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Medical Anthropology

Medical Anthropology is concerned with the social determinates of health and disease, including poverty, social inequality, race and class. It investigates how developments in science and technology are altering the delivery of medical care around the world and expectations about health, treatment and the life span. Anthropological research increases our understanding of health-related beliefs and behaviors of all kinds.  It has both theoretical and practical utility and addresses the work and politics of health care institutions, the impacts of violence and disruption on health and well-being, pain, suffering and care, and ethical dimensions of cultural life. The Medical Anthropology Doctoral Program at UCSF has three primary missions:


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Sketch of scientist at work

History of Health Sciences

Founded in 1930, making it the second-oldest history of medicine department in the United States, the History of Health Sciences graduate program is concerned with the historical development of medical practices, disease categories, biomedical technologies, and healthcare systems. With an emphasis on modern (late nineteenth to twenty-first century) American and European contexts, our faculty and students investigate how medicine, health, and illness are historically perceived, and how these perceptions reflect and shape culture and society. Examining the role of the patient, provider, institution, and state in healthcare systems, the program provides students the ability to understand how medical ideas and practices have been deployed and negotiated in different historical contexts. History of Health Sciences offers two degree programs:  

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Sketch of a female medical patient

Medical Humanities

The Medical Humanities provide an interdisciplinary and interprofessional approach to investigating and understanding the profound effects of illness and disease on patients, health professionals, and the social worlds in which they live and work. In contrast to the medical sciences, the medical humanities – which include narrative medicine, history of medicine, culture studies, science and technology studies, medical anthropology, ethics, economics, philosophy and the arts (literature, film, visual art) – focus more on meaning making than measurement. This cross-disciplinary area of activity engages healthcare professionals and students across the campus (in medicine, basic science, and social sciences and humanities) to offer elective courses, supervision for independent elective study, public talks, publishing scholarship, and public outreach. 

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After presidential candidate Rick Santorum recently stated that American history was no longer offered at most UC campuses, reporters at several media outlets were quick to set the record straight. Several, including television hosts Rachel Maddow...
Sharon Kaufman
Sharon Kaufman, PhD, Professor Emeritus of the UCSF School of Nursing and a Professor of Medical Anthropology (in Residence) started her tenure as the Chair of the Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine effective...

UCSF has a proud history of welcoming students with all types of disabilities into the professional schools and the graduate division. We pride ourselves in giving individualized consideration of each student’s abilities, the functional impact of their disability, and program standards in order to devise creative and innovative accommodation solutions to ensure equal access to students with disabilities.

The Graduate Programs in Medical Anthropology and the History of Health Sciences are committed to providing access to graduate students with disabilities and will provide reasonable accommodations as necessary. Applicants with disabilities, who are invited for interviews, will be offered reasonable accommodations if requested.

UCSF does not require that students with disabilities disclose their disability status on the admissions application. Decisions around disability disclosure are personal ones that should be carefully considered. Once students are admitted, they should contact Student Disability Services to begin the Disability Services registration process if they wish to ensure that accommodations and services are in place for the start of their courses.

Help support the research, teaching, and public outreach missions of the Department of Anthropology, History & Social Medicine through a tax-deductible donation. Information about our memorial funds is found below. For information about establishing a named endowment, see the UCSF Named Endowment website.