implements, such as pencils, pens, and markers. With the advancement of modern technology, however, using computer graphics software to create or enhance medical illustrations is more and more common. Some medical illustrators may even enhance and edit high resolution photographs as well, which can include adding text or zooming in on certain aspects of the photograph.

Besides creating 2-D – and sometimes 3-D – illustrations, some medical illustrators may also help create 3-D models and sculptures based on their images as well. These items can either be molded or sculpted from several different materials. In many cases, anatomical models are meant to be used as educational aids in schools, universities, doctor’s offices, and hospitals.

Where Does a Medical Illustrator Find Work?

In order to have a successful medical illustration career, these professionals should ensure that they have impressive portfolios. A medical illustrator’s portfolio will usually contain several examples of the artist’s work. As is the case with most other artists, the more impressive a medical illustrator’s portfolio, the more jobs he will be able to get.

The majority of medical illustrators work as freelancers. They may be commissioned by medical professionals, publishing houses, or pharmaceutical companies to create illustrations for various projects. Attorneys and law enforcement officials may also work with medical illustrators from time to time.

What are the Education Requirements for a Medical Illustration Career?

Since medical illustration is a cross between medicine and art, an aspiring medical illustrator should consider studying art as well as medicine. Ideally, a medical illustration career will start with a bachelor degree in either art or pre-medicine. Aspiring medical illustrators may also need to earn a Master of Arts or Science in medical illustration. Only a handful of educational institutions in the United States offer these degree programs, however, and acceptance into these programs is very competitive.

While earning their degrees, aspiring medical illustrators will often take courses such as anatomy, biology, physiology, embryology, drawing, and graphic design.

Medical illustrators should also consider becoming certified medical illustrators. This is usually accomplished by passing rigorous tests given by the Board of Certification of Medical Illustrators.

What is the Average Annual Salary for a Medical Illustrator?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lumps medical illustrators in with other fine artists. These professionals made an average salary of $53,080 in 2010, according to the BLS.

Because they have more specialized skills, however, medical illustrators will often be able to earn much more than typical fine artists. For example, the Association of Medical illustrators states that the median salary for medical illustrators was $61,000. Depending on his skills, a medical illustrator may even be able to earn around $200,000 a year or more.