Ethnomedical Approach

I think that that it will be helpful to understand and use the ethnomedical approach while studying health.  I believe that the ethnomedical approach focuses on the relationships between illnesses and cultures.  One day, I hope to travel around the world and provide dental treatment to those in need.  By understanding different cultures views and beliefs of illness and disease I will be able to more successfully work with and treat patients.

Initially, the difference between disease and illness was not obvious to me.  I believed them to be almost interchangeable.  I now understand that a disease is just the physical aspects of an illness.  Illness is the disease, how people view the disease, how people deal with the disease and their overall experience with a disease.

In the article, Miner is talking about the North American, and more specifically the American culture.  I first realized this when he stated that, “they are a North American group,” living between Canada and Mexico with a market economy.  Miner also makes historical references relating to the United States.  The Nacirema and Americans also have several things in common: both are worried about appearance, cleanliness, mental health, etc.

The first ritual I found particularly interesting was the mouth rite ritual performed by the holy-mouth-man.  This consisted of putting powder and hog hairs on one’s mouth.  The Nacirema believed that without mouth rituals they would have a variety of oral health issues, such as bleeding gums, and would be socially rejected.  The Nacirema continued to visit and have faith in the holy-mouth-men even when they continued to have decaying teeth and poor oral health. This is also true of the medicine men.  The article suggests that medicine men actually increased a patients chance of death by poking, prodding and stabbing.  Although many died after visiting the medicine man, the Nacirema continued to visit them with hopes of being cured.

Other rituals I found interesting have to do with physical appearance.  People fasted to become skinnier, and feasted to become fatter.  Breast size was also important.   Rituals were performed to make large breasts smaller, and small breasts bigger.  Women with particularly large breasts we idolized.   This shows just how important the Nacirema believed appearance to be.  Americans today do similar things.

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  1. Shelby Brewington says:

    Although this was written 50 years ago, it is very surprising that many of the rituals they spoke of in this article still apply to our current health values and ideologies. For example in your first example of how the mouth ritual was performed, consisting of hog hairs placed into the mouths of the Nacerima in order to prevent health issues such as bleeding gums, and prevent social rejection, I truly believe that this ideology applies to a certain extent. Our current health values still urge people to brush their teeth at least twice a day, especially at morning and at night. This is to prevent health problems such as gingivitis, and cavities. However, in one sense I believe things have changed since now dentists suggest to use a less rigorous brushing pattern in order to prevent gum recession from excess brushing. This idea could now be incorporated to more closely tie in the health values of today. Also, in our day in time now, those who do not have good oral hygiene are not discriminated against. Sure, maybe they receive odd looks from time to time but mostly, now days people look at poor dental health as a financial issue and know better than to be rude. This is an aspect of the text that could again be updated.

    The second ritual is one that displays ideologies still immensely seen today. Girls starve themselves now in order to be stick skinny, girls go under the knife to enlarge their breasts and now their butts. Physical appearance as stressed with this Nacirema ritual in my opinion does not need to be updated in any way. Women and Men will go to extreme lengths to gain a particular appearance, and some body types are idolized more than others.

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