“Unpack the question”, the PhD student in our first essay writing lecture tells us. What is the question? Well the question that I now get asked on a daily basis is:
“What exactly is medical anthropology?”
The answer is… err I don’t know. YET.
But this is the path I have now chosen. An unconventional one, to say the least. I spend 2 days a week on the geriatric wards, writing discharge summaries and PR’ing old dears who haven’t opened their bowels in 4 days and the other 3 days I am at UCL studying a masters in Medical Anthropology. When people ask what or why, I mumble an answer about the interrelationship between healthcare and different cultures. Anthropology is the study of people. So medical anthropology must be the study of health and medicine amongst people, right? Maybe?
I’ll let you in on a secret.
I am studying it because I read Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens”. The same way that I chose to study medicine because I watched “Scrubs” as a 16 year old and got excited by cannulating a piece of pasta during my teenage work experience at Broomfield Hospital.
Sapiens is described as a brief history of humankind, but when I was so engrossed in it this so-called “history” was my present reality. I read it whilst embarking upon a social experiment for Channel 4 where 23 strangers were put together on a deserted peninsula on the Scottish Highlands.
Our mission was to build a new community in which we would not only survive, but thrive. We were hunter-gatherers, agricultural farmers and modern medics all entwined into one culture. A new anthropological tribe of which I was an immediate participant observer. There I discovered why I had chosen medicine, as well as why I had chosen to participate in this bonkers project. Not because I was interested in disease or social isolation, but in PEOPLE.
Enough about Eden. That was my past and this is my future. I will perhaps write about it but only in the context of the anthropological concepts that I will study and how it relates to my experience there, essentially doing fieldwork in a remote environment with a brand new culture that WE created.
Instead I will document my studies in medical anthropology in a blog that may entice other medics to try and understand why I would sacrifice my clinical professional career, my finances and my time to study the fascinating topic that I know nothing about.