As Paul Farmer states in his article explaining medical anthropology, it might not be “as action-packed as Indiana Jones makes it appear”. However, I would hasten to add to that for those who interested in learning about the medico-cultural approach, it is still as adventurous to trawl through the vast mire of knowledge to find gems about how culture is intertwined with the medical profession. And as Paul Farmer sums up, medical anthropology can be a “rich and satisfying career”.
The area of applied medical anthropology I would like to investigate is global health. For the past few years my interest in medicine has been fueled by my desire to one day return to homeland of my forefathers, Pakistan, and to help alleviate some of the afflictions caused by poverty and lack of access to medical resources. I hope to have a gap year in my studies to assist people in remote areas gain treatment. One of the biggest problems faced by third world countries like Pakistan is financial constraint. Two famous Pakistani celebrities established hospitals after their mothers died due to lack of swift access to hospitals and proper treatment. This would suggest that this problem is so wide scale that even the affluent are not spared the wrath of living a poor nation.
My ultimate goal is to work as a plastic surgeon and with the primary goal of helping burn victims. I hope to be able to use the knowledge gained in this class as well as other such learning opportunities to serve my patients better. An understanding of medical anthropology comes in useful when working with patients who are suffering the trauma and embarrassment of their burn scars. Sensitivity is paramount in such cases and cultural awareness helps to enhance that sensitivity. Technology is not the only tool for healing and sometimes just having cultural sensitivity can help a patient feel better undergoing treatment. As we learned in the placebo effect video, patient/doctor interaction can mean the difference between wellness and ill health. In some cases, poor interaction or cultural awareness can lead to increases in incidences of certain cultures getting serious illnesses; in some extreme cases, medical anthropology understanding can actually become the difference between life and death (the nocebo effect). Medical anthropology is about treating patients on their cultural terms rather than our own narrow westernized ideologies. Understanding of this subject allows a doctor to develop a fair and balanced approach to the understanding and treatment of disease. My favorite part of this week’s lecture was the statement given by Dr. Paul Farmer in honor of Dr. Jim Yong Kim, a medical anthropologist who was selected as the head of the World Bank. In his statement, Dr. Farmer sums up the role of medical anthropologists succinctly, via his compliment of Dr. Kim, saying
“Again and again, we his friends and colleagues have seen Jim imagine a better future, one that harnesses new technologies and older but sound notions of justice and equity, and links this vision to much more than talk and reports and studies”