Medical illustration is an exciting career that communicates health and science concepts visually. The saying, 'a picture is worth a thousand words' is true. Medical illustrators tell visual stories, such as how to perform a surgery or how a virus works. Their images must be accurate because they have a job to do — teach. Acquiring the skills and knowledge for this career requires insight, talent, and especially education.

Finding an effective education path can seem daunting. The following information is designed to help explore options.

If you're looking to hire a medical illustrator click here.

Common Questions

What does a medical illustrator do?

Medical illustration is a highly specialized field that demands advanced medical and scientific knowledge and skills for solving visual communication problems. Medical illustrators create communication tools in a variety of media for a wide range of audiences, from highly educated biomedical professionals to the lay public. There is an increasing need for highly skilled people to act as translators from the complex world of science to the many audiences that need to understand the world of science and medicine.

You might think that medical illustration would be limited to the creation of images for textbooks and journal articles. While that still is an important role, the profession has expanded enormously in the past decades to include:

  • User experience design
  • Medical animation
  • Molecular simulation
  • Educational game design
  • Health app design
  • Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality applications
  • Strategic and collaborative design

…and many other complex areas that benefit from intensive study and training.

Medical illustrators provide vital services across the continuum of health professional education, research dissemination, and patient care. Their work must therefore uphold the highest standards of accuracy and efficacy.

How do I become a medical illustrator?

People approach the career of medical illustration from a number of different directions, and there are various educational paths to a degree. People typically start their journey in high school and move on to bachelor and then graduate studies.

You can read some of our member’s paths in AMI Origin Stories [Link to page]. Undergraduate programs offer a broader set of options for those who are looking for a foundational skill set, preparation for a graduate program, or who are more focused on scientific (rather than medical) illustration.

The most common routes involve dual areas of study:

  • the BA/BFA art or illustration student with a major or minor in biology or chemistry
  • the BS biology or pre-med student with a major or minor in art or animation
  • the MS/PhD scientist or MD physician with an interest in visualizing their work


The most effective and direct route to a career in medical illustration is to graduate from one of the accredited master’s programs in the field. These programs undergo rigorous quality reviews, and allow students to study human anatomy via cadaver dissection, conduct research, and develop professional level skills for the workplace.

The AMI welcomes student and professional members from all educational backgrounds.

Is medical illustration the same as scientific illustration, or scientific visualization?

They are closely related: medical illustration can be considered a more specialized form of scientific illustration, with more focussed training on human anatomy, and clinical subjects.

Scientific Illustration

Scientific illustrators draw from observation to accurately depict the natural world. For example, plants (#BotanyArt), animals (#SciArt), astronomy (#AstroArt), and fossils (#PaleoArt). Scientific illustration is often taught at the bachelor’s level. Medical illustration requires further education with master’s-level courses.

Scientific Visualization

Scientific visualization is a rapidly expanding field that touches on statistics, data science, computer science, and design. Medical illustrators sometimes become involved in scientific visualization projects. Scientific visualization (#DataViz) creates graphics from raw data to explore meaning in large data sets. For example, to simulate lab research (#SciViz) or analyze public health (#HealthViz). Biological data viz (#BioViz) uses microscopy and other cell imaging systems. It entails use of computer graphics, 3D animation, human-computer interaction, and design. Data visualization is often taught at the master’s level in computer science, bioinformatics, or computational biology.



Course work varies from program to program, but all include an advanced course in human anatomy with dissection and may include a combination of other biomedical science courses such as embryology, histology, neuroanatomy, cell biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, physiology, pathology, immunology, pharmacology or genetics, along with specialized applied art courses such as surgical and/or medical-legal illustration. Other classes may include learning and instructional design, interactive media development, data visualization, molecular visualization, graphic medicine, 3-D modeling and animation, along with traditional drawing and computer applications.

Programs require master's thesis or research projects and may have optional courses available in specialty fields such as advanced interactive media studies, endoscopic illustration, or patient prosthetics.

