Visual Arts & Trades
Medical illustrators produce images of medical conditions and the human anatomy, using a range of artistic and graphic techniques. They work in hospitals, medical schools and research institutions.
The work of medical illustrators is used for medical education, patient care, training and research. They may also work on the design of publicity materials, reports and websites relating to the medical profession.
Medical Illustrators use software to either manipulate initial sketches and drawings, or create images from scratch. They may also need to produce 3D models. They might also copy slides and X-rays, to produce presentations and other materials used for teaching, researching and training.
The work varies according to the size of the hospital department or private company.
They work as part of a team, working alongside medical photographers and audio-visual technicians, and medical and healthcare professions. In a large department, medical illustrators are able to specialise, but in a small department they do many different tasks.
Typical job responsibilities include:
- Produce artwork and designs for posters and patient information leaflets;
- Create presentation, posters, illustrations and slides or overhead transparencies of journals;
- Use 3D illustrations/animation software such as Maya, Osirix or Zbrush
- Design websites, such as hospital trusts' websites, for patients, doctors and the general public;
- Plan the layout for annual reports and other corporate material
Personal Qualities and Skills
Key skills for medical illustrators
- A genuine interest in science, medicine and the human anatomy
- Good time management and organisational skills
- Technical and creative or artistic ability
- Ability to work quickly and accurately
- Excellent communication skills, and the ability to work with patients and medical staff in difficult situations
- Excellent IT literacy
- Good teamworking skills
Pay And Opportunities
Typical employers of medical illustrators
Around half of all medical illustrators are employed by hospital trusts, others work for university medical schools. Some medical illustration departments have only a handful of staff and others just a single medical illustrator providing photography, graphic design and related services.
There are a limited number of posts in private hospitals and medical facilities, and with private companies that provide medical services or develop medical or pharmaceutical products, and medical publishing companies.
Job vacancies are advertised in the British Journal of Photography, Creative Review, Design Week, Institute of Medical Illustrators (IMI), Medical Illustration UK Ltd, NHS Jobs, NHS Scotland Recruitment, Ophthalmic Imaging Association (OIA).
Vacancies are advertised on all major job boards, on Universal Jobmatch, and at Jobcentre plus.
Look at departments of medical illustration at individual hospitals or medical school recruitment sites, web design studios and graphic art studios for freelance work, as well as the local and national press.
Some illustrators work on a freelance basis, and some have agents to gain commissions and short-term contract work.
Qualifications and training required
Relevant foundation degree and HND or degree subjects include:
- Graphic design/illustration
- Medical illustration
For any of these you will need 2 or more A levels (or equivalent), with a grade B in an art-based subject. You will also need 4/5 GCSEs at grade 5 or above, including English and maths. Advanced level apprenticeships are also a route in.
Most students do a foundation course in Art and Design before getting on to a degree course.
A list of recognised degree courses is listed on the Institute of Medical Illustrators (IMI) website. It is recommended that you join the IMI on completion of a degree.
You will need a good portfolio of work with examples of clear, detailed images.
Pre-entry experience such as a placement or project, perhaps as part of a degree course, would be very helpful, as would any experience of working in a caring capacity. This could make you stand out.
Medical illustrators working in hospitals usually start off as trainees, with training given by experienced colleagues.
Most medical illustrators work towards a relevant postgraduate qualification, and again these are listed on the IMI website. If you have completed a Medical Artists Education Trust (MAET) Postgraduate programme you are entitled to join the MAET.
Some medical illustrators progress to become self-employed. Others become heads of the department.