As there is no end to the COVID-19 pandemic in the near future, careers in healthcare are expected to remain in high demand through 2022. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in healthcare occupations is projected to grow 16 percent from 2020 to 2030, a rate much faster than the average…
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How to Become a Medical Photographer
Alternate Career Titles:
Clinical Photographer, Healthcare Photographer
Medical Photographer Job Description: Medical Photographers produce images for healthcare, education or scientific purposes.
Medical Photographer Salary (Annual): $36,280
Medical Photographer Salary Range: $20,000 to $45,000
How Long To Become a Medical Photographer: 4 years
Medical Photographer Requirements: Bachelor’s Degree in Photography
Become a Medical Photographer
A Medical Photographer is a great healthcare career for someone who loves photography and who is interested in medicine. These professionals are responsible for using photography techniques and equipment to produce high quality images for healthcare and scientific purposes. Most often taken on-site, images can reflect surgical or clinical procedures and circumstances, and can help healthcare professionals to diagnose and treat injury, illness and disease.
“A career in medical photography involves the daily creation of technically sound images that are regularly used for patient documentation, medical education, publications, legal documentation and insurance purposes,” shared Nathan Pallace, a Medical Photographer practicing in Arizona. “Medical Photographers work directly with Physicians, medical staff and patients to create a standardized visual record of a patient’s condition over time. They are also the first line of defense in protecting this sensitive information.”
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Education & Training
To become a Medical Photographer, a learner should try to obtain as much photography experience as possible while still in high school. They should then apply to post-secondary education programs in pursuit of a Bachelor’s Degree in photography or an industry-related field. During these programs, learners will receive instruction on ways to best utilize photography equipment and software. To prepare for a career as a Medical Photographer, learners should also take courses in medical terminology, biology, chemistry, and especially, anatomy.
“Most medical photography positions require a four year degree in any photographic discipline, and one to five years of professional experience,” Pallace explained. “There are currently few collegiate programs that offer training or education in medical photography. So, individuals who enter this field often receive the necessary training on-site.”
Pallace, who completed a four-year bachelor’s degree program on life science imaging, confirmed that the ideal candidate for a medical photography position would possess a four-year technical/scientific photography degree and some professional experience. He explained that having extensive knowledge of macro photography techniques and equipment, light behaviors, studio lighting techniques, human biology and anatomy are most beneficial for candidates considering this field.
According to Pallace, working toward a management or leadership role is definitely one way to advance in a career as a Medical Photographer. However, Pallace notes professionals who seek out managerial roles usually end up with a lot more administrative responsibilities and less photographic work.
“If your goal is to remain a Photographer, I would say your best career advancement options lie within continued education or training settings,” Pallace recommended. “A good place to start would involve becoming proficient in more than one of the numerous specialty areas practiced by Medical Photographers. Also, having a decent foundation in more than one digital platform will not only make you a better photographer, but that much more employable as well.”
Experience & Skills
Above all, a Medical Photographer should have in-depth photography experience along with a genuine interest in arts in health. This will help ensure that they are able to produce high-quality images and remain committed to the career. Obviously, having solid hand-eye coordination can be incredibly beneficial when operating a camera. Other careers in arts in health include that of an Art Therapist and Medical Illustrator.
“Individuals interested in medical photography should also understand that a strong set of soft skills are just as important to their success as a top-notch set of hard skills,” Pallace stressed. “Hard skills include the technical scientific knowledge needed to create professional quality photographs that clearly illustrate what a Family Physician, Dentist, Surgeon or other healthcare professional needs documented. Soft skills are described as personal qualities that enable an individual to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.”
A strong ability to communicate with healthcare professionals will help ensure you get the images the medical staff need and at the same time, be a person they find easy to work with. This combination of skills will undoubtedly secure additional work in the future.
Another important characteristic of Medical Photographers is that they should be ethical as they often have to deal with sensitive patient information such as health history and nudity.
Since Medical Photography may include observing and photographing surgeries, this profession is only for those with a strong constitution and emotional maturity. The ability to communicate in a caring and supportive manner will foster an environment of trust in which the photographer will be able to capture sensitive medical images.
“If an individual does not have the personality traits to achieve this level of trust, they will probably not be successful in this field, regardless of how good of a photographer they are,” Pallace emphasized. “Having a proactive mindset in this career is therefore very important.”
