Medical Anthropology

Medical Anthropology is the study of health and healing from an anthropological perspective. Academic research in medical anthropology draws on different theoretical approaches, with a shared emphasis on increasing our understanding of the diverse ways in which cultural, social, and biological factors influence human experiences of pain, illness, suffering and healing in different settings. In addition, medical anthropology investigates the social, political, and economic contexts in which health behavior and health systems are shaped.

Issues studied by medical anthropologists include, but are not limited to:

  • cultural understandings of bodies and bodily processes;
  • risk and protective dimensions of cultural norms and behaviors;
  • illness experience and social meanings of disease;
  • health effects of human ecologies and adaptive processes;
  • and biosocial factors related to disease distribution and health disparities.

Medical Anthropology also includes applied research geared toward solving specific problems related to the delivery of health care, including improving health care policies and systems, enriching approaches to clinical care, and contributing to the design of culturally valid public health programs in community settings around the world.


Some careers in this field include:*

  • University Professor
  • Health Education Professional
  • Public Health Researcher
  • Epidemiologist
  • Medical Scientist
  • Health Care Administrator
  • Health Outreach Coordinator
  • Health and Social Policy Analyst
  • Health Care Consultant
  • Social Worker

* Most or all of these require an advanced degree or some additional professional training

Suggested anthropology courses

  • Evolution of Life Histories (306)
  • Global Health in Human History (308)
  • Evolution and Culture (310)
  • Human Population Biology (312)
  • Anthropological Population Genetics (313)
  • Human Growth and Development (314)
  • Medical Anthropology (315)
  • Forensic Anthropology (316)
  • Human Evolution (317)
  • The Anthropology of Reproduction (332)
  • Psychological Anthropology (377)
  • Environmental Anthropology (383)

Suggested related courses

  • Genetics and Evolutionary Biology (Biological Sciences 210-1)
  • Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (Biological Sciences 210-2)
  • Physiology and Cell Biology (Biological Sciences 210-3)
  • Systems Physiology (Biological Sciences 325)
  • Biology of Aging (Biological Sciences 327)
  • Biological Aspects of Disease (Biological Sciences 340)
  • Population Genetics (Biological Sciences 341)
  • Phylogenetics (Biological Sciences 343)
  • Field Ecology (Biological Sciences 346)
  • Early European Medicine (Classics 342)
  • Economics of Medical Care (Economics 307)
  • Science and Modern Society (History 376-1,2)
  • Medical Sociology (Sociology 355)

Relevant fieldwork and internship placements