Medical Illustration Master of fine arts degree

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In this dynamic medical illustration degree, you'll transform complex medical information into visual images that are used in education, research, patient care, public relations, legal cases, and health care marketing.

A medical illustrator is a professional artist with advanced education in the biomedical sciences, cutting edge digital media, and the principles of visual communication. RIT’s MFA in 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 illustration students observing complete cadaver dissection in RIT's Cavader Lab), 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, science 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.

This is two-year medical illustration degree that emphasizes visual problem solving to determine the best approach to communicate a difficult concept. Students also gain real world experience by collaborating with medical researchers and observing live surgery in operating rooms. 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 appropriate application of verbal and visual content, realism, symbolism, graphic conventions, and motion or interactive media.

  • Select the most appropriate medium for delivery of content to target learners
  • Select 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 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 US 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


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 in 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. Organizations that employ our 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

Curriculum for Medical Illustration MFA

Medical Illustration, MFA degree, typical course sequence

Course Sem. Cr. Hrs.
First Year
Human Gross Anatomy
This course provides an in-depth study of the structure of the human body. Emphasis is on understanding the relationships between anatomical structures as well as their form, texture, and color. Dissection of a human cadaver is supplemented with lectures on the structure and function of the major organ systems. (This course is restricted to ILLM-MFA Major students.) Lab 9, Lecture 3 (Fall).
Anatomic Studies
Through independent research and acquired understanding of human gross anatomy, students create illustrations designed to support medical or graduate level instruction of Human Gross Anatomy. Course requires students to cognitively illustrate their subjects, rather than creating literal interpretations of their observations. Work is intended for full color print media. (This course is restricted to ILLM-MFA Major students.) Studio 5 (Fall).
3D Modeling of Biomedical Forms
This course introduces strategies to create polygonal models of biomedical subjects. Students will use contemporary research to accurately define structure and suggest function. Instruction will also focus on lighting and "shader" systems that emphasize form and are consistent with tissue characteristics. (This course is restricted to ILLM-MFA Major students.) Studio 6 (Fall).
3D Animation of Biomedical Forms
This course explores animating biomedical subjects and processes. Students will be asked to research contemporary theory defining their subjects' anatomy and create animations consistent with their findings. Frame by frame animation, blend shapes, non-linear deformers, and rigging systems will be introduced to permit students to choose the most effective method for creating motion and transformation. (Prerequisites: ILLM-603 or equivalent course.) Lab 4, Lecture 1 (Spring).
Computer Applications in Medical Illustration
Students will learn to use industry-standard raster and vector illustration software to create images based on independent research of medical topics. Students will also use page layout applications to combine digital images with text and other graphic elements. Coursework emphasizes creation of illustrations to support medical education and publishing. (This course is restricted to ILLM-MFA Major students.) Lecture 2, Studio 3 (Spring).
Scientific Visualization
Emerging technologies enable scientists to visualize structures that are otherwise invisible to the naked eye. For example, molecular visualization software allows us to construct highly accurate molecular models from x-ray crystallography and other structural data. Cryo-EM and confocal microscopy are revealing the previously unknown structure of cellular organelles. Medical imaging systems allow us to reconstruct the human body in three dimensions from actual patient data (CT scans, MRI, etc.). This course explores the use of these technologies to provide references for traditional artwork and to export models for digital rendering and animation. (Prerequisites: ILLM-601 or equivalent course.) Lec/Lab 6 (Spring).
