The Field of Medical Illustration

Medical Illustration is a Truly Interdisciplinary Field

It is a synergistic combination of the visual arts, the health sciences, education, and communications. Historically, its roots were fully evident by the Renaissance, as seen in the work of research anatomists and educators such as Andreas Vesalius and in the artwork of the great figurative artists such as Leonardo DaVinci. Today, medical illustration—and biomedical communications in general—is essential for the growth and effectiveness of the healthcare system in the United States. Medical illustration supports and enhances:

  • Medical & Health Science Education and Training;
  • Clinical Practice;
  • Patient Education;
  • Health & Life Science Research;
  • Public Health Information; and,
  • Biotech, Medical Device, and Pharmaceutical Marketing.

Medical Illustration is an International Field

Here in the Medical Illustration Graduate Program at Augusta University, we have had students from around the world, and several of our graduates have gone on to work in other countries. Most medical illustrators live and work in North America. There are many who live and work in Europe. There are a fair number who work in Australia and New Zealand, and there are several in Asia. South America and Africa are underserved continents. The largest professional organization in the field, the Association of Medical Illustrators, has an international membership.

The Artist-Scientists Who Create Medical Illustrations

Medical Illustrators are specially trained artists who communicate complex medical and scientific information and concepts in a meaningful, aesthetic and understandable manner. This fascinating and unique profession requires not only a talent for art but an affinity for science as well.

Contemporary medical illustrators produce a variety of creative visualization services for the healthcare industry. They may illustrate innovative surgical procedures for medical journals, design multimedia websites, produce 3D animated films of cellular processes, create interactive educational modules, or hand craft prosthetic appliances for patients. Many medical illustrators are employed by medical schools, urban medical centers, large hospitals, and specialty clinics. They may work in single-artist studios or in large production departments. Advertising agencies and publishers as well as pharmaceutical and medical product companies often use the services of private-practice medical illustrators. Attorneys may commission medical illustrators to produce art to be admitted as educational exhibits and demonstrative evidence in complex legal cases.

Medical Illustrators are Unique Visual Story-tellers.

Most successful medical illustrators embody many of the following characteristics:

  • A curiosity and passion for under- standing the human body and how it works, both in health and in sickness;
  • An ability to visualize objects and render them in a realistic manner, often without the benefit of any physical references (i.e., drawing from the imagination);
  • A desire for accuracy in the art- work and animations they create;
  • An affinity for and natural curiosity about science;
  • An ability to listen carefully, a need to understand fully, and the drive to seek out answers to remaining questions;
  • A strong ability to communicate and explain, through the written word and with visuals;
  • A desire to continue learning throughout one’s life;
  • An ability to learn and adopt new tools and technologies;
  • Self-confidence, strong self-esteem, and an ability to receive criticism and feedback while keeping a cool head;
  • Self-motivation and ambition to be an outstanding visual storyteller in the health sciences;
  • Common sense and practicality; and,
  • A desire to help others through the illustrations, animations or models they create.

Becoming a Medical Illustrator

Entry into this unique field requires not only a talent for the graphic arts and visual storytelling but also an affinity for science. Medical illustrators use various media and techniques—from colored pencils to silicone, and from 2D artwork to 3D animation—to solve complex communication and education problems in the life and health sciences.

There are undergraduate programs in medical illustration; however, a graduate education in this field is strongly recommended and is required by many employers. Augusta University is the only institution in the world to offer the Master of Science in Medical Illustration (MSMI) degree. For additional information about our accredited graduate program, download our brochure and visit the Admissions Page of this website.

You do not need to be licensed to be a medical illustrator. However, after graduation many professionals become Certified Medical Illustrators. CMI status offers employers and clients assurance that a medical illustrator meets or exceeds the basic competency standards for the profession. Our students usually take the CMI exam right after graduation. They routinely score in the top 5% of all those attempting the exam.

Medical Illustrators Work in a Variety of Venues

Wherever there is a need to tell clear visual stories about complex health science, you may find a medical illustrator. Here are a few of the many arenas where medical artists might work:

  • Medical, osteopathic, dental and veterinary schools;
  • Hospitals and specialty medical centers;
  • Health science research institutes;
  • Government agencies and departments of health;
  • Publishing houses;
  • Pharmaceutical, medical device and biotechnology companies;
  • Advertising and marketing agencies; and,
  • Law firms and legal exhibit companies.