How are educational programs assessed for quality?

Accredited graduate programs in medical illustration are rigorously assessed for the quality of their programs on an ongoing basis.

    Please note: There are two kinds of accreditation: institutional and programmatic.
  • Institutional accreditation is a quality assurance process that looks at a university or college as a whole, and is therefore very general.
  • Programmatic accreditation is a quality assurance process that measures a particular program’s performance against a detailed set of standards, and is therefore very specific.

There is no programmatic accreditation for undergraduate programs in this field.

This programmatic accreditation of graduate programs in medical illustration is overseen by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). In the case of medical illustration programs, this process is managed by the Accreditation Review Committee for the Medical Illustrator (ARC-MI) of the AMI, a committee of the AMI and CAAHEP.

The mission of the ARC-MI is to establish, maintain, and promote appropriate standards of quality for educational programs in medical illustration, and to recommend accreditation status to CAAHEP for educational programs which meet or exceed these standards. ARC-MI and CAAHEP only accredit graduate programs in medical illustration, not individual faculty members.

ARC-MI develops and regularly updates standards for entry-level competencies for medical illustrators. These are based on several outcome measures, including employer and graduate assessment of the program’s effectiveness in developing appropriate knowledge, skills, and behavior in their graduates. Programs are also assessed for their positive employment rates, comprehensive examinations, evaluations by clinical faculty, graduate scholarly output, and other professional achievements of graduates. Standards for Entry-Level Competencies were initially adopted in 1987 and revised in 1992, 1998, 2003, 2008, and 2014. Revisions continue on a regular basis.

This accreditation program has resulted in decades of high-quality training. As part of accreditation, graduate programs are required to post outcome measures on their web sites. Currently this includes 5-year averages of "positive placement" rates for the period 6 -12 months post-graduation. Positive Placement means that the graduate is employed full or part-time in a related field, and/or continuing their education, and/or serving in the military. These rates demonstrate the outstanding performance of accredited graduate programs in medical illustration.

Recent positive placement rates for currently accredited programs:

    • Augusta University: 97.7%.
    • Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine: 97%
    • University of Illinois at Chicago: 94.6%
    • University of Toronto: 95%

Complete information on these graduate programs can be viewed here.

    In Europe, the Institute of Medical Illustrators (IMI) runs a separate accreditation program. For an updated list of accredited European programs, visit the IMI education page.
I am in high school; how do I prepare for a medical illustration program?

High school students thinking about medical illustration as a career should take a college preparatory program with as much emphasis on art and science as possible. Early development of direct observational drawing skills is a helpful first step.

Students should concentrate on:

    • Science preparation via classwork in introductory biology, chemistry, anatomy/physiology, physics, and cell or molecular biology. These core highschool and prepatory level classes can help prepare students for undergraduate level science/biology courses.

  • Visual art preparation via classwork with a focus on drawing from direct observation (still life studies), figure drawing from life, portraiture from life, painting, color theory.These core highschool and prepatory level classes can help prepare students for undergraduate level arts courses.
I am looking for an undergraduate program; what should I be thinking about?

Undergraduate programs are a primary pathway for students looking to enter the field of medical illustration. They also offer a common stepping stone to applying for a medical illustration graduate program. While each undergraduate program is unique, they offer a common education pathways by focusing on art and science/biology. During undergraduate studies, students should concentrate on:

    • Science preparation via courses in introductory biology, vertebrate anatomy, physiology, and cell or molecular biology. The science courses must be of the caliber required for science majors. Additional coursework may include chemistry, developmental biology, zoology, molecular biology, histology, biochemistry, immunology, embryology, pharmacology, genetics, or neuroscience.

  • Visual art preparation via courses with a focus on drawing from direct observation (still life studies), figure drawing from life, portraiture from life, painting, color theory, graphic design, illustration, and digital media (raster or vector software). Additional coursework may include field sketching, sequential illustration, 3D modeling, 2D or 3D animation and web/interactive design.

