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Medical Anthropology

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.

 Ph.D. Applicants - Admissions Procedure

The Medical Anthropology Program Application for Fall 2014 is currently available online for Fall 2014 admission. (Link to online application). Please note that all applications must be completed online no later than January 1, 2014.

Your application will not be complete until the Graduate Division has received the $80 application fee ($100 for International applications). You have the option to pay by credit card at the end of the online application or by check. Instructions on how to pay by check will be available on the website (all checks should be made payable to the UC Regents). Applicants who are disadvantaged economically may submit an Application Fee Waiver form to the Graduate Division. This form is available on the application website.

GRE Scores/TOEFL Scores: All applicants are required to take the Graduate Records Examination (GRE). GRE scores should be no more than five years old. UCSF Institution code is 4840.

MA Requirement
UCSF admits students who have a master's degree or equivalent.

All foreign students whose native language/mother tongue is not English must also take the TOEFL examination. Official reports of GRE and TOEFL scores must be matched on your online application.

You will be asked to enter the following information online:

Current Address
Permanent Address
Phone Number
Statement of Purpose
Example of Written Work
Other Schools
Demographic Data
Resume/Curriculum Vitae
Letters of Support (three are requested)

Access the Medical Anthropology online application here.

You should submit transcripts directly to the Department:

The Chair, Admissions Committee
c/o Kathy Jackson
UCSF Medical Anthropology Program
3333 California Street, Suite 485
San Francisco, CA 94143-0850

The Program operates under strict admission ceilings and rules set by the Graduate Division. Applicants are therefore encouraged to see that all application forms, transcripts, and supporting materials are sent to the appropriate persons before the deadline date.

Notification of selection for the Medical Anthropology Program at UCSF will be made in March, although formal admission to the University is made by the Dean of the Graduate Division, usually a few months later.

Personal Interview
No prelimary interview is necessary in applying to the Program. Applicants wanting further information may contact the Director of Graduate Studies in Medical Anthropology, Dr. Ian Whitmarsh.

Although the Medical Anthropology program cannot guarantee funding, we try to provide fellowships to students in their first two years (stipend and fees). After the first two years, the department nominates students for competitive internal grants, but students are expected to apply to external grants, and possibly work as Graduate Student Researchers or Graduate Student Instructors to cover costs after their first two years. If funding cannot be secured through grants, student instruction, or research, the Financial Aid office is available for students to apply for student loans.


MD/Ph.D. Applicants:

Students applying to the Medical Sciences Training Program (MSTP. Also known as MD/Ph.D. in Medical Anthropology) must submit the Medical Anthropology program application by December 1st each year.

Please note that the SOM and MSTP Medical Anthropology Interview Dates will be in January.

Please read our guidelines (mstp applicants info.pdf) prepared specifically for MSTP applicants.

Full application can be found here (MSTP Application web.pdf)



For Medical Anthropology courses currently being taught, click here.


Past Course Offerings in Medical Anthropology:

Anthropology 200: Off Campus Study. Staff. Full-time graduate study in the Medical Anthropology Program through the inter-campus exchange or consortium program.

Anthropology 205A-B: Intro to Sociocultural Medical Anthropology Theory. This two-quarter sequence covers the development of major theoretical ideas in social and cultural anthropology as applied to the study of medicine, medical institutions, healing, health and illness. This graduate course consists of a weekly seminar supplemented by selected readings, brief reviews of contemporary work, and a major written paper. Enrollment is restricted, primarily to first year students in the inter-campus Medical Anthropology Program, and requires consent of the instructor. This is a REQUIRED COURSE for students whose home campus is UCSF.

Anthropology 211A : Research Training Seminar I: Introduction to Ethnographic Research. In-depth introduction to research design and field methods. Problem formulation, research design, and the use of specific methods is highlighted from a variety of perspectives. Emphasis is on identification and development of a research problem, the development of research questions, and the relationship to appropriate methods for fieldwork that takes place in a clinical setting during 211B.

Anthropology 211B: Research Training Seminar II: Fieldwork Training. A hands-on seminar on issues that students experience in the course of their individual field research projects. Emphasis is given to simultaneous data collection, data analysis, and further refinement and development of the research problem. Attention is also given to writing field notes, and to preliminary analysis of field notes, such as the creation of core categories.

Anthropology 211C: Qualitative Analysis. Introduction to anthropological methods of data analysis, including an overview of methodological approaches and in-depth practice in one or more domains, using data collected in 211B.

Anthropology 218: Professional Skills
This course provides a foundation in professional skills necessary for an academic career in the social sciences or humanities, including preparing manuscripts and submitting them for publication, preparing a curriculum vitae, crafting grant proposals, and constructing course syllabi.

Anthropology 220: Program Seminar. Faculty, postdocs and students gather for presentations of contemporary research issues.

Anthropology 225: Contemporary Issues. Focused analysis of current debates and issues within medical anthropology.

Anthropology 248: Group Study. Groups of two or more collaborate on special problems in anthropology under the direction of faculty. Students may select areas related to their long-term interest and future research program.

Anthropology 249: Directed Reading. Independent Study.

Anthropology 250: Research. Consent of instructor.

Anthropology 251: Critical Gerontology. Use of critical theoretical perspective to re-frame contemporary debates in gerontological/geriatric literature.

Anthropology 252: Introduction to Health Policy. The health policy making process will be examined from a cross-cultural and political perspective, including factors influencing policy formulation, policy makers and other actors in the policy process, and the role of national and international health organizations and special interest groups.

Anthropology 254: Introduction to International Health. This course explores the field of international health within the broader context of health and development. Basic issues related to major diseases and conditions in developing countries, including international health organizations and their influence on approaches to prevention, treatment, and control will be reviewed from a cross-cultural perspective.

Anthropology 297: Special Study. Independent Study

Anthropology 298: Dissertation Writing Seminar. Open to students who have advanced to candidacy and who have completed doctoral dissertation fieldwork. Restrictions: Seminar is limited to students who have completed their fieldwork and are in the dissertation writing phase of their degree. This seminar is for students who have finished fieldwork and data collection, and are writing their dissertation. The objective of the seminar is for students to produce draft chapters for their dctoral dissertation.

Anthropology 299: Dissertation. For graduate students engaged in dissertation research and writing.
Course Offerings in Related Disciplines

In addition to these courses, a number of courses are available to students in other Schools, Departments and Programs on the UCSF campus. These include courses in Ambulatory and Community Medicine, Psychiatry, History of Health Sciences, Human Development and Aging, Nursing, Pharmacy, Psychology, and Sociology.

The student may also chose electives on the Berkeley campus, including courses in Anthropology, Sociology, Geography, Nutritional Sciences, Public Health, and Social Welfare. Full credit is accorded to the UCSF campus student for courses taken on the UCB campus.

For a complete list of course offerings, please consult the General Catalogues for the respective campuses.

The UCB catalogue may be obtained by writing to the:

Registrar's Office, Sproul Hall,
University of California,
Berkeley, CA 94720.

The UCSF catalogue may be obtained from the

Registrar and Admissions Office,
Box 0244,
University of California,
San Francisco, CA 94143-0244.

There is a charge for each catalogue.

Former Medical Anthropology Graduates and their Dissertation Titles