Master of Fine Arts in Medical Illustration


Program Description


A medical illustrator is a professional artist with advanced education in biomedical sciences, cutting edge digital media, and the principles of visual communication. RIT’s MFA in the medical illustration is one of only five such programs in North America and the only program in the northeast. It combines training in human anatomy (with complete cadaver dissection), immunology, histology (the cellular structure of organs), and pathophysiology (the study of disease) with extensive training in 2D and 3D digital graphics, interactive media, and animation.

Collaborating with scientists, physicians, and other health care professionals, medical illustrators translate complex scientific information into visual images that support medical education, scientific research, patient care, advertising, and litigation. Illustration projects are designed for use in print, projection, broadcast media, and distribution via the web and mobile devices.

The two-year program emphasizes visual problem solving, determining the best approach to communicate a difficult concept. Students also gain real-world experience collaborating with medical researchers and observing live surgery in an operating room. The program culminates with the production of a thesis project, which requires extensive background research and an original body of artwork on a complex medical topic.

Program Goals and Learning Outcomes

The MFA in medical illustration has established the following program goals and student learning outcomes:

Demonstrate an advanced level of knowledge in the biomedical sciences.

  • Demonstrate advanced knowledge of human anatomy, molecular biology, physiology, and related biomedical sciences.

Visualize scientific structures, processes, and concepts.

  • Visualize and accurately render anatomic, tissue, cellular, and molecular structures.
  • Illustrate physiological processes and abstract scientific concepts through visual storytelling.

List instructional objectives to communicate biomedical content to a variety of target learners.

  • Identify the target learners (audience) for each set of instructional illustrations.
  • Describe the level of scientific literacy of each group of target learners.
  • Create a set of instructional objectives for each instructional illustration.

Solve complex communication problems with the appropriate application of verbal and visual content, realism, symbolism, graphic conventions, and motion or interactive media.

  • Select the most appropriate medium for the delivery of content to target learners.
  • Select an appropriate level of realism, symbolism, and graphic conventions for optimal delivery of instructional objectives to target learners.

Utilize a variety of media and production techniques in appropriate applications and understand production processes sufficiently to communicate with pre-press companies, art directors, etc.

  • Create artwork in a variety of media.
  • Select the appropriate dimensions, color space, resolution, file format, and other criteria for delivery to the client.
  • Use industry standard terminology when discussing production and output processes.

Communicate effectively with clients, subject matter experts, co-workers, supervisors, and vendors in oral and written form.

  • Use correct anatomic and medical terminology when discussing scientific content.

Demonstrate knowledge of professional and ethical conduct.

  • Describe HIPAA regulations regarding the use of patient information.
  • Follow operating room protocols at affiliated hospitals.
  • Describe U.S. and international copyright laws and how they apply to the use of reference materials.
  • Describe copyright infringement and the criteria for determining Fair Use.

Demonstrate awareness of established business and management practices.

  • Describe standard employment practices in the profession.
  • Describe business models and taxation of independent illustrator.
  • Describe pricing strategies and calculate prices for illustration projects.
  • Create a personal identity package and marketing materials.
  • Generate sample contracts, licensing agreements, and invoices.

Demonstrate competency in the academic research process through a graduate research project or thesis.

  • Conduct background research on a proposed biomedical topic.
  • Develop a set of instructional objectives to deliver the topic to a specific group of target learners.
  • Create a body of artwork to meet the instructional objectives.
  • Exhibit the body of work during one of the thesis shows or at a screening of digital media productions.
  • Complete a written thesis paper summarizing the project.

Our Students

Graduate students in medical illustration come from a variety of backgrounds including biology, chemistry, anthropology, fine arts, illustration, photography, and graphic design. Students who have no prior experience in illustration, fine art, drawing or medical illustration must demonstrate outstanding drawing skills and a strong aptitude for the life sciences.

Careers and Employment

Graduates of the MFA medical illustration find work with hospitals, medical schools, research centers, museums, medical publishers, advertising agencies, web design firms, animation studios, law firms, and a variety of other creative agencies. Since the MFA is considered the terminal degree in the arts, graduates may also find employment in academia, teaching in a wide range of computer graphics, scientific illustration, and art programs. Employers of our graduates include:

