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The majority of medical illustrators in the profession have a master's degree from an accredited two-year graduate program in medical illustration. There are currently four 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 16 or fewer students each year, so entrance into the schools is very competitive.
Course work varies somewhat 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 pathology, microanatomy, physiology, embryology, and neuroanatomy, along with specialized applied art courses such as surgical illustration. Other classes may include color theory, instructional design, photography, interactive media development, 3-D modeling and web design, along with traditional drawing and computer applications.
Most programs require master's thesis or research projects and may have optional courses available in specialty fields such as advanced computer and video graphics, endoscopic illustration, or patient prosthetics.
High school preparation
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, students 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 science majors.
Some graduate schools limit the percentage of studio art courses eligible for entrance into graduate programs. Please consult the schools to which you are applying for specific requirements.
Admission requirements for the accredited graduate programs in medical illustration vary from program to program. In general, a bachelor's degree with a major in art and a minor in the biological sciences, or a major in science with a minor in art, is preferred. In addition, a portfolio of artwork and a personal interview are required. The list of currently accredited graduate programs can be viewed here.
A small but increasing number of medical illustrators are choosing to obtain doctoral degrees in related fields of science or education, particularly those working in academic settings.
The nature of medical illustration demands that practitioners continue to keep up with new developments in both science and communications media. Formal continuing education is available through the AMI. Continuing education credits are offered for workshops presented at the AMI's annual meeting, for AMI-sponsored regional meetings throughout the United States, and for pre-approved courses offered through other educational organizations.
Accredited Graduate Education Medical Illustration programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) upon recommendation from the Accreditation Review Committee for the Medical Illustrator (ARC-MI). The list of currently accredited graduate programs can be viewed here.
History of Accreditation (1967 - present)
The Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI) developed the first set of Standards for accreditation and began accrediting programs in medical illustration in 1967. In 1987 these standards were modified to comply with Standards developed by the Committee on Allied Health Education and Accreditation (CAHEA) of the American Medical Association (AMA). The AMI and the AMA jointly adopted the resulting Essentials and Guidelines of an Accredited Educational Program for the Medical Illustrator. In October 1992, the AMA announced plans to discontinue sponsorship of CAHEA and programmatic accreditation for allied health education. The Accreditation Review Committee for the Medical Illustrator (ARC-MI) recommended and the AMI Board of Governors voted approval in 1993 to join CAHEA's successor organization, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). As a result of joining CAAHEP, ARC-MI modified the Standards and Guidelines for an Accredited Educational Program for the Medical Illustrator to comply with CAAHEP Policy and the CAAHEP Standards and Guidelines Template. These Standards and Guidelines are reviewed/revised once every five years with input from all communities of interest. Prior to approval of the proposed Standards and Guidelines by the CAAHEP Board of Directors, a public hearing is held and public notice for comments is given no less than 30 days prior to the open hearing.