Kendall program blends art, science to fill high-demand jobs

Posted at 8:58 PM, Aug 13, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-13 20:58:10-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – In the health care industry, medical illustration is called a promising path into medicine.

So what is medical illustration? Simply put, it’s a blend of science and art.

“It is communicating what doctors and medical professionals, science professionals do,” said David Gianfredi, assistant professor at Kendall College of Art and Design. “Once they do what they do, they have to get that word out.”

While it might be hard to believe, you're exposed to medical illustration nearly every day.

“Anytime you pick up a brochure that illustrates anything, and you go to the doctor and you have shoulder pain and he hands you a brochure or if you decide to go to WebMD and look online to see about getting answers for yourself, chances are you’re looking at illustrations that have been produced by people with degrees in medical illustration,” said Patricia Brewer, PhD and professor at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.

But the field is not limited to textbooks and pamphlets.

“TV shows like CSI and those type of shows,” Gianfredi said. “You see the bullet go into the body; you see the lung and the heart or whatever. That all had to be animated by a medical illustrator.”

In west Michigan, the pathway to medical illustration is a collaborative effort, bringing together Ferris State University, Kendall College of Art and Design, Grand Rapids Community College and Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.

“It`s so much more than just drawing medical things,” said Emily Frew, a medical illustration student at Kendall. “It`s learning about that science and we`re right over there with MSU taking medical classes alongside medical students.”

But before they do, students at Kendall must master basic science courses.

“Studying cells, tissues, and organs and structures in the human body,” Brewer said. “A part of that curriculum has to be access to human donor material and they (Kendall) were not able to provide that, so they sought out Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.”

That means the would-be art students are spending time in cadaver labs.

“The whole body is gray and yellow,” said Katie Bennett, a student studying medical illustration at Kendall. “It`s not pretty with all the different colors defining the structures and that`s what we do as illustrators, we can take a complex structure and turn it into something readable and simple.”

In the three years since the three-year program began, Kendall has graduated four students.

Gianfredi is optimistic about where Kendall’s medical illustration track is headed.

“It’s not just my goal, but the goal of the program, is really to put some of the best illustrators, medical illustrators, out there in the world and we can do that,” Gianfredi said.

According to the Association of Medical Illustrators, the median income in the field is $61,000 but that doesn't include freelance work, or even royalties from secondary licensing of their artwork.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics says demand for medical illustrators is expected to increase, largely because of demand for more realistic video games, movie and TV special effects.