Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies

371 Varner Hall
Varner Hall Room 217
Rochester, MI 48309-4485
(location map)
(248) 370-2154

Dr. Joe Shively
Interim Director, BALS Program
Associate Dean, College of Arts and Sciences

Medical Illustration

Studio Art + Biology

A medical illustrator is a professional artist who creates visual material for the use in medical, biological and related knowledge and requires training in medicine, science, and art techniques. Medical illustrators use traditional and digital techniques that can appear in medical textbooks, medical advertisements, professional journals, instructional videotapes and films, animations, web-based media, computer-assisted learning programs, exhibits, lecture presentations, general magazines and television. Typically used in print, medical illustration can able be made in three dimensions for the purpose of creating anatomical teaching models, patient simulators, and facial prosthetics.

Medical illustrators contribute to education, research, patient care, public relations and marketing efforts with their work by transforming complex information into visual images. As a part of the creative process, medical illustrators often read scientific papers, meet with scientific experts, or observe surgery or a laboratory procedure. To become a medical illustrator, students should concentrate on art and biology, with art courses including drawing, life drawing, painting, color theory, graphic design, illustration and computer graphics, while science courses should include general biology or zoology, vertebrate anatomy, developmental biology, physiology, chemistry, and cell biology.

Medical illustrations and animations can appear in many different biological, medical and related media and markets. Some common areas where medical illustrations can be found include trade and consumer publications, advertising, textbooks and journals, web, television, patient education, continuing medical education, interactive learning, trade shows, museums, and veterinary, dental and legal markets. Increases in science and technology has opened the field to include computer animations in order to assist with helping patients to better understand their state of health and medical options as well as with attorneys to clarify complex medical information for judges and juries in personal injury and medical malpractice cases. This has expanded the need for medical illustrators beyond traditional applications such as books and journals.


About half of medical illustrators are self-employed, either working alone or within creative teams with other professionals such as writers, graphic designers, photographers or filmmakers. Other medical illustrators work at medical schools, universities, veterinary schools, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and clinics, research institutions, medical publishers, law firms, advertising agencies, web/animation firms and other creative services businesses.

Some medical illustrators take on leadership positions and become art directors, managers, administrators, faculty members, and business owners. Medical illustrators also function as content developers, creative directors, consultants and administrators within the field of biocommunications and as business owners and entrepreneurs in the marketplace in addition to creating medical illustrations.