The Mission of the Program in Medical Anthropology
Medical Anthropology increases our understanding of health-related beliefs and behaviors of all kinds, from the precise products of science to the silent rituals of culturally scripted healing. Anthropological research on social and cultural processes in the arena of health have both theoretical and practical utility addressing many of the central quandaries of the human condition: from social suffering and institutional inequality to chronic pain, warfare, and everyday violence. The Medical Anthropology Program at UCSF has three primary missions:
- To conduct original critical research that builds the knowledge base of medical anthropology.
- To train new generations of medical anthropologists for careers in research and education.
- To prepare medical and other health professional students for the complexities of clinical practice and for effective scientific engagement in an increasingly diverse and internationally linked world
We aim to contribute useful and critical anthropological knowledge for the promotion of human wellness, the relief of suffering, and the treatment of disease, through research and training in collaboration with other health professionals and social and behavioral scientists. In a global era of rapid social change, anthropological knowledge can help health professionals meet the urgent practical and moral challenges of the 21st century.
What is Medical Anthropology?
Over the years, a growing need has developed for interdisciplinary training which relates socio-cultural systems and patterns of human variation to physical and mental health problems. Within the last quarter century, the rapid pace of social change - migration, urbanization and technological advances in medicine - has created new problems in the provision of health care to large sectors of the population. These changes have seemingly promised a better quality of medical care, yet, in fact, socio-economic, ethnic, age, gender, and other inequalities in health care delivery continue. It is becoming widely recognized now that ethnic and class differences, among others, affect both access to health services and relationships with the medical establishment. With this realization has come an urgent need for research, training and program planning and evaluation relating socio-cultural factors to the control of disease and the maintenance of health. As a subdiscipline of anthropology -- the study of both socio-cultural and physical aspects of humans and human groups -- medical anthropology is in an unparalleled position to make positive contributions toward the understanding and resolution of many of these problems.
There are presently about 1700 members of the Society for Medical Anthropology, a sub-unit of the American Anthropological Association, and the interest and concern in research and instruction in this field are increasing daily. Despite the rapid growth of the field, and the increasing recognition of its importance, few institutions of higher learning are equipped to offer a full range of instruction and research opportunities in medical anthropology, and fewer still are able to provide such opportunities within both medical and community settings.
Foundations of the Joint Program
Taking cognizance of these needs and of the rich resources and facilities available on both the San Francisco and Berkeley campuses, the Regents of the University of California authorized these campuses to offer a joint PhD degree in Medical Anthropology. The primary objective of this joint degree program is to produce sophisticated and well-rounded medical anthropologists, fully equipped to handle both theoretical and applied problems in health care and community settings, as well as in academia.
Emphasis in the UCSF Program is on providing students with the concepts and skills requisite for careers in health research, teaching and public service. Through work in both institutional and community settings, students are trained to identify and analyze both the formal and informal aspects of health care systems, and to understand the relationships between the socio-cultural and biomedical dimensions of health and illness beliefs and behavior. This training is coupled with the more traditional, theoretical approaches gained in formal course work -- theoretical training which enables students to place their practical knowledge into broader cross-cultural contexts and frameworks.
The program described here provides specialized training leading to the PhD in Medical Anthropology. It emphasizes the integration of interdisciplinary academic programs, supervised trainee field work in medical settings, community-based research, and workshops in field research methods and data analysis.
Recently, the field of anthropology has clearly distinguished between its socio-cultural and physical sub-fields. With the application of anthropology to health problems, however, the sub-disciplines, along with the medical sciences, find common intellectual ground in both theory and practice. This joint approach is reflected in the present Program, which presents a broadly-based training for our students.