I took this class as part of my minor in bioethics, humanities, and society. I have never taken an anthropology class before so I was unsure about how it was going to go. However, I really enjoyed this class and would recommend it to anyone thinking about going into the medical field. Before taking this course, I would have never second-guessed any doctor’s treatment plans because that is all I have known. After learning about all the other cultures, I realized that Western biomedicine is not always the right way.
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman was one of the major tipping points for me. After reading Lia’s story and the way the healthcare professionals treated her and her family, I realized that there is not necessarily a “right” way of healing someone. Anne Fadiman adds in Chapter 17: The Eight Questions a conversation with Neil Ernst asking if he wished he had never met Lia, and he replies with “Lia taught me that when there is a very dense cultural barrier, you do the best you can, and if something happens despite that, you have to be satisfied with little successes instead of total successes. You have to give up total control” (272). This answer is what I feel most doctors must realize when treating patients from different cultural backgrounds. The patients are going to want to do what they grew up and have learned from others of the same culture; just in the same way we only want them to use biomedicine. To receive the best care possible, both patient and doctor need to be able to compromise. “The Story Catches You and You Fall Down: Tragedy, Ethnography, and ‘Cultural Competence’” is a review of Anne Fadiman’s book and Janelle Taylor states “Their [both parents and doctors] unwillingness to compromise, their constitutional inability to bend before the will of another, was, for both parties, the hamartia, the tragic weakness that is the flip side of all that is admirable about them” (165).
An interesting book that I found that would make a good addition is “Medicine Across Cultures: History and Practice of Medicine in Non-Western Cultures” by Helaine Selin. In this book, traditional healing practices are describe for different countries all over the world and even some ancient times. The whole book can be read online through the MSU library page.
Overall, I am really glad I chose this course and I have learned a lot about cultural differences in medicine that I will carry with me throughout my medical career. My eyes have been opened to other cultural beliefs and how others deal with Western biomedicine when they believe in a more spiritual way. “In the end, no single approach to health care has all the answers; the search for the best solution to a medical condition often requires a willingness to look beyond one remedy or system of treatment” (583).
Straub, Richard O. “Complementary and Alternative Medicine.” Health Psychology. 4th ed. Newy York: Worth, 2014. 550-84. Print.