Medical photographer

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Rachel Dawn is a medical photographer at a Hospital - a job where putting patients at their ease is just as important as taking a good photo.

What do you do?

I take pictures of operations and also of patients with particular medical conditions. The pictures are used for teaching publications and for patients' notes, so that consultants can track how a medical condition is developing.

What are your main responsibilities?

I work for a private company called Medical Illustrations UK, which is based at the hospital. We do work for three or four other London hospitals and private practices. Most hospitals have their own photography department.

If a consultant needs a photograph of a patient they contact us. If possible, the patient will come to our studio, but if they can't manage this I'll go and take the pictures on the ward. We also take pictures during operations and at specialist clinics. I do a lot of ophthalmology work which involves taking pictures of people's eyes using a special camera.

What hours do you work?

Normally it's Monday to Friday, 9.00 am to 5.00 pm but I may need to work during the odd evening.

Who do you work with?

There are about 20 other people in our team, as well as the consultants.

What qualities do you need for your job?

You've got to be friendly and good at dealing with people. Patients can feel very intimidated about having their photograph taken. Confidentiality is vital too and you have to respect the patient's privacy. You need to work well under pressure because there are always deadlines to meet.

Why did you choose this type of work?

I have always loved photography but the other areas of the profession I worked in didn't really grab me. Medical photography is different. I find it fascinating, so I decided to specialise. But the photography definitely comes first, and an interest in medical matters is secondary.

What training have you done?

I trained for two years at Brighton & Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, and before that I had learnt the technical side of photography doing my BTEC and degree courses. I've just completed a post experience certificate from the IMI by distance learning, which means I can move up to a higher pay scale.

What equipment do you use?

As well as cameras, computers play a big part in our work, especially now that most of the pictures we take are digital. You need to know how to download the pictures onto PCs, and understand the main media computer programs. All the images are stored on a computer database and we have to colour correct them and often put them into computer presentations for consultants, which we supply on CD.

What do you like/dislike about your job?

I love the fact that no day is ever the same and that I use a camera everyday, because that's what I trained to do. Sometimes things can be upsetting and a lot of people will open to you and talk about their illness. But you need to be able to distance yourself.

How do you see your future?

I'd like to manage my own department.

What are the particular challenges in your work?

You never know exactly what you are going to be photographing and that's what makes it interesting. As with all forms of photography you've got to be on top of all the technical aspects. Lighting is especially important and the pictures need to be as natural and clutter free as possible.

Rachel's route to becoming a medical photographer

  • BTEC National Diploma in Photography and Video, followed by a photography degree.
  • Worked as a magazine photographer and as a portrait photographer.
  • Moved into medical photography.

Rachel's tips

  • The Institute of Medical Illustrators (IMI) website is full of information and worth visiting.
  • There are jobs in medical photography all over the country so be flexible about where you want to work.
  • Get used to using the relevant computer programs.

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Salary of a medical photographer

  • Within the NHS there are set pay scales for medical photographers.
  • Trainees starting on the MTO1 level, earn £12,800 - £15,500; those at MTO2 level earn around £15,500 - £19,600, and those at MTO3 about £20,500 - £24,000.
  • Levels MTO4 and MTO5 are management positions with a salary range of £24,000 - £35,000.

Getting in

  • Most medical photographers have a qualification in general, technical or scientific photography from HND upwards.
  • The IMI degree in Medical Illustrations is now a widely accepted qualification.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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