Medical Anthropology

How do understandings of health and illness vary cross-culturally? What factors—social, cultural, ecological, economic—impact health and well-being around the world? What happens when different medical systems come into contact and conflict? These are a few of the many questions medical anthropology seeks to answer. Focused on the study of health, illness, healing, and healthcare systems across sociocultural contexts, medical anthropology is a rapidly growing subfield of anthropology relevant to a number of related disciplines such as medicine, community and public health, nursing, and psychology. Students of medical anthropology learn to use anthropological methods such as participant observation and interviews to understand individual and community health and their connections with broader sociocultural processes. 

In addition to academic work, those trained in applied medical anthropology are increasingly in demand outside of universities. Just to name a few, they work in hospitals and clinics, where they might analyze the role of culture in treatment or act as liaisons between professionals and patients; they are instrumental in international development projects, where they might develop culturally appropriate healthcare initiatives or assess the efficacy of already existing initiatives; and they are employed by governmental agencies, where they might interview community members about barriers to healthcare access. 

Students currently studying medical anthropology at UNC are involved in research and community engagement projects, including Project HealthViews, a research collaboration with Salud Family Health Centers in northern Colorado. Through Project HealthViews, students get real-world medical anthropology experience while benefiting a community partner and helping to improve healthcare in the region. 

If you are interested in medical anthropology, contact Whitney Duncan for more information.

Research in Oaxaca, Mexico

Dr. Whitney Duncan

In addition to traditional medicine, patients also have the option of a local health center in San Miguel Tlacotepec, Oaxaca. Photo by Whitney Duncan.

In addition to traditional medicine, patients also have the option of a local health center in San Miguel Tlacotepec, Oaxaca. Photo by Whitney Duncan.

Herbs used to treat a number of ailments sold at a market in Juxtlahuaca, Oaxaca. Photo by Whitney Duncan.

Herbs used to treat a number of ailments sold at a market in Juxtlahuaca, Oaxaca. Photo by Whitney Duncan.

Anti-hepatitis public health outreach in San Miguel Tlacotepec, Oaxaca. Photo by Whitney Duncan.

Anti-hepatitis public health outreach in San Miguel Tlacotepec, Oaxaca. Photo by Whitney Duncan.

Professor Duncan with a masked dancer at a patron saint festival in San Miguel Tlacotepec, Oaxaca. Photo by Daniel Robles.

Professor Duncan with a masked dancer at a patron saint festival in San Miguel Tlacotepec, Oaxaca. Photo by Daniel Robles.

Traditional healer in Oaxaca, Mexico, comes to a diagnosis by "reading" the yolk of an egg that has been passed over his patient's body. Photo by Whitney Duncan.

Traditional healer in Oaxaca, Mexico, comes to a diagnosis by "reading" the yolk of an egg that has been passed over his patient's body. Photo by Whitney Duncan.