If you have an interest in both art and medicine, then a career in medical illustration might be right for you. While medical illustration began as a field that was exclusively dependent on physically drawing, advances in technology have greatly expanded the field so that illustrations are now created across multiple types of media. Having a deep understanding of both the arts and the biological sciences is critical to your success as a medical illustrator; this is a highly specialized, very exclusive field of professionals that help communicate important scientific concepts through their art.

What Classes Do I Need to Take to Become a Medical Illustrator?

If you are interested in medical illustration, take as many science classes in high school as you can, with an emphasis on biology, and make sure that your coursework also includes art classes where you can participate in drawing live models. Since technology is of critical importance to medicine and medical illustration, honing your skills in computer animation and graphic design will be an asset when you begin your college courses.

What Colleges Offer Medical Illustrator Classes or Degrees?

Very few schools offer an undergraduate degree in medical illustration. Because so few programs exist, the Association of Medical Illustrators has published a list of recommended undergraduate classes that will help prepare you for graduate school and your future career. Many students will complete a bachelor’s degree in art, with the majority of their other coursework focusing on the biological sciences. Some students will create their own major in scientific illustration or pursue a double major in art and a biology field. It is important to remember that medical illustration includes both human anatomy and cellular/molecular biology concepts, such as cells, tissues and proteins. Therefore, you should have a background in both the larger and smaller areas of biology as part of your coursework.

Are There Graduate Programs for Medical Illustration?

The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs website will help you find information on graduate programs; there are currently five master’s degree programs that are accredited by CAAHEP; four are located in the United States, and one is located in Canada. (See Resources.) These programs take two years to complete, and acceptance to the programs is extremely competitive. For example, Georgia Health Sciences University states that out of the 40 to 50 applications they received for their program each year, approximately half pass the first level of admission screening, where the students are then permitted to send their art portfolios for consideration. Of these potential 20 to 25 candidates, only a portion are actually invited to campus for an interview, and a select group of invitees are offered admission to the school.

What Other Programs or Resources Are Available for Medical Illustration?

You may be eligible to apply for certification through the Board of Certification of Medical Illustrators; you may apply and sit for the certificate examination if you meet certain degree criteria or have been working as a medical illustrator for five years. Both of these qualifications have course-completion requirements. Continuing education is an important part of all medical professions because the field is rapidly changing due to new research discoveries and advances in technology. Earning and renewing your BCMI certification every five years will show that you have kept up with new developments in the field of medical illustration. Additionally, the Association of Medical Illustrators offers continuing-education courses for credit. Courses must be taken to maintain certification but can also be taken for your own benefit without holding the BCMI certificate.

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