Students conduct background research and create a body of artwork on a contemporary medical topic. The artwork is exhibited during one of several graduate thesis shows or during a screening of digital animation and interactive works. The thesis culminates with the production of a written thesis paper that documents the process of creating the work. (This course is restricted to ILLM-MFA Major students.) Thesis (Fall, Spring).
Medical Pathophysiology
This course is designed as a graduate-level course in pathophysiology, the study of disease and its consequences to human health. It covers mechanisms of cell injury, the homeostatic responses of cells and tissues, and the clinical manifestations of disease, concentrating on the disease states that are most frequently encountered in clinical practice, including infection, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. The course follows a medical school model by using a clinical case-based approach that promotes active, team-based learning and professional written communication. Students will conduct independent research to create and illustrate a clinical case study. (This course is restricted to ILLM-MFA Major students.) Lecture 3 (Spring).
Human Immunology
This graduate course in the Medical Illustration (MFA) program will provide an introduction to the fundamental facts and concepts on immunology to include: innate and adaptive immunity; cells, molecules, tissues and organs of the immune "system"; cell communication and interaction; antibody structure and function; and the application of these concepts to infectious diseases, vaccine design, autoimmune diseases, cancer, transplantation, regulation of the immune response, allergic reactions and immunosuppression. Students will gain an understanding of immunological principles and techniques, and their application to contemporary research, with results from instructor’s research laboratory. (This course is restricted to ILLM-MFA Major students.) Lecture 3 (Fall).
Studio Elective
Second Year
Surgical Illustration
Students observe and sketch live surgical procedures at a local hospital. After further background research, students translate their sketches into finished illustrations that are used in medical training, patient education, and litigation. Demonstrations of sketching and rendering techniques are supplemented with lectures on general surgical principles and common procedures. (Prerequisites: ILLM-601 and ILLM-607 or equivalent courses.) Lab 3, Lecture 3 (Fall).
Interactive Media I
This course is an introduction to two dimensional computer illustration, animation, and interactive media as they apply to contemporary methods of instruction in medicine and allied health. Students will research a current topic in health care and develop interactive lessons that match the instructional objectives of their topic. Students will organize these lessons as a web site. (Prerequisites: ILLM-607 or equivalent course.) Lec/Lab 6 (Fall).
Interactive Media II
This course continues the development of student web sites designed for allied health instruction. Advanced topics in two dimensional computer illustration, animation, and interactive media will be presented. Students will research current topics in health care and continue the development of the interactive lesson begun in the previous class. (Prerequisites: ILLM-615 or equivalent course.) Studio 6 (Spring).
Portfolio and Business Practices
This course helps prepare students to enter the workforce in full-time positions or as freelance illustrators. Students create a traditional portfolio, personal identity package, and marketing materials. The course also introduces important business concepts such as copyright, licensing, pricing, contracts, taxation, and formation of a proper business. (Prerequisites: ILLM-612 or equivalent course.) Lab 3, Lecture 2 (Spring).
Students conduct background research and create a body of artwork on a contemporary medical topic. The artwork is exhibited during one of several graduate thesis shows or during a screening of digital animation and interactive works. The thesis culminates with the production of a written thesis paper that documents the process of creating the work. (This course is restricted to ILLM-MFA Major students.) Thesis (Fall, Spring).
Histology and Histopathology
This graduate course in the Medical Illustration (MFA) program combines lecture and laboratory sessions to introduce students to the microscopic anatomy of both normal and pathologic human tissues and organs, with special emphasis given to the relationships between cellular architecture and normal versus altered physiologic function. Students will created illustrations and annotated digital images, and complete a final project designed to teach the etiology and pathogenesis of a chosen disease state to students at a graduate level. (One year of General Biology with lab) (This course is restricted to ILLM-MFA Major students.) Lab 3, Lecture 3 (Fall).
Studio Elective
Total Semester Credit Hours

