W7: Medical Anthropology and its relevance

I have learned a lot through taking this course. Some of the issues brought up in this class are detailed problems that may not have come to my attention had it not been for this class. This course covered a vast amount of information, beginning with understanding race versus ethnicity in the first week, to learning about the human biome, specifically regarding biomedicine. I will take all of this information with me as I pursue a career in nursing. Thinking of all of the aspects of medical anthropology when working with patients will only help me to become the best patient care provider that our health care system needs.

The main aspect of the course that I liked best was that of culture and medicine. I found the book which we read “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down,” by Anne Fadiman, to be incredibly important in the effect that this class has. The novel focused on health care for refugees in the U.S.  and their interactions with our nation’s western medical world. Specifically, the book described the story of the Lee family’s troubles with their wish to use their own culture’s medical remedies and the aspects in which biomedicine interfered with this (Fadiman, 1997). The incorporation of this story within this course was greatly influential in the understanding of how real these issues are in today’s world.  I thought this was an important aspect to focus on because it proves how much an integrated medical system is needed. Anne Fadiman pointed this out with her idea to have a cross-cultural medical system where, say a  shaman, could be working with a doctor of biomedicine in order to provide the desired treatment of a certain patient (Fadiman, 1997). Ideas like these are what will get us further in the improvement that is needed within our health care system.

Although a new and improved, integrated system is needed to properly care for our diverse population in the United States, we also first need to focus on original doctor-patient care. This has to do with doctors in biomedicine seeing patients as illnesses to fix, rather than as real people. Another example within the book “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” is when the young girl first goes to the emergency room and after the doctor talks to her, he realizes that all of the notes refer to the girl as a “he” (Fadiman, 1997). This doctor was too focused on the biological and medical side of treating the patient, so much so that he easily forgot about the social issues in the case, the patient’s gender. This is something that is happening all throughout biomedicine, whether it be in our own culture or when dealing with a patient from a different culture. Another important case to point out from this course is the fact that biomedicine tends to ignore social, political, and economic aspects of a patient’s life and only thinks of the cause of a disease to be biologically driven. We, meaning doctors in the United States, need to start to consider social, political, and economic issues to be influences of disease and illness. This is something that we pointed out in the lecture regarding structural violence and the significant effect this can have on any patient’s diagnosis, cross-culturally (Gabriel, 2016). This needs to be more recognized within biomedicine as much as it is in health care systems of other cultures.

One article that I think would be a positive addition to this course is that of Tim O’Shea’s titled “Conventional Medicine vs. Holistic: A World of Difference.” This article is the perfect precursor, or beginning article, to this course. It goes over the main differences between medicine of different cultures and how this is relevant in our biomedical health care system (O’Shea, 2001). The article even goes as far as to explain why our biomedical system is the way that it is, in thinking of diseases specifically as illnesses of different parts of a whole (O’Shea, 2001). Again, it is a very basic article stating the differences within our biomedicine, but it gives a different, unique perspective to any new student beginning this course.

Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997.

Gabriel, Cynthia. “Critical Medical Anthropological Theory.” ANP 370 Culture Health and Illness. N.p., 2015. Web 3 Aug. 2016

O’Shea, Tim. “Conventional Medicine vs. Holistic: A World of Difference.” Cancer Tutor. 2001. https://www.cancertutor.com/conventional-medicine-vs-holistic-a-world-of-difference/.

4 thoughts on “W7: Medical Anthropology and its relevance

  1. Hi Emily,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog post. I agree completely with you and Anne Faiman, with the integrated medicine culture. Allowing mediators, or specifically to the Lee’s a Shaman work with the family and physicians to compromise. It will not only allow the patients to be more comfortable but it was also make sure the physician, for lack of better words, wasting their time. For example, by prescribing medicine a family would never take, or by pushing a procedure that goes against their beliefs. This is so important as our culture in America as like you said, as like we learned, is so diverse. And I agree that many physicians are so focused with the science they forget the person they are actually treating. I like I have probably mentioned it several time in the course but we should treat the person not the disease. Spending more time talking with the patient, using the patients chart still but so completely.
    In terms of the article you suggested it sounds very interesting. We learned a lot about various medical cultures, but there are SO many more out there, an article that discuss a few more certainly would be helpful and interesting. And I think a background in our medical culture would be really relevant to this course as well.
    Any way, good post- Thanks!

  2. Hi Emily,

    I really like how you bring up the importance of integrated health systems. It is truly amazing how western medicine has become some popular despite any amount of focus on culture. I think that western medicine could be abundantly more effective if medical professionals were aware of different cultural preferences regarding health and illness. Especially in America, where so many diverse cultures can be found, it is important for the medical community to understand the importance of culture within health. How can these medical communities expect patients to understand western medical practices when western medical professionals often refuse to acknowledge the different cultures of their patients?

    I also really like the article you include. I think it would be beneficial to have an article that outlines different cultural views of health before we even begin the course. I think this sort of article would be very helpful for students who aren’t really sure of what this course is going to be like. An article such as this would probably help students to see what sort of issues will be discussed throughout the class. An article that explains the importance of understanding cultural differences might also be a good precursor to the course, to ensure that all students understand how cultural differences impact all aspects of life.

  3. Emily, I can’t agree with you more! Great post. If you are pursuing nursing than you can totally use everything we have learned in this course every single day. You can make the difference that other American doctors/nurses may be failing to accomplish. I too am entering the healthfield, and have considered nursing as an option. I know that a lot of nurses get the reputation that they don’t get to create real relationships with their patients because they are always in and out, very quickly making their rounds. I think that after learning how important it is to understand each individual patient’s explanatory model before treating them, you can really change the way your patients view you and your care.
    I also agree with your statements regarding The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. I actually think that any student that is trying to achieve a position in the healthcare should be required to read this novel! It is so eye opening to medical cultures and how power and authority are huge factors when it comes to healthcare. Relevant to today, the novel could also motivate and inspire people to create ways to create peace for the refugees dealing with the foreign medical systems, and to help the people of authority see in the eyes of the refugees.
    Good luck to you, Emily!

  4. I found this class very informative and enjoyable as well. I agree that doctors in the United States as well as all modern medical countries need to make focusing on the patient a top priority to ensure good thorough medical care. Although I am not sure how often it happens now, its pretty crazy to imagine that a doctor could not realize what gender the patient was. Its not like it was an error on a report or something, he genuinely just did not pay enough attention. I like the holistic approach to medicine within modern medicine. My sister is a first year resident and she is a DO rather than and MD. DO doctors do exactly this. Rather than treating symptoms they take a holistic approach taking in to consideration the patients environment nutrition, and body system as a whole. This class got me thinking that maybe we need to have more DO doctors rather than MD because it seems like they could potentially be more thorough. I think you article sounds interesting. I found learning about the differences between our system of medicine and other cultures, as well as the differences between our medical system very interesting to anything adding to that discussion I think would be a good fit for the class.

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