Medical illustrator

Medical illustrators are healthcare scientists who produce visual records that help clinicians diagnose conditions and monitor treatment effectiveness. They also create resources for use in patient care, education, teaching and research.

Medical illustrators specialise in one of three areas.

Photography

Clinical photographers are responsible for the daily recording of clinical conditions presented by patients. They work in a photographic studio, clinic, ward or operating theatre environment. The images can be used for diagnosis or for recording a condition during different stages of treatment. Some images are taken with specialist equipment to produce ophthalmic, ultra-violet or 3D images. Medical illustrators can also take other photos around the hospital, to support communication teams. All images are taken with people's consent.

Videography

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

Illustration

Clinical graphic designers and artists specialise in the design and production of artwork, scientific posters and other visual materials. They work closely with staff to create the individual images required. They use computers and specialist design software. Some web designers can also work within this environment to create websites for the NHS.

My name is Sandie, I'm a clinical photographer and I work for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

My job involves taking photographs of patients to accurately record their conditions. My job is important, so when the patients come back, the pictures are there, so the healthcare professionals can refer back to them and help diagnose and monitor their treatment.

I really enjoy the patient interaction and I love hearing the patients stories and their journey. I particularly like it when they come back to see us and their conditions are improving.

There can be lots of challenges when communicating with patients. Sometimes there can be language barriers or the patients can be hard of hearing. We need to make sure they know and understand what it is we're doing and why we're taking photographs, so I can ensure they're comfortable in front of us and happy with what we're doing.

My job is truly rewarding and I feel that my job is so unique and specialised it has a true purpose and makes a difference.


Starting your career

Choosing subjects at school

To become a medical illustrator, you need a good standard of education. Useful subjects include:

  • Administration and IT
  • Art and Design
  • English
  • Graphical Communication
  • Maths
  • Photography

A Foundation Apprenticeship in Social Services and Healthcare, or Creative and Digital Media, taken in S5 or S6, could give you valuable work experience.

Work placement

If you’re at school or thinking of changing career, doing a work placement could help you when applying to college, university or for a job in healthcare. You’ll learn new skills, improve your knowledge and discover what it’s like to work in the health service. Find out how to apply for work experience with the NHS.

College and university

Most universities accept a wide range of qualifications, giving you the option of applying directly from school or going to college first.

At college, you could do an HNC or HND to set you on the right path. These include:

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications, you can get into higher education through the Scottish Widening Access Programme (SWAP). Many universities also provide access programmes to help you get the degree entry qualifications you need.

Successful completion of the course could lead to a degree in a life science subject at a university that participates in the SWAP partnership programme.

You will need to have different qualifications for each specialist area.

If you want to work as a clinical photographer, you will need a degree in clinical photography approved by the Institute of Medical Illustrators (IMI). However, if you already have a degree, you can apply for a trainee position. Your degree must be recognised by the British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP). You will be able to take a postgraduate certificate in clinical photography as part of your training.

If you want to work as a clinical videographer, you’ll need a degree in video or photography. Typically, videographers begin their careers as qualified clinical photographers who have chosen to specialise in video production.

If you want to work as a clinical graphic designer or artist, you’ll need a degree in design or a related media subject. You could also become a medical illustrator if you have commercial experience as a designer or illustrator.

Once you have graduated, you will be able to apply for professional membership of the IMI. If you are patient-facing, you can voluntarily register with the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS).

In Scotland, you can complete the following courses to qualify for professional membership of IMI upon completion:

  • University of Dundee – MSc in Medical Art
  • University of Dundee – MSc in Forensic Art and Facial Identification
  • Glasgow School of Art – MSC in Medical Visualisation and Human Anatomy

For more information on related further and higher education courses, search My World of Work. You should check specific entry requirements before applying.

The role

As a medical illustrator, you’ll work in a studio, operating theatre or on the wards to create visual records of patients and materials. Your visual records will be used to train healthcare staff and to support medical research.

What you’ll do

Your main tasks include:

  • recording digital images and/or video of a patient’s condition to be used as part of their healthcare record
  • photography and imaging procedures to monitor the effectiveness of operations and treatments through time
  • using highly specialist ophthalmic imaging equipment to help record clinical pathology within a busy outpatient department
  • arrange necessary consent from patients and staff
  • undertake public relations photography
  • produce artwork and designs for posters and patient information leaflets
  • design websites for patients, doctors and the general public
  • plan the layout for annual reports and other corporate material

Top skills

You’ll need these skills:

  • caring for people
  • communicating with people
  • customer service
  • listening
  • problem-solving
  • working in a team

Who you’ll work with

You could work with:

  • allied healthcare professionals
  • doctors
  • healthcare scientists
  • nurses
  • patients
  • surgeons
  • technologists

Working environment

You could work in:

  • hospital clinics, wards or operating theatres
  • dedicated medical illustration or photography departments

Useful information

To work as a medical illustrator in NHSScotland, you’ll need to:

Did you know?

Medical illustrators can work with 3D printing.

Learning and development

As a medical illustrator, you would be expected to undertake continuing professional development (CPD) in order to keep your knowledge and skills up to date. You must also do this to maintain your registration with the HCPC. The IMI offers courses and programmes to keep this up to date.

Career progression

Gaining qualifications will help your career prospects. As your career progresses, you could move into a more senior or management role, including leading your own team or controlling a budget.

There will be opportunities for you to teach or train current staff or the next generation of medical illustrators. With an MSc or PhD in a relevant subject, you could move into teaching.

You may decide to specialise in different areas, including:

  • Ophthalmic imaging
  • 3D images

Some medical illustrators also undertake clinical academic research.