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Mirror Works: Picture OF health; DEVELOPING A HOBBY PUT MEDICAL CAREER IN FOCUS.

Byline: BY JOHN KERCHER

WHEN Vicki Linehan left school after her GCSEs, she had no idea what she wanted to pursue and certainly never imagined she would land a job as a medical illustrator.

"I was working in administration in a sales office, biding my time for a while," she says.

"Then, eight years ago, it occurred to me I should develop my interest in photography, which had only been a hobby."

As a result, Vicki, 27, from Cambridgeshire, decided to take a job in a pub to help pay for a National Diploma and City and Guilds course in photography.

"It was hard work and long hours trying to fit everything in but I was determined," she says. "And I was thrilled when I passed with distinction. I knew that I had now found the path I wanted to follow but I needed to get a full-time job."

Looking for leads on the internet, Vicki found one in the British Journal of Photography.

"There was a specific section for recruitment in photographic work and I found a listing for a trainee medical photographer at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in London," Vicki explains. "I'd never heard of anything like that before but I applied because I thought it sounded interesting. I went for the interview and got the job."

It took her another year of studying to gain Accreditation of Prior (Experiential) Learning run by The Institute Of Medical Illustrators. This gave her the qualifications required to embark on a Bachelor of Science degree in Medical Illustration.

"I did it by distance learning for three years, which was good because I was able to earn a salary at the same time as gaining experience," she says.

"I was very proud of myself when I graduated in November last year, where I was also awarded joint prize of the Peter Kilshaw Memorial Quaich for the best investigative project."

Medical illustration is a service providing clinical photography and graphics to healthcare professionals.

"The idea of a medical photograph is to record a patient's condition, as the doctor has seen it in the clinic," Vicki says. "The photographs can then be kept as part of the patient's confidential records and, if the patient agrees, can also be made available for teaching doctors and medical students.

"I was a bit nervous during my first day in surgery - I was required to photograph a head and neck operation, and produce a sequence of images. "I wasn't squeamish about it but I didn't really know what to expect. However, I was also very excited because I knew that I was contributing something to the medical profession.

"And, fortunately, there was another photographer with me that day who could advise me."

Vicki uses Nikon digital cameras to do her work. "If I'm doing studio shots of before and after an operation, then I use a Nikon D1 and a macro lens," she explains. "But when I'm in the operating theatre, I always work with a zoom lens so I can get in close without getting in the way of the consultant."

Vicki also does illustrative work using desktop publishing software on a computer.

"I often have to produce posters for presentations or conferences as well as patient information leaflets," she says.

While most medical photographers are based in hospitals and medical schools, some work in-house and others part-time.

As for Vicki, who commutes to London each day, she loves working at a small hospital where all the staff are friendly and become good mates.

"I came into this work not knowing anything about the profession," Vicki says, "and, now that I have the knowledge and expertise I need, I look forward to it every day."

A starting salary as a trainee can be about pounds 15,000 a year and there is a distinct career path.

"I now want to study for an Master of Science in Medical Illustration because I would then have more recognition to run a larger department with more staff," says Vicki.

"Sometimes, I wonder how I turned a casual hobby into a fulltime career in such a specialised area. I'm doing something truly worthwhile in a profession I feel extremely passionate about."

CAPTION(S):

CLOSE-UP Vicki Linehan is a medical illustrator Picture: ADAM SORENS0N; SNAP DECISION Vicki turned her hobby into a full-time job
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 30, 2008
Words:726
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