Medical Illustrators and Photographers
Medical illustrators and photographers combine their artistic skills with their scientific knowledge to document and help bring medical science to life for students, scientists, practitioners, and others.
Duties, Activities, and Scope of Practice
Both of these professions involve many different aspects of health care, from education to forensics, and from a microorganism to the entire human body. Illustrators and photographers create end products to be included in such sites as textbooks, journals, pamphlets and brochures, reports, and presentations, and for television and the Internet.
The work of medical illustrators and photographers can be used for documentation purposes, demonstration, and in the design of artificial body parts, limbs, and even organs. The drawings and photographs can be of a single cell, an anatomical illustration, or the documentation of an entire procedure such as an autopsy or a surgical or dental procedure.
Medical illustrators and photographers have to have an understanding of and ability to use a variety of media, including drawing and photography, videography, sculpting and modeling, graphical design, and computer-aided processes.
Some illustrators and photographers do specialize in a particular medium or medical specialty, but the majority of these professionals are open to all aspects of their field.
Education and Training
There are five accredited schools of medical illustration in the United States today, and all five offer master's degrees, which is the industry standard. Each school accepts only a small number of applicants each year (six to twelve students), so competition is stiff. The curriculum includes courses in human anatomy, neuroanatomy, histology, and pathology, as well as illustration techniques. These include such areas as pen-and-ink drawing, watercolor, acrylics, gouache, and airbrush techniques. Most candidates have undergraduate degrees in either art or biological studies with an emphasis on art electives.
Medical photographers have to have at least an associate's degree in biomedical photography, which includes all aspects of still ands video photography, as well as using equipment such as microscope cameras. They also have to understand how to use computer software designed for use with photos and videos.
There are no licensing requirements for medical illustrators or photographers. Certification for medical illustrators is entirely optional.
The BioCommunications Association (BCA) offers a voluntary certification exam for photographers through its Board of Registry. This exam consists of three parts: written, oral, and practical. Those who pass can use the title RBP (registered biological photographer).
Work Settings and Salaries
Medical illustrators usually work for medical schools and other teaching facilities and research programs. They may also work for hospitals, clinics, dental and veterinary schools, medical publishers, and pharmaceutical companies. Some freelance, and others may work for organizations that employ large groups of medical artists and photographers.
Medical photographers are generally employed by medical schools, health organizations, libraries, museums, research facilities, government agencies, dental and veterinary schools, medical publishers, and pharmaceutical companies. A few medical photographers freelance.
The average salaries as reported by the Association of Medical Illustrators range between $40,000 and $45,000, but can be as high as $75,000 for experienced illustrators.
Salaries for medical photographers range with the job requirements and responsibilities, but according to available data, salaries range from $25,000 to $45,000.
Career Potential and Additional Information
These are both growing fields in the health care industry. Communication is essential to health care, and visual media enhances communication and documentation. Visual media also improves education and research efforts. The role of illustrators and photographers in health information is just developing and presents tremendous opportunities as well. As technology advances in techniques and equipment used by illustrators and photographers continue, so will the uses in the health care field.
For more information about opportunities in the media fields of medical illustrators and photographers contact the Health and Science Communications Association. Their Web site is
The Association of Medical Illustrators' Web site is