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. Sometimes the images may be required for teaching, publication or research. Clinical Photographers may also use specialised equipment to produce ophthalmic, ultra-violet, infra-red/thermal and 3D images. Sometimes Clinical Photographers are required to undertake other photographic duties along with their clinical work, such as public relations photography, location photography, medical legal photography and creative studio work. Clinical Photographers can specialise in specific areas of medicine, such as dental, ophthalmic, surgical or dermatology and can also undertake work within the community.

Most qualified Clinical Photographers are paid on a Band 5 AfC salary when working for the NHS, with Senior Clinical Photographers usually on Band 6 AfC. Trainee Clinical Photographers can be paid a Band 5 Annex U salary, rising to 100% of Band 5 once qualified. 

Medical Videographers

Medical Videographers are involved with the creation of video programmes for education, clinical/surgical skills training, publication, research, public relations, and clinical records. While there are no fixed entry routes into the profession, in most cases videographers are clinical photographers who have developed additional skills in video production. As medical videographers work in small teams, if not individually, they are required to have a skill base that enables them to take a production forward from the script writing stage, through to filming, editing and distribution. The working environment varies but primarily includes theatre, ward and training room locations, with external locations such as conference events and patients’ private addresses occasionally required. Medical Videographers may also work alongside Medical Artists, who may produce 3D models and animations for their videos.

If a videographer is working in predominantly a clinical environment, they can apply for entry onto the AHCS Register of Medical Illustrators, which is essential for those working in close contact with patients. 

Most Videographers are paid a Band 5 or Band 6 AfC salary when working for the NHS.

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 such as Adobe InDesign. They can often work alongside medical artists and clinical photographers who may also produce work for their publications. Web designers also work within this environment creating websites for the Trust and various specialities.

Most Graphic Designers are paid a Band 5 AfC salary when working for the NHS.

Medical Artists

Medical Artists use a range of media, to produce very detailed and accurate anatomical illustrations and artwork for publication, teaching and research. Art materials can range from digital to traditional, with a very diverse range spanning from watercolour and oil paints, to 2D and 3D digital software, including models made for viewing in VR. Common 2D software includes Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe InDesign. 3D software is very varied, with some commonly used examples including ZBrush, Cinema 4D, Maya and Blender. Overall, medical art is a field which is moving more towards digital art, with the majority of work being created in this way and may involve the use of tablets and pens and graphic drawing devices.

Medical artist can practice in either digital or tradition medium(s) providing they are skilled in the medium(s) they choose. These mediums may depend upon their subject and there is no rule as to what medium(s) or techniques must be used. 

Many medical artists choose to work freelance, some choose to work in the NHS and many also work for private companies, with E-learning becoming a growing field of which many medical artist go on to work within, typically within university medical schools and also within the NHS. 

Examples of private companies employing Medical Artists include Fundamental VR, Limbs and Things, as well as smaller companies such as Medical Artist Ltd and Campbell Medical Illustration.

What are the entry routes and qualifications required?

Clinical Photography

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 a photographic discipline, you can apply for a trainee position within the NHS 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.

Graphic Design

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

Videography

Whilst there are no fixed routes into this profession, 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.

Medical Art

Medical artists are required to complete a science based or arts based bachelor’s degree which provides entry into higher education to study medical art, in addition to human anatomy and other relevant training. Some post-graduate programmes which are accredited by the IMI include:

There is also a part-time distance learning professional diploma offered by the Medical Artists’ Education Trust, in association with the Medical Artists Association, which is also accredited by the IMI, details can be found here.

Studying at this high level means medical artists have an excellent understanding of anatomy and are able to converse with medics proficiently in order to complete the correct depiction of the medical subject required, which is key to the role of medical artist. After studying, medical artists may wish to join one or more associations, such as the Medical Artists Association of Great Britain (UK), the Association of Medical Illustrators (USA), Guild of Natural Science Illustrators (USA), Graphic Artists Guild (USA) or the Association Européenne des Illustrateurs Médicaux et Scientifiques (Europe), in addition the Institute of Medical Illustrators (UK).

 

Who can provide the qualifications?

Clinical Photographers and Graphic Designers

There are many university courses that can provide you with the necessary undergraduate qualifications such as photography or design. Once in a role with the NHS, you may be required to undertake a postgraduate course in addition to your honours degree, to further your training to the required level. These post-graduate courses are listed below, along with graduate courses for those without an honours degree but with professional experience. These courses are undertaken whilst employed by the NHS, such as in a trainee role.

