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Medical Illustrator  What They Do

Just the Facts

Insider Info

dotThe next time you open an anatomy textbook, take a close look at the drawings of the human body. Besides being extremely accurate, they're more visually appealing than a mere photograph. They illustrate concepts, such as the chemical changes that take place when we are sleeping, or how the heart muscle functions.

Medical illustrators (also called biomedical or visual communicators) create these images. Their job is to accurately communicate medical information in the most visually appealing way possible.

dotMedical illustration dates back to the Renaissance, when physicians began observing and studying the body in detail. Because his anatomical drawings were both elegant and scientifically accurate, Leonardo da Vinci is often considered to be the father of medical illustration.

dotToday, medical illustrators must be proficient in a variety of media, including paint, clay, photography and computers. They also create anatomical models. "I try to supply as many solutions as possible," says Wayne Heim, a medical illustrator in Ohio.

Increasingly, though, medical illustrators find themselves spending their days in front of a computer screen. "There is a big push for digital media," says Heim. "A company may want a product illustration to be animated or three-dimensional."

dotBesides artistic talent and an interest in science, being detail-oriented is essential. Research skills are also very important.

dotIn the past, most medical illustrators found employment illustrating drawings to be used in medical textbooks and journals, including dental and veterinary textbooks. Today, there's a rising demand for illustrators at publications for non-medical personnel.

dotUntil recently, many medical illustrators found salaried positions with a medical school, or a medical organization that has a teaching or research center. "That was more common 10 years ago," says medical illustrator David Mazierski. "Today, hospitals and government institutions prefer to contract out the work to save money."

At a Glance

Create illustrations to educate others

  • Medical illustration dates back to the Renaissance
  • Most of the work today is done on computers
  • Your undergraduate degree must emphasize art and science courses