Medical Illustrators and Photographers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

While in high school, make sure to develop your skills in the two areas you'll need the most: science and art. Classes in anatomy, chemistry, biology, and nutrition are all helpful science topics. Aside from taking illustration and/or photography, check out classes in visual design, if available. Most medical illustrators and photographers use computers in their artwork, so gain familiarity with digital cameras and computer art, design, and layout programs.

Postsecondary Training

Most medical illustrators obtain a bachelor's degree in either art or biology. After college, they are required to complete an advanced degree program in medical illustration accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). The programs, which last from two to three years, are offered by three U.S. schools and one Canadian institution. Programs usually include training in traditional illustration and design techniques, computer illustration, two-dimensional animation, 3-D modeling and Web design, prosthetics, medical computer graphics, instructional design and technology, photography, motion media production, and pharmaceutical advertising. Course work will also include pharmacology, basic sciences including anatomy and physiology, pathology, histology, embryology, microanatomy, neuroanatomy, embryology, and surgical observation and/or participation.

Most medical illustrators are members of the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI). The AMI works with the CAAHEP to establish accreditation and curriculum standards, offer certification in medical illustration, and provide other educational and support services to members and prospective members of this profession.

Medical photographers must finish a bachelor's or associate's degree that emphasizes art and photography. Very few schools offer graduate programs in medical photography. Completing a postsecondary degree in a photography-related field and taking additional course work in science will prepare you for this career.

Other Education or Training

Medical illustrators and photographers need to continue their education and training while pursuing their careers. You must keep up with the latest innovations in design techniques, computer software, photography equipment, and presentation technology, as well as technological advances in the fields for which you provide illustrations and photos. The Association of Medical Illustrators, BioCommunications Association, Guild of Natural Science Illustrators, Health and Science Communications Association, and the Society of Illustrators provide a variety of continuing education classes, workshops, webinars, and seminars. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The Association of Medical Illustrators offers the designation certified medical illustrator. To be eligible, applicants must graduate from an accredited program that includes a course in human gross anatomy with hands on dissection or have at least five years' experience and complete the aforementioned gross anatomy course. Applicants must also pass a written examination and have their portfolio reviewed. The certification must be renewed every five years by meeting continuing education requirements.

Upon successfully passing a written exam, a practical exam-image set, and demonstrating competency, a medical photographer can receive certification in total body mapping from the Bio-Communications Association. Applicants must assemble an extensive portfolio of their medical photography to complete the practical portion of the certification process. Additionally, the Professional Photographic Certification Commission offers a certification program for general photographers. Visit https://www.ppa.com/benefits/education/certification for more information. Licensing is not required in either field.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

There are several ways to gain experience to prepare for a career in medical illustration or photography. They include practicing your drawing and photography both informally and in classes and working as an assistant to an illustrator or photographer. Contact illustrators and photographers in your area to inquire about opportunities. 

To be a successful medical illustrator or photographer, you should possess manual dexterity, have good eyesight and color vision, and enjoy working with detail. Self-employed (or freelance) medical illustrators and photographers need good business and marketing skills.