  • Staffordshire University – Graduate and Postgraduate Certificates in Clinical Photography or Graphic Design for Healthcare – degree entry or relevant qualifications with experience. Students are required to be in relevant employment as a clinical photographer or graphic designer within a healthcare setting. This is a 12-month distance learning course for designers and photographers, running from January to January.
    Clincal Photography Graduate Cert Clinical Photography PgCert

    Graphic Design for Healthcare Graduate Cert

    Graphic Design for Healthcare PgCert

  • 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.Clinical Photography PgCert

    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, along with training posts from across the UK.

Videographers

There are no specific providers for medical videography qualifications. It is expected that a videographer would either have a degree in film or video production or be qualified clinical photographer who has specialised in videography. Therefore, a degree in photography or equivalent would be required, and along with further study undertaking the Post Graduate Qualification in Clinical Photography offered by Staffordshire University or Cardiff University (see above).

Medical Artists

There are a number of post-graduate courses in Medical Art which are accredited by the IMI. These are run by:

  • The University of Dundee, who offer two post-graduate programmes. These are their MSc in Medical Art and their MSc in Forensic Art and Facial Identification. Entry requirements to these courses are a first of upper second class degree in art and design or related anatomical, medical or forensic science and a portfolio of work. This is a one year course with an emphasis on 3D.
  • The University of Glasgow, who offers a digital-based MSc in Medical Visualisation and Human Anatomy. Entrants require a good Honours degree from a variety of disciplines, including but not limited to, life sciences, medical and biomedical science, computer science, digital arts and 3D modelling and animation. Equivalent professional experience is also considered.
  • The John Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, USA, who run an MA in Medical and Biological Illustration. This course requires an undergraduate degree demonstrating high academic achievement and exemplary science preparation requiring a semester in General Chemistry, Vertebrate Anatomy, Vertebrate Physiology, Upper-Level Biological Science and a two semesters of Human Anatomy and Physiology. A portfolio is also required.

There is also The Medical Artists’ Education Trust, associated with the Medical Artists’ Association who runs a part-time, self-directed, distance learning professional diploma, which takes a minimum of two years to complete. A comprehensive portfolio demonstrating observational drawing in all areas, colour work, media skills, design and life drawing is required for entry, along with a formal application and interview. Prospective students must also have A-level standard education and an honours degree in the field of art or design or a HND which has incorporated scientific illustration. This course teaches both 2D and 3D but has an emphasis on 2D.

 

Career Progression

Most qualified medical illustrators working for the NHS will usually start on a Band 5 AfC salary. Senior positions are usually at a Band 6 level such as Senior Videographers or specialised photographers. Management positions, such as Photographic Manager or Head of Department can often be a Band 7 or 8 depending on the Trust and department size. Salaries can be higher in London and the outskirts and can vary between Trusts. 

The NHS pay-scales can be found here.

Career progression can be competitive as higher level positions are sought after, but it is possible within the profession.

 

Institute of Medical Illustrators Membership

Whilst studying, it is possible to become a student member of the IMI, which includes benefits such as a reduced membership rate (£63), eligibility for the student award, and access to the Journal of Visual Communication in Medicine, amongst other professional resources. Once qualified, individuals are eligible for full membership (£96). There is also an associate membership (£96), which is for those working in or interested in medical illustration but do not possess the relevant qualifications for full membership.

 

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 whether it is a profession that you wish to dedicate 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 or the IMI directory. 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. 

There is also the Journal of Visual Communication in Medicine which is accessible to members free of charge, and covers all aspects of communication media, including photography and diagnostic imaging; video and multi-dimensional animation; videoconferencing and telemedicine; graphic and web design, medical and forensic art and illustration; multimedia; and printed media.

Further information can acquired 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 here.

 

Academy for Healthcare Science

Once qualified, it is recommended that clinical photographers, videographers, medical artists and graphic designers join the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS) Medical Illustration Register. By joining the AHCS Register, you can demonstrate your commitment to maintaining competency and high standards of conduct, which provides assurance for employers, patients and the public. 

More information can be found on the AHCS website.

 

Related Downloads

Careers Brochure

Download

Photographic Careers Poster

Download

Graphics Careers Poster

Download