  • Science magazine (American Association for the Advancement of Science)
  • Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, University of Rochester Medical Center
  • New England Journal of Medicine
  • Roswell Park Cancer Center, Buffalo, NY
  • MIT Center for Biomedical Innovation
  • Cell Press (publishers of Cell and other scientific journals)
  • Nucleus Global (medical communications)
  • Custom Learning Designs (pharmaceutical advertising)
  • The Presentation Group (courtroom graphics)
  • Bryan Christie Design (pharmaceutical advertising)
  • Emmi Solutions (web and interactive media)
  • Cleveland Institute of Art (scientific illustration program)
  • Illustrated Verdict (courtroom graphics)
  • National Capital Area Medical Simulation Lab, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (developing virtual surgical simulators)
  • Visible Body/Argosy Medical Publishing (medical publishing and interactive media)
  • Department of Imaging Sciences, University of Rochester Medical Center
  • Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
  • Springer Healthcare Communications (medical publishing)
  • Legal Art Works (courtroom graphics)


  • Journalism, Media, and Publishing
  • Performing and Fine Arts
  • Health Care

Typical Job Titles

  • Multimedia Artist
  • Medical Illustrator
  • Exhibitor
  • Freelance Medical Illustrator
  • 2D Medical Animator
  • 3D Computer Modeler/Animator
  • Medical Interactive/Interface Designer
  • Medical Web Designer
  • Medical-Legal Illustrator/Litigation
  • Support Specialist
  • Medical Book/Texts Illustrator
  • Information Graphics Illustrator
  • Medical Editorial Illustrator
  • Medical Model Designer
  • Prosthesis Designer/Anaplastologist
  • Forensics Illustrator
  • Ophthalmologic Illustrator
  • Medical Illustration Educator


Medical illustration, MFA degree, typical course sequence

First Year

  • ILLM-601 Human Gross Anatomy
  • ILLM-602 Anatomic Studies
  • ILLM-603 3D Modeling of Biomedical Forms
  • MEDS-630 Human Immunology
  • MEDS-615 Medical Pathophysiology
  • ILLM-606 3D Animation of Biomedical Forms
  • ILLM-607 Computer Applications in Medical Illustration
  • ILLM-608 Scientific Visualization
  • ILLM-890 Thesis
  • Studio Elective

Second Year

  • ILLM-615 Interactive Media I
  • ILLM-612 Surgical Illustration
  • ILLM-616 Interactive Media II
  • ILLM-617 Portfolio and Business Practices
  • MEDS-620 Histology and Histopathology
  • ILLM-890 Thesis
  • Studio Elective

Studio electives

  • HCIN-610 Foundations of Human-Computer Interactivity
  • HCIN-620 Information and Interaction Design
  • HCIN-660 Fundamentals of Instructional Technology
  • ILLM-618 Eye, Ear, Nose Prosthetics
  • ILLM-689 Special Topics
  • ILLM-799 Independent Study

Any graduate studio course offered in the College of Art and Design

Admission Requirements

To be considered for admission to the MFA in medical illustration, candidates must fulfill the following requirements:

  • Complete a graduate application.
  • Hold a baccalaureate degree (or equivalent) from an accredited university or college in a field of the arts, sciences, or education. The undergraduate degree should include studio art courses, one year of general or introductory biology (for biology majors), and a minimum of three advanced biology courses, such as vertebrate anatomy, physiology, neurobiology, cell biology, molecular biology, immunology, microbiology, genetics, developmental biology, or pathology.
  • Submit official transcripts (in English) of all previously completed undergraduate and graduate course work.
  • Demonstrate, through the quality of the undergraduate record and creative production, a genuine, professional potential.
  • Demonstrate, through the submission of a portfolio, outstanding drawing skills, particularly the ability to draw subjects from direct observation. (Refer to Graduate Portfolio Requirements for more information.)
  • International applicants whose native language is not English must submit scores from the TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE. A minimum TOEFL score of 80 (internet-based) is required. A minimum IELTS score of 6.5 is required. The English language test score requirement is waived for native speakers of English or for those submitting transcripts from degrees earned at American institutions.
  • Those applicants coming from countries where the baccalaureate degree is not awarded for programs in the practice of art may be admitted to graduate study if the diploma or certificate received approximates the standards of the BFA, BA, or BS degrees, and if their academic records and portfolios indicate an ability to meet graduate standards.
Last updated Oct 2019

About the School

With more than 80 graduate programs in high-paying, in-demand fields and scholarships, assistantships and fellowships available, we invite you to take a closer look at RIT. Don't be fooled by the word ... Read More

With more than 80 graduate programs in high-paying, in-demand fields and scholarships, assistantships and fellowships available, we invite you to take a closer look at RIT. Don't be fooled by the word "technology" in our name. At RIT, you will discover a university of artists and designers on the one hand, and scientists, engineers, and business leaders on the other – a collision of the right brain and the left brain. Read less