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How to become a Medical Illustrator

medical illustrator careers

What does a Medical Illustrator do?

Medical illustrators produce photographs and other graphical images for use in the healthcare sector. There is extensive contact with both health professionals and patients in a range of settings around hospitals and university departments.

The work varies according to the size of the employing department but will largely involve clinical photography - using digital cameras and video to record patients' conditions and monitor the effectiveness of operations and treatments over a period of time. Some work involves the use of specialist equipment and techniques, such as in the capture of 3-D images of structures like the eye, and where specific procedures are being recorded.

Other areas of work include forensic photography (photographing non-accidental injuries) and bereavement photography for grieving parents (taking photographs of babies they have lost). Medical illustrators also copy slides and x-rays, use software to produce presentations, and create overhead transparencies and other audio-visual materials for teaching and research purposes.

Medical illustrators use graphic design, editing and artistic skills together with knowledge of desktop publishing software to produce materials and resources for lectures and conferences, and artwork for educational posters and leaflets. They may also work on the design and layout of publicity and corporate materials, annual reports, staff newspapers and websites.

What's the working environment like working as a Medical Illustrator?

Medical illustrators work 37.5 hours a week, Monday to Friday, with the possibility of on-call duties and occasional overtime. Job-sharing and part-time work may be possible.

The work is carried out in clinical settings such as hospital wards, clinics and operating theatres and in photographic studios, laboratories and offices. There may be some travel to different sites within a hospital trust. Much of the time is spent working with computers. The work can occasionally be unpleasant or upsetting.

What does it take to become a Medical Illustrator?

To be a medical illustrator, you should:

  • be interested in photography and other media and have artistic skills
  • have an understanding of biology, anatomy and physiology
  • have some knowledge of diseases and their treatment
  • be able to work as part of a team with other healthcare professionals
  • have a sympathetic and sensitive attitude for dealing with vulnerable patients
  • have experience of graphic design and desktop publishing software
  • have good written and verbal communication skills
  • be comfortable with tasks requiring considerable responsibility
  • be reasonably fit, as there will be some lifting and carrying of equipment.

Medical Illustrator Career Opportunities

Around half of all medical illustrators are employed by hospital trusts with the remainder working for university medical schools. Larger departments are usually in universities, particularly in London, Birmingham, Cambridge, Oxford, Cardiff and Glasgow. Hospital departments tend to employ fewer staff. A small number work in research establishments and for pharmaceutical companies. There are a few opportunities in the private medical sector, and freelance work may be possible.

Promotion prospects may be limited for those working in small departments, and relocation may be necessary to progress further. Opportunities for specialisation and for promotion tend to be greater in universities. Senior positions will involve more technically complex duties and possibly some managerial responsibility.

Medical artists are rarely employed by medical illustration departments and are usually self-employed, with most of their work being commissioned by medical book publishers and model-makers.

Further information

If you would like to know anything about Medical Illustrator that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

The Committee for the Accreditation of Medical Illustration Practitioners (CAMIP)

Institute of Medical Illustrators
Bank Chambers
48 Onslow Gardens

British Institute of Professional Photography
Fox Talbot House
SG12 9HN
Tel: 01920 464011

NHS Learning and Development Service
Tel: 08000 150 850
Email: learning@nhscareers.nhs.uk

NHS Careers
PO Box 376
BS99 3EY
Tel: 0845 606 0655