Do you still remember our previous biology books from high school? Have you ever wondered who draws the illustration on those books? Also, in medical books, journals, and magazines? Well, a Medical Illustrator creates them. Medical illustration is a unique profession: despite the strong demand for their services, there is only a small group of highly trained artists practicing in this field. According to the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI), there are 2,000 medical illustrators in North America.

Physicians and scientists collaborate closely with medical illustrators and animators. Visual material is created for journals, textbooks, publications, magazines, advertisements, film, TV, web content, digital and mobile media, virtual reality, exhibitions, and data obtained in legal proceedings.

A Medical illustrator must adhere to strict guidelines and address complex communication issues. Some doctors specialize in a specific field of medicine and may become well-known and sought after for their expertise in fields including:

  • Biomedical art
  • Animation of cellular / mechanism of action
  • Illustration of a surgical or medical device
  • Medical-legal exhibits / injury process animation
  • Designing medical apps / Health gaming
  • Simulations of augmented and virtual reality

The design of sculpted anatomical models and medical simulation trainers for teaching and performing procedures is another niche specialty. This involves using 3D printers and materials to produce personalized prosthetic implants for patients with facial or body deformities.

What is a Medical Illustrator?

A medical illustrator is a qualified artist who has studied the life sciences as well as visual communication. Medical illustrators work with scientists, doctors, and other professionals to translate complex knowledge into visual representations that can be understood by various people.

A medical illustrator solves problems visually. Reading scientific reports, consulting with scientific experts, and possibly watching surgery or a laboratory procedure are all common elements of the creative process. Medical illustrators contribute to activities in education, science, patient care, public relations, and marketing.

What-is-a-Medical Illustrator

Medical illustrators are experts and artists who serve as educators in the field by creating visual representations of complex anatomy and medical concepts. Their illustrations are used to supplement written descriptions in textbooks and other medical materials, as well as to educate and interact with medical students, physicians, and patients. Skilled medical illustrators may work in labs, publishing houses, or pharmaceutical companies. They may also start their own freelance medical illustration company.

Across all types, there is a strong focus on accuracy and description. A Medical illustrator may specialize in one area of medicine, including a specific organ or body part. They might concentrate on botanical, zoological, or even molecular chemistry illustrations.

Brief history of Medical Illustrators

Artists have been depicting the complex structure of the body for over 2000 years, producing photographs to elucidate medical procedures and document body pathologies. These illustrations have always outlasted a book's text.

Medical illustrations first appeared in Hellenic Alexandria in the 4th or early 3rd centuries BC. Hellenic illustration covered anatomy, surgery, obstetrics, and medicinal plants on individual papyrus sheets.

Anatomical illustration is based on the five-figure set, with each image depicting an organ system diagrammed inside a squatting body with limbs splayed, and an anatomical illustrator does these drawings. Surgical diagrams, alternatively, were more realistic and included many medical procedures.

Working Conditions of Medical Illustrators

A Medical illustrator work in various environments. Many of them are employed by medical schools or major academic health centers. Others operate in hospitals, medical law firms, publishing firms, research organizations, veterinary schools, or medical education firms. Some medical illustrators work independently, while others work in large multimedia departments with large teams.

Medical illustrators with experience can also start their own companies, manage a team of illustrators, or work as directors of biomedical communication departments.

Many medical animators work in research laboratories, interpreting and modeling research data and molecular interactions to direct the data discovery process. This close relationship is enabled by interdisciplinary expertise in biochemistry, genomics, and computational molecular biology, which blurs the lines between scientist and artist.

Required skills as a Medical Illustrator

Those interested in pursuing a career in medical illustration should be passionate about both visual art and the life sciences. A Medical illustrator must be meticulous in their work and have excellent communication skills. Medical illustrators can work with various clients and employers, so interpersonal skills are also necessary. A potential medical illustrator should be a professional drawing artist with a thorough understanding of both human and animal biology.

It's important to note medical illustrators must be equally adept at both illustration and biology. Since these two disciplines also attract students who are unlike, the pool of future medical illustration professionals could be greatly reduced.

How to be a Medical Illustrator?

High school students interested in pursuing a career in medical illustration can enroll in a college preparatory program that emphasizes art and science as much as possible.

Students should focus on art and biology in college. Drawing, life drawing, painting, color theory, graphic design, illustration, and computer graphics should all be included in art classes. Students can take general biology or zoology, vertebrate anatomy, developmental biology, physiology, chemistry, and cell biology as part of their science curriculum. The science courses must be of sufficient quality to satisfy the requirements for science majors.

