medical anthropology vs mph

I am making a last minute effort to scrape together some information on the field of medical anthropology. If anyone has knowledge about this I would be so grateful to hear it. One of the secondaries I’m submitting gives applicants the option to apply for their MSTP in medical anthropology, and I’m trying to decide if I’m interested.
What I am trying to figure out is whether medical anthropology is mainly an academic profession, or whether such people also work in designing and implementing policies, or carrying out hands on field research. Do you guys who are in med school or beyond ever come across this subject? What impression do you get? If you don’t encounter it often then let me know that too, it says something as well. I have read lots of websites on the subject, and they all talk about the need for “interdisciplinary cross-cultural awareness” and so on, but that doesn’t really tell me much. It’s considered a sub-discipline within anthropology, I think. I don’t see myself working in an office writing purely anthropological papers, but I would love to research things that have cultural or historical aspects to them. There was this book that came out called “Flu” a few years ago that I loved which was about the 1918 flu epidemic. Stuff like that is up my alley, but it has a journalistic bent and I wonder if could get there just as well through a joint MPH program. I hate to say it but the application will be a lot easier to fill out if I just skip the anthro part. On the other hand maybe this is an up and coming field.
Ok, thanks for reading and if anyone wants to chime in I’d love it! I’d love to post this on SDN as well but I’d just get nailed for flaking out at the last moment, and plus I think this subject is one that would interest us multifaceted non-trads more anyway.


There are definitely lots of people using this degree. There are two camps within med anthro. There are the folks who use med anthro as a way not only of understanding other cultures but also of deconstructing Western medicine’s assumptions. (The Berkeley program is weighted towards folks like this.) There are also folks who use it as a framework for improving medicine’s ability to understand the experiences of people across cultures and/or the ability of people across cultures to get access to medicine. (This is more typical of Harvard folks.)

In practical terms there is a growing demand for people who can do cross-cultural research. The biggest struggle in terms of getting funding for research, etc, is a general bias against qualitative methods from big funders; but, I see at least some MD/PhDs in this field doing just fine. Harvard regularly produces one or two of these a year.

I would, however, hesitate to enter an MD/PhD program without knowing for sure that you love the field you’d be getting the PhD in; even those who knew that for sure are miserable as all hell when they’re slogging through this long road, so those who don’t know it are in for a really hard fight.

best regards


Alas, after reading your response I want to do this program even more! I researched it a lot last year and couldn’t quite figure it out, so I’d given up til now.
It’s the whole PhD dilemma that holds me back. I think I will not apply, just on the grounds that if I could live without this option up til now I can probably continue. Maybe I will try to learn more about it and consider it again in a non-PhD form later.
Thanks again!