A medical anthropologist
Cecil Helman qualified as a doctor in South Africa, but his interest in medical anthropology has made him a leading authority in the field. Tiago Villanueva set out to discover what medical anthropology is all about, what its importance is to the practice of medicine, and how medics can get involved with it
- By: Tiago Villanueva
Medical anthropology is about how people in different cultures and social groups explain the causes of ill health, the types of treatment they believe in, and to whom they turn if they do get ill. Medical anthropologists are particularly interested in the sorts of questions that people ask themselves when they fall ill. Why has it happened? Why to me? Why now? What should I do about it?
I fear not, especially in hospital based medicine. From the patient's perspective, this often involves a rushed consultation with a white coated stranger—someone they've never met before, and who knows little about their family or background, their beliefs, anxieties or experiences, their religion or culture. On the other hand, general practitioners usually still have a much longer contact time with their patients, often spread over years or even generations. They tend to know more about patients' social backgrounds (especially from home visits)