The qualifications for admission for a medical illustration program differ from one program to the next. A bachelor's degree with a major in art and a minor in biological sciences, or a bachelor's degree with a major in science and a minor in art, is favored in general. A portfolio of artwork and a personal interview is usually expected as well.

Do I need to be Certified to be a Medical Illustrator?

Yes, there is a certification program run by the Board of Certification of Medical Illustrators that acts as a distinct way of identifying a practitioner's existing skillset in the profession. A Certified Medical Illustrator (CMI) has passed exams in corporate practices, ethics, biomedical science, and drawing skills, as well as passed a portfolio examination. Qualifications must be renewed every five years and are retained by meeting continuing education standards. The certification program is focused on the National Commission for Certifying Agencies' requirements (NCCA).

A master's degree in medical illustration from an accredited graduate school is required for most skilled medical illustrators. Students must have earned an undergraduate degree in a specific field such as art or biology in order to qualify for a master's program. It's best if you can combine the two (i.e., a major and a minor or a double major).

Doctorate degrees in science or art are held by a limited but substantial number of medical illustration practitioners. Though it is not needed, it may offer you an advantage when applying for medical illustration jobs.

How much can a Medical Illustrator earn?

A Medical illustrator may work full-time or as independent contractors. Supervisors and artistic directors earn higher salaries, which can rise with experience in medical illustration. Medical illustrators are frequently self-employed. Self-employed medical illustrators posted some of the highest profits, with some exceeding six figures.

Medical illustrator salary ranges in expertise and more responsibility for design creation earn more money. The average salary for a medical illustrator/animator in the United States is $70,650, but it can go up to $173,000 in some cases.

The AMI compensation surveys represent the demographics of AMI members, the majority of whom have a master's degree in medical illustration from an approved graduate program. Professionals who rise to the position of art director or creative director will receive between $89,000 and $122,000 a year, with a top salary of $250,000. (2018 AMI survey data). Around 48% of salaried illustrators work freelance to supplement their income.

Some medical illustrators get royalties from secondary licensing of existing artwork, in addition to compensation or freelance projects. Reuse agreements with stock art agencies, publishers, and clients may provide a supplementary and often substantial amount of livelihood.

What is the job outlook for Medical Illustrators?

If you’re on the path of becoming a Medical Illustrator, you’ll have a bright future waiting for you. The market for medical illustrations is projected to increase by 9%. The sector is expected to expand due to the aging baby boomer population. Medical illustration is a relatively small sector, with an estimated 2,000 practitioners in the United States, due to the niche skills needed.

Sample Illustration Portfolio

  1. Adduci Studios


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  1. Anatomic Groove - Coronavirus


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  1. Laurie O'Keefe - What’s eating your dog? - Poster


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  1. Mesa Studios - Heart surgery


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  1. Adam Questell - Alveoli


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How to make a portfolio for a Medical Illustrator?

Being a skilled illustrator of any type necessitates the development of a perfect portfolio. A fantastic online illustration portfolio will convince a medical illustration school or a medical illustration client to recruit you. To figure out what's ideal for you and your preferences, you can check out our subscription plans.


This image is taken from Strikingly Website

Ready to make your medical illustrator portfolio? Choose from our templates and build a stunning portfolio website to show off your skills. With the Strikingly portfolio website creator, you can create an amazing online portfolio to showcase your work.

On our Strikingly Discover Page, select [PERSONAL] then, choose your desired template.


This image is taken from Strikingly Website

Continue to your dashboard and head on editing the sections. You can start off by placing a Home Section, About Me, Gallery of your sample work, Services you offer, and a contact form for your prospective clients or headhunters.


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Add all the necessary details, credentials, and your media content. Don't forget to click "save" and your portfolio is now ready!

Strikingly Online Portfolio Landing Page Sample:


Taken from Strikingly Sample Illustration

Strikingly Online Portfolio Gallery Sample:


Taken from Strikingly Sample Illustration

Moving Forward

Interactive e-learning services for patient education, student courseware, physician education, and pharmaceutical/device sales training are also in high demand. Many illustrators go on to write textbooks and journal articles as writers or co-authors.

Medical illustrators also serve as content creators, creative directors, consultants, and managers in the field of biocommunication, in addition to creating such materials. The importance of medical illustrations and animations in patient education and health literacy programs is critical to improving public health and patient outcomes, as more people demand knowledge about their bodies and health care choices.

Are you ready to show the world what you've got? Now is the time to start your portfolio website and see what adventures are stored for you as a Medical Illustrator.