W7: Cultural Combination is Key

During this course, ANP 370 Culture, Health, and Illness, I have learned so much about medical anthropology. However, I believe the most prominent thing I have learned is that doctors, physicians, and all other medical professionals need to have an anthropological perspective when doing their work. When I say this I mean that they need to see their patients as human beings and not as a set of symptoms that need to be treated. This is particularly focused at professionals that use western medicine practices, but could be applied to others elsewhere around the world. By looking at the patient as a whole and seeing him or her in the context of his or her life and the world around them, useful and insightful information can be uncovered that can lead to a more accurate and successful treatment that would not otherwise be thought of if the patient was seen as just symptoms. Going along with this would be integrating different types of healing practices used around the world. Using treatments from a plethora of cultures could potentially be the most successful way to heal, treat, or soothe a patient in my personal opinion. This is because each treatment aims at relieving the same problem but in different ways. Having a multitude of processes intertwining and working together at the same time would be most beneficial to the medical professional and the patient. Because of my understanding of the importance of medical anthropology, I am going to be more aware of the treatments I am prescribed by doctors. I won’t constantly second guess them, but I will try to seek medical opinions from other perspectives as well.

In giving recommendation for a book that would be a good addition to this course, I would choose the book The Scalpel and the Silver Bear by Lori Alvord. While I have not personally read this book, I believe it would be a good addition because the subtitle says “The First Navajo Woman Surgeon Combines Western Medicine and Traditional Healing.” Just by reading the title, the similarity in themes between the course and this book can be seen. In reading the summary, I found that Dr. Alvord, author and surgeon, has a Navajo father and a white mother. Being torn between cultural identities, she ultimately ended up integrating both Native American and Western medicine practices into her work. In sum, she shares her experience of combining Navajo philosophy and beliefs with a Western medical practice. As I stated earlier, using a combination of cultural healing practices in treating a patient is ultimately the most successful and this book is a perfect example of that.


Alvord, Lori. The Scalpel and the Silver Bear. New York: Bantam Books, 1999.

4 thoughts on “W7: Cultural Combination is Key

  1. Hi Grace!

    Im really glad that you learned so much about medical anthropology, as did I! I really like how you mentioned that the biggest thing you took away was that doctors, physicians, and other medical professionals need to have an anthropological perspective when in practice. I also believe that if they did have an anthropological perspective that a huge gap of error would be filled. We have learned from one of the lectures that the relationship between the mind and body are very important. Dr. Arthur Kleinman wrote a book, The Illness Narratives, where a doctor-patient relationship was not successful because the doctor failed to listen to the patient’s social, emotional, and psychological issues, which was probably influencing her health (Kleinman, 1988). Again, we need to move to a system that focuses on all aspects of an individual to reach optimum health. There have been multiple studies researching the effects of a placebo. Placebos help individuals with managing pain but many scientists don’t want to use it, and instead just use two different drugs and see which one was more successful. But, it has been found that placebo’s have been significantly effective. These findings confirm that the mind has a huge influence over an individual’s health.


  2. Grace, I also believe that modern day physicians need to approach medicine with a more anthropological mind. Doctors in our westernized society often see a patient as a set of symptoms on a piece of paper; they view them as a puzzle to be solved rather than a human being. I completely agree that the context of a person’s illness is vital in the treatment of that illness and for maintaining good health. Physicians have a tendency to treat individual problems, if they were to take a step back and view a person’s health as a whole, they might have a better understanding of what will be needed to better that person’s wellbeing. Your thought about combining multiple forms of treatment from differing cultures is brilliant. Why wouldn’t you want multiple treatments working together to fight the same illness? Western medicine needs to go back to its holistic origin, the mixing and blending of many practices. I think that the book you suggested to be added to the course sounds like something that would fit right in. Most of what we are reading is negative, pointing out the flaws in American medicine. It would be nice to read something that points out the positives, shining a light on the people that are moving medicine in the right direction.

  3. Hello Grace,

    I completely agree with you. I believe that physicians should approach medical issues with a more anthropological mindset. Honestly, instead of having psychology and sociology on the MCAT, I feel as if cultural anthropology should replace the sociology section. In my opinion, it would make doctors more well rounded when it comes down to making medical decisions. Not only that, but it would make doctors think about how they treat their patients in regards of respect. Just as we discussed at the very beginning of the course, our health system relies primarily on reductionist views. If our healthcare system was more holistic, I feel as if diagnoses would be more accurate and treatments would be more effective. The book that we were required to read throughout the course is what ultimately had the greatest impact on my learning experience. Not only that, the book also enlightened me on health care issues that I didn’t realize we’re so prevalent. Considering the fact that my major is Public Health, the information that I learned in this course is going to take me a long way. Because of this course I will ultimately be able to look at common issues from a different pair of “cultural lenses” thus helping me resolve issues with a wide arrangement of solutions.

  4. Hey Grace,
    I really appreciated your response to my post! Your post brought up some very thought provoking points though. I totally agree with your statement about health care administrators needing to look at patients as human beings, not an illness. We are more than just flesh and bones. To some people our health is determined through an intangible world (like the Hmong’s for example). Every single person is unique due to the environment they have existed in throughout their life. It’s wild to think people tell other people they are wrong about things just because an idea may differ from their own. I love your use of the word intertwining here! I think because our technology is somewhat more advanced than a country’s where healing may be a prominent form of curing someone, we think we are smarter than them, or that our western medicine ideas are the correct answer. Yes we have seen many stunning breakthroughs with modern biomedicine, but if people have practiced healing traditions for millennia, there has to be something we can learn here.
    Your book recommendation also seems very interesting! Im going to add it to my list. I look forward to learning something about an earlier intersection of the now feud that biomedicine and traditional healing have become.

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