W7: It’s All About Perspective

I took this class because a friend recommended it to me as a very interesting and worthwhile elective. I am so grateful for taking this class, and for the timing. This summer I finally decided to change my future career path and plans for after graduation to pursue PA school. I believe this class helped me realize that this is what I want to do and that I want to be a part in changing Western medicine

Before taking this class, I never would have second guessed Western medicine or any of my own doctors decisions. This class showed me that just because Western medicine is the only way I know, doesn’t necessarily mean it is the right way. The two biggest things I will take away from this class is to not just think of the biomedicine aspect of treatments, and also to be respectful and considerate of how other cultures practice medicine. In week 3 we learned all about the perspective of Western medicine and how it related to other medicine standpoints, such as the Chinese. When listening to the lecture about how chemotherapy can effect our water, the nurses, or the caregivers of the patient, this made me realize there are many more factors to a treatment plan then the scientific results (Gabriel, 3.2). I had never thought of medicine to be influenced much by culture, family, or beliefs, but I quickly changed my mind when reading every piece from this class from Juli McGruder’s study in Zanzibar to all of the stories about Lia in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.

Another part of this course that really affected me was when we learned about emerging diseases and how some of the information concerning these diseases is false. I was stunned to read about how malaria is not really a tropical disease, and how Ebola shouldn’t be considered an emerging disease (Farmer). Other communities suffer from these diseases all the time and do not have quality medical care or medicine. My favorite reading from this class is definitely Partner to Poor by Paul Farmer. The major point that stuck with me from this reading was when Farmer questions why we refer to these “emerging diseases” the way we do when so many generations have already experienced them. He then goes on to suggest that the answer may be because we feel the people being affected now are simply more “valuable” than before (Farmer, 1996). I definitely would consider myself a little naïve, and this class helped show me that there are so many perspectives on medicine and that it is no ones job to decide what is right or wrong, or who is worth or unworthy of medical attention and care.

A reading I recommend to be added to this course is Chapter 229 “Dealing with Patients from Other Cultures” from the 3rd edition of Clinical Methods. This chapter does a great job of discussing the problems with Western medicine, and specifically how it needs to change when it comes to treating people from different cultures. The viewpoints align with those we learned in this course and go more in depth about how to make a change in Western medicine. One of the lines in the intro does a great job of summing up the problem with Western medicine when it comes to patients, “Biomedicine must use approaches that recognize and account for the views and values of the individual and of cultures, not only in determining the nature of a patient’s problems but also in describing solutions” (Putsch, Joyce 1990). I think this piece does a great job of explaining this topic in a more medical perspective, but not too intricate where it would be hard to grasp.

I am very fortunate to have had room in my schedule for this class. I will carry a lot of this information with me for a long time to come. I hope I can remember to value other cultures perspectives and the patients when it comes to medicine later in my life.


Putsch, Robert W., and Marlie Joyce. “Dealing with Patients from Other Cultures.” Dealing with Patients from Other Cultures. 1990. Accessed August 17, 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK340/.

The “Does it Work?” question and the nature of science. Cynthia Gabriel. Lecture 3.2. 2016. Accessed August 15, 2016. http://anthropology.msu.edu/anp370-us16/lecture-videos/the-does-it-work-question-and-the-nature-of-science/

McGruder, Juli. Madness in Zanzibar: An Exploration of Lived Experience. College University Press, 2003.

Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997.

Farmer, Paul. Partner to Poor. CA: University Of California Press. Accessed August 17, 2016.

One thought on “W7: It’s All About Perspective

  1. Emma,
    WOW! You really took the words right out of my mouth. You explained so accurately the way I felt about this class. Although medical anthropology seems like it would be a course with very discipline-specific concepts, I was surprised at just how many of the things I learned will follow me for the rest of my life. Concepts like socially constructed races, and different cultures’ traditions are things I will teach my kids some day. I’ll even consider different birthing practices we learned about when I’m carrying those kids. As you explained, previously I believed the American medical tradition to be superior to others. I’m appalled at how wrong I was, not only in the arrogance and ethnocentrism necessary for that belief, but also that we are even raised that way to begin with. The timing of taking this course was interesting for me as well because of the way our current political situation in this country is becoming so extreme. As people debate the statement, “make America great again”, this only adds to my belief that America was probably never that great to begin with, since our ethnocentrism isn’t even justified by us being statistically better than other countries. I think this class has taught me to look at the bigger picture when it comes to society, rather than blindly believing things I’ve been told.

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