The Profession FAQs

Medical Illustration as a Profession...

What is Medical Illustration?
Medical illustration is artwork depicting medical subject matter, created by highly trained and skilled professional artists for a specific audience. Medical illustrations convey ideas and concepts in medicine that are difficult to represent in words or photographs. Illustration styles can range from highly technical and detailed to artistic and stylized. Accuracy is important regardless of the style. Medical illustrations are used in a wide variety of fields that depend on imagery to convey meaning and information. These include the advertising, editorial, institutional, legal, patient education, academic, and scientific research fields. Positioned at the forefront of medical advancement, medical illustration is frequently used to convey new developments and concepts that impact medical research and improve patient care.
How is Medical Illustration different from other fields of illustration?
The combination of artistic skill and scientific training allows medical illustrators to fill a unique niche. Professional medical illustrators are highly trained in both medicine and visual communications, making them uniquely qualified to visually represent medical and scientific information with clarity and accuracy. Medical illustrators are familiar with medical subject matter and terminology and can converse easily and efficiently with their medical clients to create effective visuals. More specifically, most medical illustrators differ from traditional artists in that they spend several years in a specialized degree program at a medical school taking coursework side-by-side with medical students. Medical illustrators take the same lectures, labs and exams, and are graded on the same curve as students aspiring to be surgeons, anesthesiologists, and pediatricians. While medical students dissect cadavers to develop an understanding of the inner workings of the body, medical illustrators-in-training go one step further. They must combine their developing medical knowledge and growing artistic abilities to visually represent what they are seeing. In addition to hands-on dissections, students of medical illustration examine radiographs, study pathologies under a microscope, and spend time in operating rooms. This combination of rigorous medical training plus course work in illustration and communication design is unique to medical illustrators.
How does one become a Medical Illustrator? Does it require special training?
The majority of professional medical illustrators in the United States and Canada have a Master's degree from an accredited graduate program in medical illustration. There are currently three programs in the United States and one in Canada that are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Each program accepts 4 - 16 students each year, so entrance into the schools is very competitive. The following graduate programs are accredited by CAAHEP:
Accreditation is a status granted to educational programs that meet or exceed a specific set of criteria for educational quality. The Association of Medical Illustrators developed the first set of educational standards for accreditation and began accrediting graduate programs in 1967. Today, accreditation is awarded by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Educational Programs (CAAHEP), and the accreditation standards are reviewed and revised every few years to reflect changes in the profession.

High school students contemplating medical illustration as a career should take a college preparatory program with as much emphasis on art and science as possible.

In college, students should concentrate on art and biology. Art courses should include drawing, life drawing, painting, color theory, graphic design, illustration, and computer graphics. In the sciences, studies should include general biology or zoology, vertebrate anatomy, developmental biology, physiology, chemistry, and cell biology. The science courses must be of the caliber required for pre-med or biology majors. Please see the list of requirements for application to the Johns Hopkins Medical and Biological Graduate Program.
What is Board Certification for Medical Illustration? What does "CMI" mean?
Many medical illustrators choose to enhance their careers by becoming board certified. Certification is a program endorsed by the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI) to encourage lifelong learning and to measure professional competency for practicing medical illustrators. This voluntary certification program is designed to provide the practicing medical illustrator with the recognizable and valuable Certified Medical Illustrator (CMI) credential, which assures stakeholders of their current competency in the profession. There is no relationship between certification and membership in the AMI or any other organization, so any practicing medical illustrator meeting the eligibility requirements may apply. The certification program is administered by The Board of Certification of Medical Illustrators (BCMI), an independent body that objectively measures and evaluates exam results and awards certification to applicants upon successful completion. The BCMI follows the standards of the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) and the National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA), recognized leaders in setting quality standards for credentialing organizations to ensure the health, welfare, and safety of the public.

A Certified Medical Illustrator has successfully passed exams including biomedical science, business practices and ethics, and has undergone rigorous portfolio review. Competencies are maintained by meeting continuing education requirements and must be renewed every five years. For more information on certification of medical illustrators, please visit the Board of Certification website.
What is the AMI?
The Association of Medical Illustrators is an international organization founded in 1945. Its 700+ members are primarily artists who create material designed to facilitate the recording and dissemination of medical and bio-scientific knowledge through visual communication media. Members include illustrators, animators, 3D artists, art directors, and other subspecialties of our profession. In addition to the creation of visuals, members also serve in consultant, advisory, educational and administrative capacities in all aspects of bio-scientific communications and related areas of visual education. Members can join at the Student or Associate level. Professional members are approved by vote of the Board of Governors, after a review of recommendations by the Membership Committee. This category requires portfolio review, sponsorship and experience as a medical illustrator. Only Professional Members may vote on Association business and hold office. The professional objectives of the AMI are to promote the study and advancement of medical illustration and allied fields of visual communication, and to promote understanding and cooperation with the medical profession and related health science professions. For more information, please visit the AMI website at
What is the Vesalius Trust?
The Vesalius Trust for Visual Communication in the Health Sciences is a non-profit public foundation. Established under the direction of the Board of Governors of the AMI in 1988, the Trust develops and supports education and research programs in the field of health science communications. The Vesalius Trust also provides student scholarships, educational grant funding, support for the AMI's annual meeting, and support to the AMI Archives. For more information, please visit the Vesalius Trust Website.
Where can I find more information on Medical and Biological illustration?