W7: Medical Anthropology

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.

2 thoughts on “W7: Medical Anthropology

  1. I also am minoring in bioethics, humanities, and society which is my reason for taking this class as well. I on the other hand have taken anthropology classes previously and have really enjoyed them all I think anthropology is a really interesting subject. I also have never second guessed any doctors treatment plans because I have always thought that doctors know everything needed to know when it comes to health and sickness. I think that is why it’s hard to think of it from someone else’s perspective of a different culture or religion that views health in different ways. We are so used to our own ways of medicine here in America and just naturally trusting whatever our doctors tell us but the situation needs to be handled differently when other cultures are here in America experiencing our health system. We think western bio-medicine is correct because it’s really all we know firsthand and doctors are so used to only viewing things scientifically and biologically as opposed to taking religion and spiritual beliefs into account. In the case of Lia in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is a prime example of the fact that doctors need to be able to compromise and work with another cultures beliefs, it is never okay for one to force their beliefs on another who believes something different because who’s to say which belief is “right” or better? There isn’t a way of knowing which one would actually be more beneficial to the patient if both parties believe their own opinion so strongly which is why they should meet somewhere in the middle.

  2. Hi Taylor, great post! This is also my first anthropology course that I have ever taken, and I also really enjoyed it. A lot of the points you brought up are similar to what I mentioned in my post as well. I also have always never second guessed my doctors treatment plan for me, I never thought I had a reason to because I was so set on western medicine. After being exposed to so many other cultures and there medical systems, I start to rethink how I should think of treatment.
    I also agree with your thoughts on The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. After reading the story it is true that not one medical plan is right for everyone. There are so many other factors that must be considered. There life style, culture, where they reside, etc. I think one of the major problems with the Western medical system is that we don’t pay attention to all these factors. I loved the quote that you added at the end. Not one system is going to solve everyone’s medical system, the real challenge is finding which system will work in order to treat the person correctly . Great post!

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