Medical illustration is a highly specialized division of the biomedical communication field. It combines visual art with advanced knowledge of biology and human anatomy to communicate complex pieces of scientific information to broad audiences. According to the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), degrees in medical illustration are currently only offered at the graduate level by a few universities in the nation.
General Admission Requirements for Medical Illustration Degree Programs
Admission requirements vary for each school, but the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI) states that the majority of degree programs prefer applicants to hold a bachelor's degree in art and have a strong concentration of premedical biology classes or a bachelor's degree in premedical biology with a strong concentration of art and humanities classes. The AMI suggests the following basic coursework for any applicant: drawing, life drawing, painting, color theory, graphic design, illustration, computer graphics, general biology or zoology, vertebrate anatomy, developmental biology, physiology, chemistry and cell biology.
Regardless of the undergraduate degree, most graduate programs also require applicants to submit a portfolio of artwork that demonstrates a mastery of the basic traditional drawing techniques.
CAAHEP-accredited Master's Degree Programs in Medical Ilustration
The CAAHEP is the primary national accrediting agency for health sciences degree programs. According to the CAAHEP, all accredited master's degree programs generally take two years to complete and include courses in human gross anatomy, histology, physiology, embryology, neuroanatomy and pathology as well as anatomical illustration, surgical illustration, modeling, exhibit design, instructional design and business management.
The CAAHEP currently accredits five medical illustration graduate degree programs:
--The Johns Hopkins University's master of arts degree in medical and biological illustration. The graduate program is conducted by the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine. According to the university website, students attend classes at the East Baltimore Campus of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions (JHMI) and have access to the Brödel archives--the first published examples of medical illustration from the early 19th century. The program accepts four to six students each year, and the application deadline is Jan. 15.
Department of Art as Applied to Medicine Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine 1830 E. Monument St., Suite 7000 Baltimore, MD 21205-2100 (410) 955-3213 hopkinsmedicine.org/medart/graduateprogram.htm
--The Medical College of Georgia's master of science degree in medical Illustration. The School of Allied Health Sciences administers the Medical College of Georgia's 21-semester curriculum. According to the university website, the program specializes in anatomical and surgical illustration for a variety of media. The program has a two-step application process. The preliminary application, which consists of a slide portfolio and application paperwork, is due no later than Jan. 31. If accepted into the program, a formal application to the Medical College of Georgia's School of Graduate Studies is due by March 31.
Department of Medical Illustration Medical College of Georgia 1120 15th St., CJ1101 Augusta, GA 30912-0300 (706) 721-3266 mcg.edu/medart
The University of Illinois at Chicago's master of science degree in biomedical visualization. The University of Illinois at Chicago's program offers three areas of concentration: computer visualization, illustration and design and prosthetics/three-dimensional design. According to the university website, students of the program have access to the only Virtual Reality in Medicine Laboratory (VRMedLab SM) in the nation. The application deadline for the program is Feb. 1.
UIC Biomedical and Health Information Sciences 1919 W. Taylor St. Room 250 AHSB, MC 530 Chicago, IL 60612-7249 (312) 996-7337 www.ahs.uic.edu/bhis/programs/bvis.php
--The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas' master of arts degree in biomedical communications. The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas' two-year graduate program begins in May. According to the university website, the application form must be submitted online by Sept. 1.
Biomedical Communications Graduate Program UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas Paul M. Bass Administrative and Clinical Center Tower 2 6363 Forest Park Road, Suite 1020 Dallas, TX 75390-8881 (214) 648-4699 utsouthwestern.edu/biomedcom
--The University of Toronto's master of science degree in biomedical communications. The two-year graduate program allows students to specialize in either biomedical media design or biomedical visualization design. According to the university website, a maximum of 16 students are accepted into the program each year. Online applications must be submitted to both the School of Graduate Studies and Biomedical Communications program. Applicants must also meet with a separate committee for portfolio review prior to official acceptance into the program.
University of Toronto Mississauga Campus Institute of Communication and Culture 3359 Mississauga Road N. CCT, Room 3073b Mississauga, ON Canada L5L 1C6 (905) 569-4266 bmc.med.utoronto.ca/bmc
Degree Specialization and Board Certification
Many graduate programs allow students to further concentrate on specific areas of subject matter. According to the AMI, medical illustrators can choose to focus on subject matter, including surgery, veterinary medicine or ophthalmology; on media such as computer animation or three-dimensional models; or on specific markets like medical publishing, pharmaceutical advertising or medical-legal work. Additionally, the AMI states that medical illustrators who graduate from an accredited degree program can become a certified medical illustrator (CMI). The CMI credential is a supplementary evaluation of the business practices, ethics, biomedical science and drawing skills as well as a comprehensive portfolio review for medical illustrators who opt to pursue a specialty. The CMI credential is a five-year designation and can be renewed through the completion of continuing education requirements.
Regardless of the degree or specialization, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the demand for trained medical illustrators will only continue to increase due to advances in medical research and technology.