These courses can be taken in a variety of degree programs. For instance, medical illustration graduate students may have a bachelor's degree with a major in art and a minor in the biological sciences, a bachelor's degree with a major in science and a minor in art, a doctoral degree in science or medicine with additional art studies, an undergraduate degree in Biological and Pre-medical Illustration, or additional types of undergraduate degrees. Therefore, focus should remain on the above recommended mix of science and art studies with attention to course work and portfolio requirements of specific programs of interest.

Students may benefit from undergraduate programs in Scientific Illustration, Biological Illustration, or Pre-Medical Illustration that focus on preparation for medical illustration graduate programs. Students who are unable to attend such programs should not feel discouraged from applying to graduate programs so long as coursework and portfolio requirements are met.

A list of undergraduate programs are available here.

If you are considering an undergraduate program that purports to teach scientific/medical illustration, keep these questions in mind:

  • Does the program offer anatomy training with dissection (where legally permissible)?
  • Does the program provide the prerequisites for graduate study at a target graduate program?
  • Does the program offer opportunities for undergraduate research experiences? These can make a student more attractive to a graduate program.
  • Does the program employ experienced medical illustrators as instructors? Do the instructors have CMI certification?

Things to be aware of in claims of accreditation

There are two kinds of accreditation: Institutional & Programmatic.

    • Institutional accreditation is a quality assurance process that looks at a university or college as a whole, and is therefore very general.

  • Programmatic accreditation is a quality assurance process that measures a particular program’s performance against a detailed set of standards, and is therefore very specific.*There is no programmatic accreditation for undergraduate programs in this field.
I am looking for a graduate program: what are my options?

A terminal degree in Medical Illustration is at the graduate level. This higher level of education prepares students to enter this expanding field. There are currently four programs in the United States and one in Canada that are accredited by CAAHEP through the AMI:

  • Augusta University, MS Medical Illustration
  • Johns Hopkins University, MA Medical and Biological Illustration
  • University of Illinois at Chicago, MS Biomedical Visualization
  • University of Toronto, MSc Biomedical Communications
  • Rochester Institute of Technology, MFA Medical Illustration

These programs accept between approximately 7 to 20 students each year, so entrance into the schools is highly competitive.Application requirements vary by graduate program. Visit each institution's website for details. The complete list of graduate programs can be viewed here.

I’m a clinician/health professional/PhD looking to enter the field; what are my options?

Some medical illustrators come to the profession having achieved doctoral degrees in related fields of science or education or having professional standing as a clinician or health professional. Graduate programs are sometimes an option for these individuals, but there are also additional post-graduate programs and certificates, which are listed here.



While all programs tend to have a common focus on art and science/biology, the admission requirements vary from program to program. In addition, a portfolio of artwork and an interview are required for applications to accredited graduate programs in Medical Illustration. Since admission requirements for these programs vary, please consult the school to which you are applying for specific requirements: Undergraduate | Graduate.


Post-graduate & Continuing Education Information

What are the career and salary options like for medical illustration graduates?

Please see our Careers page; see sections “Earning Potential” and “Employment outlook”.

Is there a certification or licensure process for medical illustrators?

There is an optional certification program offered by the Board of Certification of the Medical illustrator, leading to a Certified Medical Illustrator (CMI) credential. There are no license requirements to practice as a medical illustrator.

Are there continuing education opportunities in medical illustration?

The nature of medical illustration demands that practitioners keep up with new developments in artistic technique, science and communication. Formal continuing education is available through the AMI and other venues. Continuing education credits are offered for workshops presented at the AMI's annual meeting, for AMI-sponsored regional meetings throughout the United States and Canada, and for pre-approved courses offered through other educational organizations. These opportunities can count toward the continuing education requirements of the CMI program.

In addition to continuing education credits, a variety of post-graduate certification and programs are available throughout North America and Europe.Visit the complete list here.