Medical Illustrator

Medical Illustrators are healthcare scientists who produce visual records to help clinicians diagnose conditions or monitor treatment effectiveness. They work closely with healthcare professionals, including other Healthcare Scientists, to produce resources for use in patient care, education, teaching and research.

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 the 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.

As a Medical Illustrator, you could work in specialist areas, such as:

  • clinical photography
  • clinical video and multimedia production
  • clinical graphic design / art

In NHSScotland, Medical Illustrators are normally based in hospitals, clinics or medical schools. You may work in a studio, an operating theatre or on wards to create photographic and other visual records of patients and pathological materials.

Typical duties of a Medical Illustrator include:

  • recording still images or video of a patient's condition or pathological materials using a digital camera
  • taking images to monitor the effectiveness of operations and treatments over a period of time
  • using specialist equipment and techniques to record specific procedures

To be a Medical Illustrator, you should have:

  • artistic skills and an interest in photography and other digital media
  • a good understanding of biology, anatomy and physiology
  • some knowledge of diseases and their treatment
  • good team working skills
  • excellent communication skills
  • a good level of physical fitness
  • good organisational skills

Useful abilities include:

  • the ability to work on your own initiative and take responsibility for making decisions
  • empathy and understanding when working directly with patients

Entry requirements differ, depending on the area of medical illustration you wish to specialise in.

Clinical Photographer

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 or HND in another area of photography recognised by the British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP), you can apply for a trainee position. You will then be able to take a postgraduate certificate in clinical photography as part of your training.

Clinical Videography

To work as a Clinical Videographer, you will need a degree in video or photography. Typically, videographers begin their career in medical illustration as qualified clinical photographers, who have chosen to specialise in video production.

Clinical Graphic Designers and Artists

To work as a Clinical Graphic Designer or Artist, you will need a degree in design or a related media subject. You could also enter the profession if you have commercial experience as a designer or illustrator.

After you graduate, you will be able to apply for professional membership of the IMI. Medical illustrators who work directly with patients must also register with the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS).

You can visit the IMI website for a full list of approved educational institutions and programmes across the UK.

Entry requirements for undergraduate and postgraduate programmes vary depending on the university, college or provider. You are advised to contact each individual provider to find out its specific entry requirements.

Specific entry requirements, including other accepted qualifications, are provided on each university website. To apply for an IMI-approved or related programme you must use the UCAS application process.

Once qualified and registered with Institute of Medical Illustrators (IMI), you also join the Academy for Healthcare Science.

Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

As a qualified Medical Illustrator, you would be expected to undertake CPD activities in order to:

  • keep your knowledge and skills up to date
  • record your CPD activities, using the IMI’s online portfolio system

The IMI provides courses, conferences and seminars where you can exchange ideas and update skills.

Career progression

In NHSScotland, OCT technicians and assistant photographers start on band 4 of the NHS Agenda for Change (AfC) pay system. With experience, there are opportunities to progress to band 7 or 8 depending on the role and level of responsibility.

Find out more information from these professional and regulatory bodies.

Institute of Medical Illustrators (IMI)

The IMI represents medical illustrators, including clinical photographers, medical graphic designers, medical artists and medical videographers working in the UK and internationally. It also sets and maintains standards within the profession. Find out more on the IMI website.

The Academy for Healthcare Science

The Academy for Healthcare Science is an umbrella organisation covering training and policy issues for a range of healthcare science professions, including Medical Illustrators.