Public Health and Medical Anthropology

I chose public health because it is what I want to do with my life. I have always been driven to work in some area where I could help people, and for the longest time I thought that was by becoming a doctor. That was until I read the biography of Dr. Paul Farmer, the same that the 60 Minute video was about. I read his story, Mountains Beyond Mountains, around my Freshman year of college, ever since then I’ve know that I want to work in public health. I am looking to go to graduate school and get my Masters in Public Health, and I would eventually like to set up clinics that can provide medical care to those who may not regularly have access to it. I have thought about working over seas, and I am not necessarily opposed to it, but I also know that there is just as much need for better access to health care right here in the United States. There is some need in a lot of inner city areas here, like Detroit for instance, but I also know from personal experience that there is just as much need for better access to health care in a lot of rural areas. The closest hospital to my home town was 30 minutes away, and if it was anything serious or urgent you’d have to go to a hospital that was almost an hour away, so there is definitely need there.


I can definitely imagine working in that kind of situation. I’m originally from Ohio, and my town sits right in the center of Ohio’s “Amish Country”. There are a lot of doctors, who are definitely not anthropologists, who work with the Amish but don’t really understand them too much. An Anthropological approach would be very useful in the area of public health because it would allow doctors like these to understand the cultures of the patients that they are working with and better provide care for them. Much like Paul Farmer looked at the culture of the Haitians and made a system of care that works with their culture, anthropologists working in public health could do the same for cultures around the world.


“Mountains Beyond Mountains” by Tracy Kidder, 2009

2 thoughts on “Public Health and Medical Anthropology

  1. Just post I am along the same lines are you. I felt that the best way to help people was to be a doctor and that would be my career goal. I would like to eventually seek a masters in public health, but currently I am pursuing nursing. I think you had great point where an anthropologist can help the health care system. I situations of cultural communities not only can having someone understand the culture, but understanding the language can be so beneficial. I think it is great that you have enthusiasm for helping out near home. It is very true inner cities and rural areas do have problems with health and health care just like under-developed countries. An anthropologist could help to demonstrate a cultures diet and need for nutrition and public health workers can make sure that policies and programs are in place to help those people. You always here about nutrient dead zones in detroit where most people buy there food at liquor stores and eat all processed food. The closest grocery store can be twenty miles away and not having access to a car makes it impossible to access healthy food. The lack of healthy food creates poor health and the cycle continues. I think this is a great example of where public health and medical anthropology can work together. In terms of culture, the food culture can be changed by the limits people have to produce.
    When talking about the amish, I found it a great point to represent all the different types of people that need to be serviced. Since America is the melting pot, I think we may need the help of anthropologists more because our country has an enormous amount of different people living here. Our health care workers cannot possibly know the needs of all the different cultures.
    I have been taking spanish class in hopes of being able to provide beter health care to spanish speaking patients when I am a nurse. Our country is constantly changing and steps need to be made to accommodate all people who may walk through the door of a hospital.

  2. I also wrote my blog on public health and medical anthropology. I agree that there is so much room for improvement in our own country’s healthcare system. People are definitely suffering all over the world and I think the amount of charity work and fundraising done by our country is amazing. At the same time, it is sad that we often neglect our own citizens without even looking back. A very popular topic right now is the implementation of a universal healthcare plan. I am right on board with this idea because I think that just as we are all created equal and have basic human rights, we should all have access to the same basic services despite our income or class levels. Plus, if other countries are able to do it and are receiving positive feedback from their citizens, then why shouldn’t we look into it further?

    My family often takes trip to Indiana and Ohio and we love visiting Amish bakeries and shops. I have a huge respect for their way of life and the motives behind it, and when people misunderstand them, I find myself getting frustrated and defensive. I had never thought about them being misunderstood in the medical setting, and I love your idea of using anthropology in that way. I agree that if doctors were more educated in anthropology that they would benefit from it greatly, not just through their state of health but in communication lines/relationships as well.

    As a patient, I actually have changed my view on western medicine slightly. I was previously open to hearing about alternative therapies but never really took them seriously. Now that I have seen the aspects of other cultures’ views on medicine, I have sort of distanced myself from biomedicine in certain cases and begun looking into other options. I now think of health and medicine as a part of culture rather than a standard concept that is shared by all. It is something that can be experimented with, liked or disliked, and approved or disapproved. There is no right or wrong way, in my eyes, to treat a person. What matters is how the person reacts. The lessons I have learned in this course will help me in my personal life as well as in my career.

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