5. Pharmaceuticals and medical

The more sick and fragile I am, the more I become an artist.
(Vincent van Gogh)

Ten years ago, laying on a gurney in a cold operating room, I watched a grayscale fluoroscope screen as a team of doctors carefully inserted a stent into a clogged artery in my heart. Angioplasty. Interesting, as the stent expanded and suddenly you could see the blood flowing again. Neat.

The stent came from a company called Boston Scientific. One of several firms that make these small titanium pipes that have saved so many lives. One of thousands of companies that make medical devices and equipment... a multi-billion dollar industry sector. Huge.

Wikipedia has a good article about medical devices. Gives you an overview – and then you can check out these jobsites for the top six firms:

Medtronic, $15,817,000,000

Baxter International, $12, 843,000,000

Boston Scientific, $7,806,000,000

Becton Dickinson, $7,540,000,000

Stryker, $7,320,000,000

St. Jude Medical, $5,165,000,000

Most medical devices – from stents to computer-controlled prosthetics – need artwork. Not only the usual marketing communications brochures, ads, and website graphics, but an amazing amount of scientific and technical illustration. Graphics and charts for FDA approval, and artwork for physician information material. These companies are affluent, and pay artists well. If you are a freelancer or run a design firm, medical device manufacturers are choice clients.

But this market sector is only the start of the story. Next, pills.

Pain in my heart, a little pain in my heart
Stop this little pain in my heart
(Allen Toussaint, Otis Redding)

Pills – drugs – they call it Big Pharma. A modern Comstock Lode for artists. Because Big Pharma is just so... rich! So much money! And, joy to the world, tight deadlines... bringing new drugs to market, submitting FDA paperwork on time, it’s wonderful. Makes me want to sing this Depression-era song:

Oh, the, buzzin’ of the bees
In the cigarette trees
The soda-water fountains!
At the lemonade springs
Where the bluebird sings
On the big rock candy mountain.

Here’s the industry overview --

And here’s a list of key Big Pharma jobsites –

Pfizer, $67,809,000,000, New York

Johnson & Johnson, $61,587,000,000, New Jersey

GlaxoSmithKline, $44,654,000,000, London

Roche, $44,267,000,000, Basel

Sanofi-Aventis, $42,179,000,000, Paris

Novartis, $41,459,000,000, Basel

AstraZeneca, $31,601,000,000, London

Abbott Laboratories, $29,527,000,000, Chicago

Merck, $23,850,000,000, New Jersey

Bristol-Myers Squibb, $21,366,000,000, New York

Eli Lilly, $20,378,000,000, Indiana

Amgen, $15,053,000,000, California

Gilead Sciences, $7,949,000,000, California

...so many jobs, so little time! And, there’s even more industry information at this Fortune 500 website. How to sort all this out? Well, they all have money, lots of it. And whenever a new drug goes through FDA approval, you have nice tight deadlines. And there’s a truckload of very high-paying advertising and collateral ad agency and design firm work.

But even better, these folks use animations and simulations. Do they ever! Both for sales – like TV ads where the little plaque blobs meet their match when the superdrug comes floating through the bloodstream corpuscles, la la la. More seriously, for internal and customer training, and for effectiveness demonstrations.

Medical illustration needs serious training. Spend a few minutes looking at the medical illustration professional association website. It has links to the six accredited graduate-degree programs in this field, like the Johns Hopkins Medical and Biological Illustration program in Baltimore.

Trained artists can always start their own highly-specialized design firms, or work for major pharmaceuticals, or for their ad agencies.

The sweet spot

There is a golden harvest for scientific and medical illustrators who take their profession to a higher level, with Flash animation. And, in future, with whatever software replaces Flash for all-platform use. VERY high-paying work for those who learn how to do it... because the animations have to be both accurate and visually compelling, like this – imagine it in motion:

Look on the web for ‘medical animation’... and you’ll find lots of work for graphic artists at companies like Hybrid and Intervoke. And medical animation immediately gets developed by other companies specializing in animations for lawyers.

Debt – an exception to the rule

Medical illustration. This is probably the only art field that I would go into debt for... running up student loans to buy the best training I could get. An investment in myself, with probably the best ROI an artist can achieve. Medical illustration, and particularly medical animation. As the population ages out, there will be an ever-greater need for new drugs and devices, and a career as a high-end medical animator is your best bet for that magic combination of lifelong stability and high pay.

There IS a way to get the education for free, but it will take you a long time. You’ll have to get a job doing anything with a major pharmaceutical or medical device corporation, and then use their employer-paid tuition program to cover school costs. Do your research – what large company is in the same city as one of the accredited medical illustration schools? And off you go.

But there’s the cost-benefit teeter-totter. If you take student loans instead, do you actually come out ahead? Because you reduce the time it takes to graduate and start earning – reduce the time so much that you’ll do better to borrow than to work your way through – taking courses for many, many years at night? You have to pencil this one out carefully.

As a final note to this chapter, there’s a lower-paid variant – scientific illustration. Like NASA images of the Odyssey mission landing on Mars, or pictorials for National Geographic. Great stuff!

But, everything considered, animation for the medical/pharmaceutical world is the real brass ring. Grab it!

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