Clinical Medicine Anthropology

The area of applied medical anthropology that I chose to further examine is clinical medical anthropology. Clinical medical anthropology involves my personal interests and future plans because I aspire to be a physician. Applied medical anthropology is critical in a clinical setting because as a clinician one will come across all types of people, cultures, norms, and practices. As a physician, it will be important for me to approach each patient with a mindset separating the situation from what I am accustomed to, to most effectively benefit the patient. I know that it would be important to try to understand as much as I could about the patient to treat them to the best of my ability. The Tribal Jazzman Scholar video from this week put some things into perspective for me and helped me grasp the importance of anthropology in a clinical medical setting. One example that was talked about in this video told the story of a woman living in Peru in the 1970s that came up with an intervention plan to stop the incidence of sickness due to E.coli. She put on a campaign to teach women to boil water before drinking to kill the bugs. When she returned some time after, she was puzzled by the people continuing to drink the water without boiling, and continuing to get sick. The problem with the woman’s plan from this example was that she did not approach the situation from an anthropological standpoint. Turns out that the people believed there to be a spirit in water essential that was essential for them, that would be destroyed by boiling the water. Thus, they chose to not boil the water and continue to get sick. This woman thought that she was providing assistance with her plan, however was not aware of the customs of the people she was trying to help, thus demonstrating the importance of approaching such situations from a anthropological view.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. J. Brodie Timms-Fryer says:

    I can definitely reciprocate with the reasons why Joseph chose to write about clinical medical anthropologist, even go on to say it clearly put to words what I wanted to convey in my post. It is extremely important to understand the culture of a patient given that this could potential create a barrier that would impede the best medical care. I want to say there is more to consider when implementing a clinical medical anthropologist but furthering the understanding of a patients culture, practices, and norms would be vital in the best treatment possible. The only thing that comes to mind would be going to far with understanding. I believe there is a potential that one could overlook and maybe be too accepting or too malleable in treatment that may endanger the patient but would respect their culture, practices, and norms. So a fine line would have to be drawn as to what would be acceptable to adapt to a persons culture etc. and what would not be amendable. It is almost reassuring that the only bad thing would be too much of a good thing in this case. So it is completely wise and in the best interest of the patient to understand them but it also wise to be weary of how far it is necessary to cater to the patient.

  2. Taylor Young says:

    I definitely agree with Joseph when he states that applied medical anthropology is critical in a clinical setting because you will come across all types of people, cultures, norms, and practices. It is very important to take into account the cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs of patients when they are being treated because it can offer insight into the diagnosis for the patient as well as set guidelines as to how the patient can be treated. Understanding the patient from a medical anthropological standpoint will definitely have an effect on the treatment of said patient. It can create a more trusting bond between patient and clinician and it could lend helpful information to the way future patients can and will be treated. I also agree with the previous comment on this blog post. There is a point where understanding may go too far. Clinicians will want to understand their patients’ cultures, backgrounds, beliefs, etc., but understanding them enough to be able to treat them properly and not allowing the situation to become counterproductive. In this sense counterproductive would mean providing more bad than good in terms of the patient’s health. For a physician, there has to be a logical balance between understanding and providing beneficial care for the patient.

  3. Meghan Kinter says:

    I completely agree with Joseph’s post. It is often times so easy to be set in your own ways and it is absolutely vital for a medical professional such as a physician to seperate what they are accustomed to when thinking of the best way to approach a particular illness. Just as Joseph mentioned in his post, this is because there are so many different beliefs, cultures and background it would be foolish not to. One thing that was somewhat overlooked about how medical anthropology can contribute to this particular intersection would be that it gives the medical professionals a more empathetic edge to them. By researching and studying different cultures and customs it allows medical professionals to put themselves in others shoes which I truly believe is a huge factor in providing phenomenal care to patients. If you understand where someone is coming from it is much easier to come up with a treatment or solution that it optimal for both the physician and patient. It also would create a better relationship between the patient and the doctor, better care can be provided when a patient trusts and feels comfortable around their physician. For medical professionals medical anthropology is very benefial to the success of their career.