Studio electives

Foundations of Human-Computer Interaction
Human-computer interaction (HCI) is a field of study concerned with the design, evaluation and implementation of interactive computing systems for human use and with the study of major phenomena surrounding them. This course surveys the scope of issues and foundations of the HCI field: cognitive psychology, human factors, interaction styles, user analysis, task analysis, interaction design methods and techniques, and evaluation. This course will focus on the users and their tasks. (This class is restricted to degree-seeking graduate students or those with permission from instructor.) Lecture 3 (Fall, Spring).
Information and Interaction Design
Designing meaningful relationships among people and the products they use is both an art and a science. This course will focus on the unique design practice of: representing and organizing information in such a way as to facilitate perception and understanding (information architecture); and, specifying the appropriate mechanisms for accessing and manipulating task information (interaction design). This course will also explore the various design patterns (design solutions to particular problems) that are appropriate for the HCI professional. Students will need prior knowledge of an interface prototyping tool. (Prerequisite: ISTE-200 or equivalent course. Co-requisite: HCIN-610 or equivalent course.) Lecture 3 (Fall, Spring).
Fundamentals of Instructional Technology
Instructional Technology encompasses the basic processes for developing and delivering instruction. Instructional Systems Design (ISD) is a well-established methodology for describing knowledge and skills and developing instructional systems to effectively conveying knowledge. This course enables the student to be able to plan, organize, and systematically develop instructional materials. The course uses an ISD model to analyze, design, deliver, and evaluate instruction. Lecture 3 (Fall).
Eye Ear Nose Prosthetics
This course provides an introduction to the field of anaplastology, a branch of medicine dealing with the prosthetic replacement or correction of an absent, disfigured, or malformed anatomic structure, usually on the face or limbs. Focusing on maxillofacial prosthetics and ocular prosthetics (artificial eyes), students learn the basic technical skills needed for an internship or apprenticeship in this field. **Fee: There is a $45 fee for this course** (Prerequisites: This course is restricted to ILLM-MFA students who have successfully completed ILLM-601 or equivalent course.) Lecture 2, Studio 3 (Spring).
Medical and Scientific Animation
Students will work with 2 dimensional, 3 dimensional and editing software in order to develop a complete animation on the topic of their choice. Studio 6 (Fall).
Special Topics
This course is an upper division course on a topic of special interest that is not part of a formal curriculum. The course design may differ by topic or faculty member but will include prerequisites, contact hours, and examination/assessment procedures. The level of study is appropriate for students in their final two years of study. (This course is restricted to ILLM-MFA Major students.) Lec/Lab (Fall, Spring).
Independent Study
Medical Illustration Independent Study will provide students with the ability to study in a specialized area with an individual faculty member. Students, with the assistance of a faculty advisor will propose a course of study. Medical Illustration Independent Study students must obtain permission of an instructor and complete the Independent Study Permission Form to enroll. Ind Study (Fall, Spring, Summer).
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.

Learn about admissions, cost, and financial aid 


  • Cadaver lab with 6 tables
    Cadaver Lab

    Human gross anatomy is taught in the fall (for medical illustration majors) and in the spring (for physician assistant and biomedical sciences majors) with the use of cadaver specimens acquired from the University of Rochester's School of Medicine.  

  • Student sits in lab with models of brain, heart and human skeleton
    Anatomy and Physiology Lab

    DaVinci had it right. Biomedical sciences and medical illustration students must observe the human body inside and out to understand the sum of its parts. RIT students learn from dissecting cadavers in the Anatomy and Physiology lab in RIT’s Center for Bioscience Education and Technology.

Latest News

  • August 3, 2020

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    RIT faculty gearing up to apply spring learnings to fall classes

    The unexpected transition to remote learning during the spring semester challenged faculty across RIT to experiment, create, and deploy new methods of instruction to ensure student success. As the university gears up for in-person and online classes—or a combination of both—faculty members are applying a wide range of lessons learned from the spring to keep academic momentum moving forward in the fall.

  • May 26, 2020

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    RIT medical illustration graduate wins Fulbright teaching assistantship

    Victoria Maung ’20 MFA (medical illustration) is capping her college career with a Fulbright grant that will give her an international experience and a connection to her Southeast Asian roots. With the help of RIT Global, Maung, won a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to teach high school in Malaysia.

  • May 8, 2020

    Manuela Campanelli, Satish Kandlikar, and James Perkins

    RIT Honors Distinguished Faculty Awardees for 2020

    RIT honored its 2020 class of Distinguished Faculty—Manuela Campanelli, Satish Kandlikar and James Perkins. The Distinguished Professor designation is given to tenured faculty who have shown continued excellence over their careers in teaching, scholarly contributions, lasting contributions in creative and professional work and service to both the university and community.