Clinical Medical Anthropology

Though I have a specialization in Global Public Health and Epidemiology, plan on getting my master’s in Public Health and work for Van Buren County Mental Health (a community based health program), Clinical Medical Anthropology is where my future career interest lies as well as personal interests. I believe having a background in the area/intersections of applied medical anthropology I have mentioned above will really help me further a career centered around Clinical Medical Anthropology and Public Health.
I could honestly go on for a long time as to the personal reason as to why I chose Clinical Medical Anthropology, but I will just try and give a quick personal account of how I knew I wanted to have a career in Medical Anthropology and now further in Clinical Medical Anthropology. I have personally seen (and been a part of) a situation in which a nurse and a family member of mine have gotten into an argument over the treatment of the patient (this family members daughter). The patient is physically and mentally disabled and while at the hospital she was being heavily sedated to the point that she was sleeping almost all the time and when awake at all was not very alert or responsive. One of the reasons as to why she was being sedated was that she tries to pull out her IV’s and play with her intubation tube. Though each child on this floor has their own nurse, this particular nurse did not want the patient to be awake enough to do such things, even if her parent was there to watch her and make sure she wasn’t touching any of the tubes. Her mother continued to ask the nurse why she had to give her the medication she was giving her (her mother has some medical knowledge (this was not her daughters first surgery (she has had a great many))) and why she couldn’t just set next to her daughter so she could actually be awake and alert to her surroundings. It was very early in the morning at this point and both the nurse and the patient’s mother were becoming angry with one another (There is a GREAT deal more to this story, but I will conclude here).
Viewing this from an anthropological perspective as I did the whole time I was in the hospital with these family members, it was hard to watch this scene unfold. Both sides mean well, but there was a lack of understanding on the nurse’s side as to how the patient normally acts post-op and how well her family knows her needs (a kind of illness narrative that the patient and family have already developed during previous operations and hospital stays). This is not to say that there wasn’t a lack of understanding by the family of the patient as to why she was being given said sedation drugs. The cultures of these two parties are very different. The family members come from a background and understanding of the patients daily life, disabilities and how she communicates. The nurses and doctors come from the culture of biomedicine where the medications ,drugs and treatments should be administered to the patient in a certain way and that the patient should react to them a certain way and that the patient should be able to communicate any discomfort or reactions. The nurse, using an anthropological viewpoint, could have used the understanding of illness narratives to further understand how the mother and patient view the situation they are in as well as their understanding of the illness and condition of the patient.

(sorry this post was a bit long!)

This Post Has 1 Comment

  1. Laceey Ruble says:

    First of all, you should not apologize for having a long post. Obviously, you are very passionate about this topic, and it shows through your writing. I really enjoyed hearing this narrative, and it is a good illustration of broken communication between the patient and a health professional. I definitely think if a staff member with a clinical anthropology background were working this situation would have been handled differently, and that the patient would have spent less time under heavy sedation. Though, in a situation like this I can see both sides. The nurse probably was not aware of the long history this patient has had with surgery, and was merely basing her actions off of her previous experiences with similar patients. Without that knowledge, how was she to know that the family was more than able to keep the situation under control? That is why I think having a cultural mediator is beneficial for both parties involved. Having a person who understands how to relay open communication within a clinical setting allows the patients to be more comfortable and the health professionals to provide better care. Further, I think training nurses and other health care professionals with a cultural/anthropological perspective in mind can make navigating patient-professional dialogue easier. And once again, thank you for sharing your experience. I think hearing narratives like these can allow people to see that providing health care is not a once size fits all scenario, and that people should be assessed as individuals who come from an array of backgrounds.

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