Read our COVID-19 research and news.

Medical Illustration: Making Medicine a Work of Art

It is hard to discern what you want to be "when you grow up, " but my career path seemed destined in the genes ... literally.

I am blessed with very talented parents. My father is the director of a hospital pharmacy department and my mother is a computer and science teacher. So, I grew up in the unique environment of pharmaceutical magazines, hospitals, medical journals, multimedia, technology manuals, science labs, computers, and gadgets.

My favourite subjects in school were the sciences (physics, biology, chemistry, and computers) and art. The art seemed a funny combination with the rest, but I enjoyed being creative.

During my junior year in high school, age 17, I attended the Florida Society of Hospital Pharmacists conference in Orlando with my father. It was the first time I had seen the marketing, advertising, and promotional side of medicine as it related to health care professionals.

That conference really changed my career focus. All along my academic career to date, I had wanted to be a doctor, but I realised there were ways to combine my interests in art and medicine. My career adventure had begun.

In trying to figure out what careers were available, I visited the local college's career centre and found out that there was a specific career that was a perfect combination of art and medicine, a medical illustrator (MI). An MI needs to balance medical, anatomical, and scientific knowledge with a highly skilled talent in art and design. I made an appointment to tour the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) in Augusta to learn more about their Master degree programme in medical illustration and investigate the curriculum and prerequisites for admission.

Admission into the MCG MI programme required either a science degree or an art degree, and I decided that the science track was more suitable for me. So, in the autumn of 1991 I entered Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, as a premed biology major. Thus began an intense 2 years of study. My biology teacher told me that he had never met a more "left brain/right brain" person before. He was well aware of my hectic schedule, which included challenging and demanding science labs and classes during the day and creative drawing classes by night. I too wondered if my head would explode from the varying tasks it was required to do each day.

However, all this time I was also trying to decide how I wanted my career to develop long term. I decided that actually doing all the creative work wasn't for me. Instead I realised that what I loved was the role of go-between, forming a bridge between creative team and client to ensure that the end product met the client's needs.

So once again I made a big turning point in my academic path and transferred to Florida State University in Tallahassee in 1993. I wanted to expand my creative skills and love for technology past MI to be able to do pharmaceutical advertising or marketing within a health care company. I graduated in 1995 with a Bachelor of Science in advertising and marketing with the aim of going into the marketing of health care products or services.

My first job after graduation was with A.D.A.M. Software Inc. in 1996. A.D.A.M. stands for Animated Dissection of Anatomy for Medicine, and they create medically accurate illustrations, animations, and software for medical schools, hospitals, health care professionals, and pharmaceutical companies. I started working in the production department as a production assistant where I worked with project managers, MIs, and software developers to develop interactive CD-ROM products for higher education and health care professionals. I also helped promote their latest product line and due to the success of the launch and road shows, I was promoted to the marketing department to help with PR programmes and initiatives.

I grew within that role to be in charge of media relations, which included internal and external PR, company tours, trade shows, promotions, advertising, and marketing communications. It was a dream come true to be managing the creative programmes for an anatomical software company.

International Experience in Medical Multimedia

In the spring of 1998, I had the urge to see the world ... so I took a 3-month hiatus from my job at A.D.A.M. to travel around Europe. I started in Ireland and it was here that I discovered Cell Media. This start-up uses high-level 3D animation and illustrations to explain and communicate complex science in the fields of biochemistry and microbiology.

Medical Illustration: An Evolving Career

Medical illustration may be a new career option for some, but looking back in time, we can see that Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and other master artists of the past used to explore human anatomy to learn how to accurately draw and sculpt the human figure.

Despite its venerable history, medical illustration is a career that is evolving rapidly. It has changed considerably, even since I became interested in it in the 1990s. When I first investigated it, I realised how many times I had seen medical and scientific drawings but never thought of who created them. Traditionally, illustrations were used in medical textbooks and medical journals. Most images were created in black pen-and-ink drawings, and the medical illustrators' training originally reflected this. It consisted of traditional art classes (pen and ink, airbrush, acrylic painting, watercolour painting, sculpting, etc.) as well as high-level science courses such as gross anatomy, embryology, histology, biology, etc. so they would be masters of the sciences and the arts.

Within the past 10 years the computer has been added to the art palette of a medical illustrator. 3D animation, movies, and computer programs utilise the medical illustrator's talents in art and medicine to create CD-ROMs for publishers, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies, as well as lawyers who specialise in medical malpractice.

My European tour came to an abrupt halt when I accepted a position as marketing manager at Cell Media. The job opened my eyes to the way that scientific animation could be customised to meet the marketing and sales needs of medical device, pharmaceutical, and science companies worldwide. Health care, pharmaceutical, and medical device companies use the high-quality and scientifically accurate 2D and 3D animations, illustrations, and Web-enabled content to explain their scientific discoveries to their clients at medical symposiums, for internal communications, and as marketing materials.

Again, my role required a unique mix of skills in project management, understanding of science and breaking medical technologies, as well as the fundamentals of art, animation, design, and Web development to customise our products to our client's requirements. I travelled all over the UK and U.S. promoting Cell Media's customisation services. It was a very exciting role for me, and I learnt more about many different aspects of science, medicine, and computer technology.

Breaking the Boundaries in Surgical Training--BeST Online

Currently, I am the business development executive for IntuMed, which works in the field of intuitive online surgical training. IntuMed has recently launched BeST Online. BeST, for Basic electronic Surgical Training, is an online structured surgical training programme for postgraduate surgical trainees. It uses the Internet to enhance the content in innovative ways never seen before in postgraduate medical education. It uses interactivity, chat rooms, and online communities, as well as audio, animation, and video clips to enhance the student's experience--anytime, anywhere. The core content is packaged in an extensive 18-module syllabus, based on the syllabuses for surgical membership and associate fellowship examinations.

My previous positions and experience in art, computers, and medicine perfectly prepared me for this new role. I am responsible for business development, marketing the product within different medical specialties, creating corporate commercial partners, and travelling to promoting BeST. We recently showcased BeST to the U.S. market at the American College of Surgeons' Clinical Congress held in New Orleans and to the UK market at the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland meeting in London.

As I look back, I can see how all the events, goals, dreams, and academic achievements of my life have lead me to this exciting point in my career. It is amazing, even to me, how my desire to be a medical illustrator and to create ads and marketing materials for pharmaceutical companies led me to these various companies. I am blessed to have supportive parents, friends, and professors who helped guide and encourage me along the way.

I guess my university biology professor was right, I am a left brain/right brain person. I wouldn't change it for the world.

Follow Science Careers

Search Jobs

Enter keywords, locations or job types to start searching for your new science career.

Top articles in Careers