Clinical Anthropology

I picked the intersection of Clinical Anthropology because it focuses on how different cultures experience illness and the importance of knowing the distinctions in order to treat them. My intended career is forensic pathology, which deals more closely with deceased people and figuring out their different causes of death. Because of this, I feel that understanding the clinical aspect of anthropology would be the most helpful for me. Clinical anthropology is described as “the study of healing systems around the world and the use of these systems, processes and techniques in clinical settings.” The ability to apply cultural and world-views into medicine, in my opinion, is important in order to diagnose and treat patients from diverse backgrounds.


Imagining for a moment that I work for an area in healthcare where my provider is not an anthropologist and say, just a general doctor, would definitely affect the way we viewed our patients. An anthropological viewpoint is sometimes essential because it:


  • Helps you understand the patient as more than just a product of genetics
  • Allows the patient to be seen as an individual with a history of cultural illnesses
  • Acknowledges the patient’s cultural and environmental tendencies and tries to find a solution/ prevention method that combines both.
  • Helps view communities as a united whole with sick individuals.
  • Understanding the implications and correlation of Ethnicity vs. Individualism AND Individualism vs. Ethnicity.


While the doctor I work with will be trying to find a way to cure or medically aid the patient, I-with the anthropological mindset- will find ways to help the prevention if that illness. Like in the Fides article, “rather than relying…on biological and medical approaches,” finding effective “behavioral approaches.” It’s about further contributing to the problem, instead of just finding a quick fix for the problem. Unfortunately, this is something that many patients don’t like, because as humans, we want our current ailments to be fixed right then and there, instead of being used to help prevent the same occurring to someone else. However, it’s not just about giving medication to a patient and assuming they will make sure to use the drug they have been given, its about appealing to the patients cultural background as well. Lecture 1 for this week discussed the idea of mothers with HIV not breastfeeding their child to be a good way to reduce the risk of the child becoming sick, however, this practice of not breastfeeding your child infringes on the mothers cultural tendencies. An anthropologist would, in this situation, come up with a way that would help the mother understand the risks or protect the child in a way where its mother’s milk wouldn’t cause them any harm. Take the Ebola article as an example. As the article describes, when deaths were sudden within the sub-Saharans, the people blamed it on some kind of sorcery, instead of seeing it as a disease that was contributed through the distribution of bodily fluids. The Ugandans saw Ebola as a “bad spirit” instead of a virus. How is a general doctor supposed to understand the traditional/cultural significance that the people looked at Ebola with? Without an anthropologist, treating the people would have never worked.


Even though I will mostly be dealing with dead individuals in my intended profession, it is still important to know the cultural and traditional contexts in which the person’s cause of death was seen and in order to rightly address the conditions in which I received the body. If I am given the task of examining a young African girl with what would appear to be genital mutilation, I as a regular doctor with no anthropological views, would just assume that she was a victim of some kind of murder and that it caused her death when in reality, it was an action indigenous to her culture. Some African cultures believed that women shouldn’t feel pleasure, as this was a “mans job,” and would therein perform circumcision on young girls from infancy to the age of 15, by removing her clitoris.



-Poon, Linda. “Why Anthropologists Join An Ebola Outbreak Team.” NPR. Accessed August 8, 2014.

-Winslow, Deborah. “Welcome to Fall at NSF Anthropology.” Anthropology News: 51.

-“ – John A. Rush, Ph.D.” – John A. Rush, Ph.D. Accessed August 8, 2014.

-“FGM: Maasai Women Speak Out | Cultural Survival.” FGM: Maasai Women Speak Out | Cultural Survival. Accessed August 8, 2014.

-Angeloni, Elvio. Anthropology 06/07. Dubuque, Iowa: McGraw-Hill/Contemporary Learning Series, 2006.

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