  4. Katie Peterson says:

    Hey Joseph,
    I agree with your post completely. You gave a very good example about the woman in Peru. I’m looking to be involved in the medical field as well, so I think it would be very important for me to approach every patient and every situation with the mindset that the patient is an individual person that could very well have a different cultural background that I’m not used to. I think a problem nowadays in medicine is that people are grouped together based on the illness they have, but everyone living with Bipolar Disorder isn’t the same. Cultures and individual backgrounds matter, and I think it’s important to approach each patient with this anthropological mindset in order to treat that patient to the best of one’s ability. I also agree with Meghan in the previous comment about how getting to know a person’s background and culture builds a better relationship with the patient and doctor. I think this personal connection is very important. If a doctor takes the time to get to know where one comes from and their cultural background, not only will they be more effective in treating them, but it creates a personal relationship between the doctor and patient. This can make the patient more trusting and it can overall improve the treatment process.

  5. Anthony Jurayj says:

    The example used in this post was a great example on why clinical based anthropology is crucial in aiding populations as a whole. Targeting and grouping people based on their chief complaint and symptoms is not an accurate extrapolation of what the general consensus of that population feels, nor is it consistent with the universal clinical intervention used on most patients. In order to best treat patients, the approach all clinical physicians must use is one similar to anthropologist, where culture taken into consideration and applied into clinical discussion making and treatment. In order for the treatment to be most effective, the patient must not only have trust in the physician but also in the treatment itself, and if that treatment violates their cultural or traditional belief system, then it won’t have the most influential affect. The western approach to medicine has been very direct, treating the symptoms of the patient rather than a more holistic approach (which has become more prevalent recently) that treats the patient completely. The holistic approach incorporates not only the physiological and physical manifestations of the disease, but also the psychological and social aspect, as well as every other perspective in order to get the best and complete understanding of what is going in in the patients life.

  6. Justin Crane says:

    I have to say that I almost entirely agree with you. I also want to be a physician one day and I agree that it will be important to approach each patient with an open mindset and the notion that their cultural beliefs strongly influence their health status. If nothing else this class has taught me that how people think about their medical situations is nearly as important as the healthcare they receive. However, I feel that it’s important to explain to some patients that while their cultural beliefs may be completely valid, there are certain truths in science, and that ignoring them will make it almost impossible to get healthy. As you said in your example, the people in Peru continued to drink the water without boiling it because they believed in a spirit, when we know for a fact that boiling the water will keep them from getting sick. Far be it for me to say whose beliefs we should follow, but I will always struggle with the idea that some people will believe in spirits and mythical creatures more so than proven science. Now I believe in God, but when I get sick I take medicine because it’s been proven to help. I’m not sure what that says about me but I think the world would be a healthier place if people followed that logic. So all in all I think you’re right, Joseph. Applied medical anthropology is critical in the healthcare system. My only question is whether it should be exercised in all situations, or if it would be better to appeal to proven science over a cultural approach in some cases. Hopefully someone of you can offer your opinion and let me know what you think.

  7. Brannden McDonnell says:

    I also chose to write about clinical anthropology and your post makes many good points that I did as well. Like you said, if you do not understand where a person is coming from and their beliefs, then your attempt at treating their illness could be a complete waste of time for both parties involved. When addressing another person you cannot make any broad assumptions such that they will understand and believe anything you say because believing in anything such as spirits and ghosts is foolish, because you do not know how they were raised or taught to believe. Like your example with the E. Coli in the drinking water; what seemed like a completely sensible and straight forwards solution to a problem turned out to not even be considered by the people in Peru.

    While learning of other’s culture is important, one has to make sure that they do not put too much importance on the info they have obtained and turn it into a stereotype of other cultures. Each patient must be looked at with an open mind that may follow most of the stereotypes of a certain culture, but disagree with others. Each person is unique and a separate puzzle that must be solved from the ground up.

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