Most days, Pallace works at the Mayo Clinic Hospital which has a 21 room operating floor. He usually starts at 7 am although surgeries are routinely scheduled between 7:30 am and 5 pm. While he works relatively standard hours, Pallace is also responsible for any other patient photography required in the remainder of the seven-floor building.
“These responsibilities can include inpatient or outpatient cases, or educational, laboratory, pathology, physical therapy or morgue needs,” Pallace said. “I get other random requests from time-to-time like documenting faculty medical devices to snap-shotting birthday celebrations.” Whatever the request, Pallace must be ready.
Pallace further explained that although the workload of this career can be extremely fast-paced with peaks of high stress, the occupation is extremely rewarding overall. He noted that very few people get to experience what a Medical Photographer does in ongoing care and the advancement of medical education.
Over the next decade, the career outlook for photographers, including those in the medical field, is projected to increase 6 percent. Specifically for Medical Photographers, employment opportunities are typically strongest for only the most highly-qualified candidates, including those who have specialties, such as Ophthalmic (eye) Photography. Therefore, gaining initial employment may be more challenging than in other careers for which there is less demand.
“I would estimate that there is at least one opening every week in the U.S. through of a variety of institutions and organizations,” Pallace conveyed. “I would advise taking any positions that becomes available when you are just entering the field. The skills and experience you will gain will better prepare you for future opportunities, and make you far more employable.”
Medical photography is a stable paying career in healthcare. The median annual salary in this role is $36,280, with the average salary range between $20,000 and $45,000. Most entry-level positions in this career will pay $20 to $25 per hour.
“Overtime pay can also factor into a Medical Photographer’s earnings,” Pallace said. “Considering this, my guess is that the annual earning potential for a full-time Medical Photographer actually rests between $50,000 and $100,000 per year.”
Unions, Groups and Associations
The BioCommunications Association (BCA) is an international professional group made up of Photographers, Graphic Designers, Medical Illustrators and other careers associated with the biological communications field. The organization provides professional resources (like grants, certification courses, contests, etc.) to all members.
- Gain photography experience through recreation, volunteer or employment opportunities
- Apply to and enroll in a Bachelor’s Degree program in photography or a related field
- Work on building a photography portfolio
- Begin building a network of professionals
- After graduating, take to the internet to begin searching for available positions
All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional: Nathan Pallace
Practice: Mayo Clinic
Location: Phoenix, AZ
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“The biggest obstacle that I’ve found job applicants have in relation to starting a career as a medical photographer is a background that includes the proper experience that most institutions are looking for. This is the age old conundrum of how do you secure a position without experience; and how do you gain experience without a position? My best advice is to start gathering professional experience as soon as you can. Applicants with work experiences that are based in both technical photography and healthcare are usually the first to be considered for these roles.”
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“The biggest mistake I think most people make when trying to enter into a career in medical photography is not educating themselves on the fundamentals of this discipline first. Photography has many different applications. Medical photography is a niche inside of the general photography spectrum. Therefore, the specific tools, concepts and protocols which are utilized by medical photographers are not terribly common in other photographic disciplines. Anyone looking to break into this field would be extremely wise to familiarize himself or herself with as much of this knowledge as they can, early on.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“The main question I think most people should ask about a career in medical photography is primarily an internal one. That question is: Will I really enjoy this type of work? Photography is generally a creative adventure, but medical photography is pure documentation of the human condition for the benefit of the patient and potentially for medical education as a whole. This is the difference between making pictures and taking them.”
Why did you choose to become a Medical Photographer?
“The truth is that medical photography chose me. I started my professional career as a photojournalist for a daily newspaper. I loved this work, but was eventually forced to recreate myself due to the effects that the internet had on print media’s business model. I decided continuing my education was the smartest thing for me to do, especially if I was going to continue making a living using a camera. So, I enrolled in the Biomedical Photographic Communications degree program (now called Photo Sciences) at RIT in Rochester, New York. The degree was generally based around the life sciences and technical imaging. During my time here I was introduced to surgical photography through a one-of-a-kind collaborative class created between RIT and the surgical department at an area hospital. After one day in this environment, I was hooked.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
*Credentialing organization: The BioCommunications Association Board of Registry