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  • Study Type

    Full time & Part time available

  • Subject Areas


  • Start Date


  • Course Duration

    1 year full time; 2.5 years part time

  • Course Type


  • Course Fees


  • Last Updated

    06 June 2017

Course content

About the course

Brunel was the first university in Europe to establish a Master's degree in Medical Anthropology. Since then we have continued to develop our programme to reflect the changing world in which we live.

In short, Medical Anthropology can be described as the study of cultural beliefs and practices associated with the origin, recognition and management of health and illness in different social and cultural groups.

Literally hundreds of students – doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, social workers and other medical professionals among them – can testify to the quality of our programme, having used it either to enhance their professional practice, to change career or to develop their research interests for future studies.

Anthropology at Brunel is well-known for its focus on ethnographic fieldwork: as well as undertaking rigorous intellectual training, all our students are expected to get out of the library and undertake their own, original research – whether in the UK or overseas – and to present their findings in a dissertation. Students take this opportunity to travel to a wide variety of locations across the world – see “Special Features” for more details.

Attendance for lectures full-time: 2 days per week - for 24 weeks
Attendance for lectures part-time: 1 day per week - for 24 weeks (in each of 2 years)


The degree aims to equip students with a broad, general understanding of anthropology and how it might be applied to medical and health-related problems.

You will develop a deeper understanding of how people’s ideas about the world, as well as the structural constraints within which they find themselves, have an impact on their understanding and experience of health, sickness and disease.

You’ll achieve this through close study of key texts in medical anthropology, the original fieldwork experiences of your lecturers, and through designing and undertaking your own research project.

If you’ve wondered about some or all of the questions below – all of which are addressed in the degree – this could be the course for you:

How does poverty contribute to the profiles of diseases such as diabetes and tuberculosis?
Why are some diseases, such as leprosy or AIDS/HIV, feared and stigmatized?
Why do some biomedical interventions seeking to control infectious and non-infectious diseases work, and others fail?
What might stop some patients seeking conventional treatments for cancers and other conditions – even when they are offered for free – despite the apparent efficacy of the medicines available?
How does one make the distinction between the healthy and the pathological? Is being ‘disabled’, for example, always a negative state, or might some consider it just another, equally valid, way of being?
What are the effects of political, economic and other social conditions on people’s experiences of what, from a biomedical perspective, might be considered the same diseases?
How and why is it appropriate to combine insights emerging from clinical and epidemiological research with ethnographic understandings of health, illness and disease?

The Brunel Medical Anthropology MSc addresses these issues and more in a lively and challenging way, through a programme of lectures, class discussions, and your own – personally directed – final dissertation research project.

Course Content

The main objectives of the course are to provide a rigorous grounding in key topics and perspectives in medical anthropology, and to equip candidates with a range of research skills to enable them to complete research successfully.

The MSc consists of both compulsory and optional modules, a typical selection can be found below. Modules can vary from year to year, but these offer a good idea of what we teach.


Compulsory modules:

Compulsory Reading Module: Political and Economic Issues in Anthropology
Compulsory Reading Module: Contemporary Anthropological Theory
Dissertation in Medical Anthropology
Ethnographic Research Methods 1
Ethnographic Research Methods 2
The Anthropology of Global Health
Applied Medical Anthropology in the Arena of Global Health
Medical Anthropology in Clinical and Community Settings

Optional modules:

The Anthropology of the Body
Anthropology of the Person
Kinship, Sex and Gender
Anthropological Perspectives of Humanitarian Assistance
Anthropological Perspectives of War
Ethnicity, Culture and Identity


Year 1

Medical Anthropology in Clinical and Community Settings
Compulsory Reading Module: Political and Economic Issues in Anthropology
Compulsory Reading Module: Contemporary Anthropological Theory
The Anthropology of Global Health
Applied Medical Anthropology in the Arena of Global Health

Year 2

Dissertation in Medical Anthropology
Ethnographic Research Methods 1
Ethnographic Research Methods 2
and optional modules


Assessment is by essay, practical assignments (e.g. analysis of a short field exercise) and a dissertation of up to 15,000 words. This dissertation is based upon fieldwork undertaken by the candidate. There are no examinations.

Special Features

All our degrees (whether full- or part-time) combine intensive coursework, rigorous training in ethnographic research methods, and a period of fieldwork in the summer term (final summer term if part-time) leading to up to a 15,000 word dissertation.

Students are free to choose their own research topic and geographic area, in consultation with their academic supervisor. In all cases, the dissertation research project provides valuable experience and in many cases it leads to job contacts – forming a bridge to a future career or time out for career development.

In recent years, students have undertaken fieldwork in locations across the world, including India, Mexico, Bolivia, Papua New Guinea, China, Nepal, Peru, Morocco, and New Zealand as well as within the UK and the rest of Europe.

Special scholarships

Cecil Helman Scholarship Fund
Set up to honour the life and work of leading light in international medical anthropology Professor Cecil Helman (1944-2009), the Doctor Cecil Helman Scholarship Fund provides fieldwork support for between two and four students on our MSc Medical Anthropology course.

Dr Helman taught at Brunel University London from 1990, and became a Professor of Social Sciences in 2005. In 2004, he was awarded the American Anthropological Association’s career achievement award, and the following year he won the Royal Anthropological Institute's Lucy Mair medal.

As well as leading the way in Medical Anthropology, Dr Helman exercised his artistic talents through his paintings, poems, fables, and short fiction – all of which revolved around a theme of the human side of medicine and the narratives that surrounded the doctor-patient relationship.

The Cecil Helman Scholarship Fund offers between two and four students up to £1,000 to help them to complete field research for their dissertations.

The scholarship will be awarded to MSc Medical Anthropology students who demonstrate excellent academic performance and the ability to undertake an original field research project.

Visit the Medical Anthropology - MSc page on the Brunel University London website for more details!




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