Medical Illustrator

The Job and What's Involved

Medical illustrators use illustration, photography and video to create visual records for educational, teaching, patient care, scientific and information purposes. They usually work and train in one of two main areas:

  • Medical photography and video production.
  • Graphic design and medical art.

Medical illustrators working as photographers in healthcare services are called clinical or medical photographers. They use photography and video to help diagnosis, track the progress of treatment and record procedures, such as operations.

Medical illustrators working as graphic designers and/or medical artists produce a range of medical images for materials including:

- Information leaflets
- Medical textbooks
- Publicity documents and flyers
- Scientific posters
- Visual aids for lectures
- Websites

The work can involve drawing by hand, but the computer is usually the main tool used to produce illustrations.

In small departments, a medical illustrator may be involved in a range of activities, such as some general photography work as well as specialist photography, or a mix of graphic design and photography work. In large hospitals or schools of medicine or dentistry, there are usually specialists in each area.

Medical illustrators work closely with a range of healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses and paramedics. Their work also brings them into regular contact with patients.

Medical illustrators in employment usually work 37.5 hours a week, from Monday to Friday. Some jobs may involve occasional evening work. Part-time work is possible. The working hours of freelance medical illustrators vary depending on deadlines and the quantity of work.

Medical photography and video production takes place mainly in studios and clinics, and on wards. Graphic design and artwork is mainly office based and can involve sitting for long periods.

Strict hygiene and protective clothing rules must be observed when working in clinical environments.

Trainee technical illustrators may earn from £16,450 a year.
More experienced staff may earn up to £31,000 a year.

Heads of department in teaching hospitals or medical and dental schools may earn over £40,000 a year.

Staff working in London are paid an additional area allowance.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are just over 1,000 medical illustrators in the UK. Employment has remained fairly stable over recent years. Most illustrators work in NHS hospitals, private healthcare or university medical schools. A few medical artists are employed by medical publishers or universities, but most work freelance. It is also possible to work in research establishments or for pharmaceutical companies.

Many medical artists have a wide portfolio of work, often including another specialism, such as scientific, botanical or archaeological illustration.

Vacancies are advertised in local newspapers and The British Journal of Photography, on the Institute of Medical Illustrators' (IMI) website and on

Education and Training

Changes are currently being made to the profession that mean qualified medical illustrators working in clinical photography will soon need to undertake state registration with the Health Professions Council (HPC). This will require training and a qualification in clinical photography at graduate or postgraduate level.

Most entrants to medical illustration have an HND, foundation degree or degree in photography, illustration, graphic design or video production.

Many students take a one-year Diploma in Foundation Studies (Art and Design) before starting a higher education course in art and design. Entry requirements vary between colleges, but are usually at least five GCSE's (A*-C), plus one relevant A level, or equivalent qualification, such as a BTEC National. The Diploma allows students to learn a variety of art and design techniques.

There are HND and foundation degree courses in art and design - entry requirements vary.

For entry to a degree course, applicants usually need a Diploma in Foundation Studies (Art and Design), a BTEC National qualification or a 12-unit A level in applied art and design, plus five GCSE's (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications.

Course applicants are expected to have a portfolio of their photography, art or design work. Occasionally, an applicant with an outstanding portfolio of work may be accepted without the usual entry qualifications.

You should check the entry requirements with individual course providers as they do vary.

There are a few specialist undergraduate and postgraduate courses on offer as described below.

Westminster University offer a BSc (Hons) in clinical photography course.

Graduate and postgraduate certificates, specialising in either clinical photography or graphic design for healthcare, are offered by Staffordshire University. Courses are taught by distance learning. Photography entrants need access to clinical facilities. A relevant degree is also required for entry, although trainees may be accepted on to the graduate certificate course if they have at least three years' experience of medical illustration work and a relevant qualification at HND level.

An MSc in medical and forensic art is offered by Dundee University - entry is with an HND or degree in an art and design subject, or a degree in a medical or life science subject plus a high level of artistic ability demonstrated within their portfolio.

The Medical Artists' Educational Trust Postgraduate Diploma in Medical Art is run in London and Manchester. This leads to membership of the Medical Artists' Association of Great Britain. Entry is with a relevant degree and a portfolio of artwork.

A Postgraduate Certificate in medical illustration is offered by Cardiff University. A relevant degree is required for entry.

An MSc in medical illustration is offered at the University of Wales College of Medicine.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Medical illustrators working in hospitals usually start as trainees. They are trained by experienced colleagues and usually work towards a medical illustration qualification at graduate or postgraduate level - these courses are being redesigned to meet changes in the profession.

The IMI also offers a programme of continuing professional development (CPD) to support qualified medical illustrators.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Medical illustrators should:

  • Have excellent photographic or design and drawing skills.
  • Be able to work confidently with patients and families/carer's, sometimes in upsetting circumstances.
  • Be able to put patients at ease.
  • Have an understanding of anatomy and physiology.
  • Not be squeamish.
  • Be comfortable working with people who may be ill and in some distress.
  • Have good computer skills and be knowledgeable about computer design packages.
  • Be able to work well alone and as part of a team.
  • Have good communication skills.
  • Have normal colour vision.

Your Long Term Prospects

Experienced medical illustrators may be able to progress to become head of their department. It may be necessary to move between hospitals or employers in order to progress.

For a freelance illustrator, success depends on building a strong reputation and securing a steady flow of work.

Get Further Information

Health Professions Council, Park House,
184 Kennington Park Road,
London SE11 4BU
Tel: 020 7582 0866

Institute of Medical Illustrators (IMI),
29 Arboretum Street, Nottingham NG1 4JA
Tel: 0121 333 8492

Medical Artists' Association of Great Britain (MAA),
Mrs Anne Wadsmore, MAA Honorary Secretary
Tel: 020 8846 7165

Medical Artists' Education Trust,
Mrs Joanna Cameron, Director of Education
Tel: 01372 843817

NHS Careers, PO Box 2311, Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655

Skills for Health, 2nd Floor,
Goldsmiths House, Broad Plain,
Bristol BS2 0JP
Tel: 0117 922 1155

Skillset (the Sector Skills Council for Creative Media),
Focus Point, 21 Caledonian Road,
London N1 9GB
Free careers helpline: 08080 300 900

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