Public Health and Anthropology

I picked public health because I plan on going to school for nursing.  I think taking this class and learning about medical anthropology has given me a view of medicine and disease I would have otherwise been oblivious to.  Since nurses seem to play a pretty big role in public health, I think understanding this area from an anthropological perspective can help nurses and doctors answer various questions that may not have been answered from a biomedical perspective.

An article by Dave Campbell sheds light on the contributions anthropology can make to the public health arena.  Campbell says, “Public health’s primary concern is to improve the health of a population”.  Anthropologists are able to study certain populations and their culture in order to provide a more integrated perspective in a clinical setting.  Anthropologists can also use a more holistic approach in order to see the “whole picture”.  This perspective can help to identify all factors (from the root up) that may contribute to a certain problem.  For example, if a certain demographic in Detroit is more commonly infected with a certain type of disease, a medical anthropologist can look into several factors contributing to that problem.  This can give health providers the knowledge of where that disease is spreading from, why that certain demographic is more susceptible, what kind of health care is being provided, whether that demographic is educated in how to help treat and prevent that particular disease, various cultural issues associated with that disease, etc.  Most doctors and nurses are grounded in the philosophies of Western medicine, so they generally look to the sciences and biomedicine for answers.  However, when questions and problems are not able to be resolved when looking at them from a biomedical perspective, medical anthropologists can provide an interpretation unbiased by the philosophies of Western medicine.

Campbell, Dave.  2011. “Anthropology’s Contribution to Public Health Policy Development.”  McGill Journal of Medicine 13(1):76.  Accessed August 9, 2013.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Keiana Smith says:

    Hi Amber, I totally agree with your assessment of Public Health and its relation to Medical Anthropology. Although I my reflection post was based on Community Health and Medical Anthropology, I found that it is not much different from Public Health. For example, the program that I worked for was a Community Health program but it had foundations from Public Health. It covered areas such as statistics, population, environmental health, culture, and disease. The program was linked to the CDC to keep records of diseases, illnesses, and health in certain areas. Public Health is key to understanding these areas because it allows for community based programs to be introduced to these communities and populations to ensure the well-being of the people that inhabits the environment. Another key point to the importance of Public Health is it open doors for community based programs to offer early detection of many illnesses and diseases. It also offers prevention and educational classes and tips to ensure that the patient stays in good health or change their lifestyle to a healthier one. I believe that you covered all the bases with how Medical Anthropology is important to Public Health. In my comparison of Public Health to Community Health with the aid of Medical Anthropology is the same. For instance, doctors, nurses, and all other Clinicians need to know what causes so many people to be stricken with TB in a certain part of town in order to know how to treat and prevent the spread of the disease. That is where Medical Anthropology plays a huge roll in to get stats and gather information on that particular part of town. Thus, this is where Community Health programs are formed to get medical attention to the patients in that area rapidly. This was very good post and an insightful analysis of Dave Campbell’s article.

  2. Ashley Hall says:

    Hey Amber,

    I think you found a great article on Public Health that really supports your claims about how medical anthropologists and health care systems can function in relation with one another. Something you may not have thought as much about would be the advice a medical anthropologist could give to the health care team. As you mentioned before, medical anthropologists are dependable because they give us the facts or an unbiased look into a culture. Perhaps because of this they can cross reference different cultures, how their health care systems worked and what functioned and why. Instead of just looking at the culture or society in which one is implementing this system, it may be wise to look at other examples. They could use this information not only for building a better public health care forum, but also it could be used to help prevent future health problems. For instance, if HIV/AIDS was a large problem in Africa, it would be relevant not just to their society, but ours as well, to take the time to look over what caused this epidemic. Additionally, it would be nice to compare and contrast societies. When I look at Britain’s public health system versus that in a third world country, it would benefit me greatly to use the knowledge about both to make decisions for my own. There may be different factors involved in all these cultures, however, they’re all dealing with one larger issue and it’s important to take notice of it.

  3. mackin24 says:

    I agree with your comparison of the health care system with medical anthropologists. Another thing that anthropologists could contribute to the system would be how health care systems function at multiple levels, including the individual level of patient experience, the microlevel of physician-patient relationships, the intermediate level of local health care systems, particularly hospitals and clinics, and the macrosocial level of global political-economic system. By dividing these relationships each category of the public health system can get the specific attention it deserves. I think this is a great way to organize the public health system, and place them each at significant levels of importance. The anthropologists have a significant way of thinking, which includes focusing on each area asking what the catalyst is for a majority of the medical fields biggest problems. By separating any task into smaller categories or groups there is more likely to be a valid solution presented. I admire the way of thinking these anthropologists possess, and I see nothing but good things coming from their work in the aspect of public health issues. After extensive research of this job title I have decided I would like to pursue a career in this field of work.

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