A common stereotype about pursuing a career in the visual arts is that it’s not as practical as more profitable fields like law or medicine. Though some superstar artists are both well-known and highly paid, the median salary for those in fine-arts professions is $45,080 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the industry is only projected to grow 2 percent by 2024.
Meredith Osborn, an illustrator in Columbus, Ohio, found a way to combine her background as an artist with a field that tends to bring in steady earnings: medicine. The median salary for a medical illustrator is higher than that of the average artist, ranging from $62,000 to $100,000, according to the Association of Medical Illustrators. Osborn creates visuals that convey medical or scientific information about complicated subjects such as genetic testing.For The Atlantic’s series of interviews with American workers, I spoke with Osborn about her illustrations of DNA and what it’s like to belong to both the art and medical communities. The interview that follows has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Green: What inspired you to become a medical illustrator?
Osborn: I found out that the career even existed when I was a senior in high school taking a careers class. I knew that I really liked art, and was also good at traditional academic stuff. I felt like I was forced to choose between one of those things, so I was trying to find a way to combine them. I was reading about art therapy, but it wasn’t for me. At the end of the day, I'm an educator, not a counselor. One website [with information about art therapy] had a “see related careers” tab, and listed medical illustration. I clicked the link and that's been the plan ever since.