Careers in Medical Illustration

What is Medical Illustration?

Medical Illustration is a specialist profession supporting other healthcare professions within a medical environment. The area of expertise is made up of professionals called Healthcare Scientists who specialise in photography, graphic design, medical art or videography. Using their knowledge and skills they produce resource materials such as photography and other graphic images for use in patient care, education and teaching. Working as part of the healthcare team, medical illustrators spend their time working with doctors, nurses, scientists and other professionals involved in delivering patient care.

Clinical Photographers

Clinical photographers are responsible for the daily recording of clinical conditions presented by patients, working in a photographic studio, clinic, ward or operating theatre environment. The images, taken with consent, can be used for diagnosis or just for recording a condition during the stages of treatment. Some of these images may be taken with specialised equipment to produce ophthalmic, ultra-violet, infra-red and 3D images. Sometimes medical illustrators are also required to undertake other photographic duties such as public relations photography, location photography, medical legal photography and creative studio work.

Medical Graphic Designers

Medical graphic designers specialise in the design and production of artwork, scientific posters, brochures, patient information and other visual materials. They work very closely with individual staff, creating the visual images required, using computers and specialist design software packages. Web designers also work within this environment creating websites for the Trust and various specialities.

Medical Artists

Medical artists are skilled artists who produce very detailed accurate anatomical illustrations and artwork for publication, teaching and research. They can use conventional art materials as well as computers and software packages.

Medical Videographers

Medical Videographers produce high quality video programmes for teaching, research and promotion.

What are the entry routes and qualifications required?

Clinical photographer

To qualify as a clinical photographer you will require a degree in clinical photography or equivalent. If you already have a degree or equivalent in another photographic discipline you can apply for a trainee position and then take a one-year graduate or post-graduate certificate in clinical photography whilst working. Either route will qualify you for professional

Membership of the Institute of Medical Illustrators (IMI) and entry onto the AHCS Register of Medical Illustrators. This is essential for those who work in close contact with patients.

Clinical graphic designer / artist / web designer

It is recommended that you have a degree in design or another relevant media subject and undertake the Staffordshire University Graduate or Postgraduate Certificate in Graphic Design in Healthcare (see below). However, many designers with experience can enter the profession having worked in a commercial environment.


It is recommended that you have a degree in film or video production. However, most videographers working with patients are qualified clinical photographers who have chosen to specialise in video production.

Who can provide the qualifications?

There are various university courses that can provide you with the necessary qualifications. Some of these require you to be in employment in order to undertake the course.

  • Staffordshire University – Graduate and Postgraduate Certificates in Clinical Photography or Graphic Design in Healthcare – degree entry or relevant qualifications with experience. Students are required to be in relevant employment. This is a 12-month distance learning course for designers and photographers.
  • Cardiff University – Postgraduate Certificate in Clinical Photography. This course is delivered as a 14 month, part-time distance programme, which starts every September. A distinctive feature of the programme is that students attend 3 study periods in Cardiff (totalling 8 days), where they receive face-to-face teaching, undertake hands-on practical sessions and participate in peer group work. Further teaching material is delivered through the University’s online virtual learning environment. All students are allocated a personal tutor and have full access to Cardiff University’s support services, including the library’s services for distance learners. The course is open to photographers and trainee photographers working within a healthcare environment and who are able to meet the programme’s learning outcomes. This distance learning course is accessible to photographers throughout the UK and overseas.

In addition, the Workforce, Education and Development Services for Wales annually commission Trainee Clinical Photographers to work in medical illustration departments in Wales. These trainees are employed on a two-year fixed term contract and during which time they receive structured on-job training and undertake Cardiff University’s Postgraduate Certificate in Clinical Photography. These training posts are advertised on the NHS Jobs website.

Work Experience Guidance

It is advisable to try and support your CV with work experience when applying for posts. This is because Medical illustration is a small profession with very few vacancies available at any one time, but it receives a high demand from graduates. Newly advertised vacancies, particularly trainee posts, receive many applications, which means that your application needs to stand out when a manager is short listing.

Work experience demonstrates to a manager that you are enthusiastic, and have the determination to enter the profession by being willing to work in your own time, to gain the valuable experience of a working department.

Work experience also gives you the opportunity to see how a department works on a daily basis, what it does, and that it is a profession that you wish to dedicate the rest of your career to. It is important that you do this before enrolling onto a University graduate course as it is expensive and time consuming, taking up to 4 years.

In order to find a department in your area it is advisable to search the AHCS Register of Medical Illustrators.

This lists many members in areas all around the British Isles. Alternatively make enquires with the department closest to you directly. Each trust will have its own policy on work experience.

What about further training and development once I’m qualified?

Continuing Professional Development is an important part of being a professional in a healthcare environment, which the Institute fully supports and encourages. The Institute also offers training courses, regional meetings and an annual conference. These often link up with other professional associations to provide a wide range of professional training activities.

Further information can be requested through the IMI careers advisor. Please put ‘career advice’ in your e-mail subject box and email Beth Flowers:

Information on other careers in the NHS can be found at:

Related Downloads

Careers Brochure


Photographic Careers Poster


Graphics Careers Poster