Thursday, July 1, 2010

What is Medical Anthropology?

As noted on my "About Me" page, I am an aspiring Medical Anthropologist. I have always loved Anthropology, in various form, even before my university days. I loved reading prehistorical fiction novels, like a big nerd, even in middle school. I know a lot about how ancient tools were made, canoes were built, and animals were domesticated by early peoples. I know what animals they hunted and how they built their homes.

In college, Anth courses were definitely my favorites, and I learned a lot about socio-cultural anthropology. Cultural anthropology is what I focused on for my senior honors thesis, and I loved conducting ethnographic field world abroad. 

(Ethnography: A research method of the social sciences in which data collection is often done through participant observation, interviews, questionnaires, etc. Ethnography aims to describe the nature of those who are studied.)

But my most recent passion is, of course, birth culture. So, naturally, I'd love to combine my love of birth, breastfeeding, women's health, pregnancy, and so forth, with my love of cultural studies. And that is what I am working towards. 

The combination of cultural studies and women's health, is, in effect, my intended area of medical anthropology.

The Society for Medical Anthropology, of which I am a member, defines Medical Anth: 

Medical Anthropology is a subfield of anthropology that draws upon social, cultural, biological, and linguistic anthropology to better understand those factors which influence health and well being (broadly defined), the experience and distribution of illness, the prevention and treatment of sickness, healing processes, the social relations of therapy management, and the cultural importance and utilization of pluralistic medical systems. The discipline of medical anthropology draws upon many different theoretical approaches. It is as attentive to popular health culture as bioscientific epidemiology, and the social construction of knowledge and politics of science as scientific discovery and hypothesis testing. Medical anthropologists examine how the health of individuals, larger social formations, and the environment are affected by interrelationships between humans and other species; cultural norms and social institutions; micro and macro politics; and forces of globalization as each of these affects local worlds.

Medical Anthropology research tends to have enormous potential to be turned into implementing community health programs. "Local and qualitative ethnographic research is indispensable for understanding the way patients and their social networks incorporate knowledge on health and illness when their experience is nuanced by complex cultural influences," it says on Wikipedia. 

Thus, Medical Anth is often strongly connected with the field of Applied Anthropology. Applied anthropology refers to the application of method and theory in anthropology to the analysis and solution of practical problems. Applied Anth applies anthropological research to contemporary issues. For instance, with a health slant, a research project on how cultural factors influence the spread of HIV. This has a lot to do with another field that also researches and implements change in health, Public Health. 

I hope that I explained all the intersections well, in an attempt to explain the dual degree Applied Anthropology and Masters of Public Health Program I am starting in the fall.

What is Public Health?

Public Health Doula recently wrote a whole post explaining public health, part of which I have copied here, because it is a great explanation:

What is public health?
- Public health deals with populations, rather than individuals

- So public health professionals tend to work on programs, policies, administration, and research - not with personally delivering services to individuals

- Public health focuses much more on prevention than on treatment

I can't speak to all programs, particularly more technical ones, but I think I can safely say most MPH programs generally aim to equip you with a good understanding of how diseases and health conditions occur on a population level. Other focuses can be on how to administer public health programs (e.g. a vaccination campaign) and how to monitor and evaluate those programs (e.g., devise a plan to make sure that the vaccination campaign is reaching the populations it was targeting, and then assess whether it made a difference on vaccination rates in those populations, and whether the difference was big enough to justify spending all that time and money). They may also cover particular content areas (e.g. courses on epidemiology of infectious diseases, or an overview of HIV globally) or skills (e.g. advanced statistical modeling techniques).

A master's in public health is more practice-oriented than research oriented (versus a doctoral degree in public health) - generally considered a "professional degree" like, for example, a master's in social work. While some people in an MPH program may be there as a stepping-stone to a doctoral degree, most are there to go right back out into the workforce. So a master's program generally will have less emphasis on research and more on practice. This isn't to say that MPH grads don't go on to do research, but they also go on to do a huge range of other types of work.

The area I am focusing on in Public Health, so that I can study maternity care and breastfeeding, will be Maternal and Child Health.

Maternal and Child Health:
Providing information and access to birth control; promoting the health of a pregnant woman and an unborn child; and dispensing vaccinations to children are part of maternal and child health. Professionals in maternal and child health improve the public health delivery systems specifically for women, children, and their families through advocacy, education, and research.

So one day I hope to be able to use these forthcoming degrees to bring about positive change in the areas of public health, and eventually enter a PhD program to become a Medical Anthropologist. 

1 comment:

  1. Salaam. Hello
    My name; Hafez Assad, I am a undergraduate student from Indonesia (Hasanuddin University) - actually I will get my degree this December. I am interest to your opinion used anthropological view about medical anthropology, birth, and breast feeding. My specification medical anthropology with sub anthropology of food, with thesis about food provision of islander (fisherman), used medical anthropology in ecological perspective. Next, I wish have an opportunity to take master, and more deep about medical anthropology.
    This my email;
    or skype; assad.assad83


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