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Degree Required to Be a Medical Photographer

by Laura La Bella

A medical photographer, also called a biomedical photographer, is a skilled individual who has both artistic creativity and a detailed knowledge of scientific processes, anatomy and physiology. Medical photographers can find a wide range of career options at medical schools, hospitals, research centers, publishing companies, advertising agencies, pharmaceutical manufacturers and other health-based organizations. It’s an exciting career for those who excel in both art and science.

What is a Medical Photographer?

Medical photographers capture and process photographs of the many different anatomical areas of the human body in an effort to increase understanding of the body and the diseases and injuries that affect it. Medical photographers document injuries and diseases, track the progress of operations and medical procedures, record a patient’s medical progress over time, or photograph autopsies. They capture images that are used for measurement and analysis, or to support medical or scientific reports, articles or research papers. Their work also appears in textbooks, pamphlets, exhibits, instructional films, legal and litigation procedures, and as instructional models for teaching.

Undergraduate Degree

Medical photographers must have an associate's or bachelor’s degree in photography or medical illustration. These programs teach both the artistic and scientific aspects of the profession. Students learn the principles of analog and digital photography, imaging processes and concepts, and photography as it relates to both multimedia and new media. They are also prepared with a basic knowledge of anatomy, physiology and biological processes. In general these programs teach you how to translate complex scientific information into clear, compelling visual images without bias.

Course Work

Associate's and bachelor's degree programs in photography and medical illustration cover topics such as photographic processes; digital, analog, black and white, and color photography; scientific, surgical, ophthalmic and forensic photography; the visual arts; multimedia, digital, 3D modeling and Web publishing; photographic technology and equipment; illustration, drawing and design; biology, anatomy and physiology; and scientific visualization. Elective courses allow you to further explore specific areas of study such as surgical photography, zoological and botanical illustration, and natural science photography.

Certification

Medical photographers should seek to become a Registered Biological Photographer (RBP), a certification offered by the BioCommunications Association's Board of Registry. This certification evaluates and certifies medical photographers as experts in the field. After educational requirements have been met, candidates must pass written, practical and oral examinations, and submit a portfolio of their work for review.

Career Outlook

The field of medical photography is relatively small, but it’s a competitive field that is expected to grow. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the profession will experience a 10-percent to 25-percent increase in job opportunities by 2020. Medical photographers will see the highest growth in the educational field, which includes work for textbook publishers, medical schools and research institutions. A sub-specialty that will experience a high growth in jobs is a forensic science technician, who takes crime scene photos. The BLS expects a 19-percent increase in this sub-field of medical photography.

About the Author

Laura La Bella has worked as a marketing communications writer and editor in the fields of advertising, development and higher education for more than 15 years. She has authored more than two dozen nonfiction books for young adults, covering biographies of socially relevant people, timely social issues and career paths.

Photo Credits

  • Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images