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MSc Medical Anthropology

Course Description

Medical anthropology can be described as the study of cultural beliefs and behaviours associated with the origin, recognition and management of health and illness in different social and cultural groups. Despite the name conventionally given to this area of study, medical anthropology is not simply concerned with practices of healing or systems of diagnosis and treatment such as biomedicine. It deals with the more informal systems of health care that exist worldwide (such as self-treatment, folk healers, shamans, traditional birth attendants, and alternative practitioners), as well as those associated with professional Western science-based medicine and caring practices. Additionally, medical anthropology is also concerned with issues which relate to different cultural views of the 'self' in health and disease, as well as shared beliefs, images and practices associated with perceptions of the human body and mind.

The Brunel MSc addresses the above issues in a lively and challenging way. It was the first taught master's degree dedicated to medical anthropology in Europe; and it is the largest MSc medical anthropology programme in the UK. We have the largest number of dedicated and internationally known medical anthropology staff in the country teaching the degree; and around 330 students have graduated with an MSc in medical anthropology from Brunel University. They are now working all over the world in a variety of settings.

Course Content: Modules are subject to variation and students are advised to check with the School on whether a particular module of interest will be running in their year of entry. At the time of printing modules were drawn from the following areas:

Compulsory Modules: Medical Anthropology in Clinical & Community Settings; Anthropology of Biomedicine & Psychiatry; Anthropology & Global Health; Ethnographic Research Methods 1 & 2.
Optional Modules: Kinship & New Directions in Anthropology; Anthropology of Disability & Difference; Anthropology of the Person; Anthropology of the Body.
Plus two unassessed reading modules: History and Theory of Social Anthropology; Issues in Social Anthropology

Set up to honour the life and work of leading light in international medical anthropology Professor Cecil Helman (1944-2009) who taught on this course from 1990, 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.

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

Recent examples of dissertations by students taking this course include:
The Management of Alzheimer's disease.
The relationships between nurses and doctors in managing primary care.
Private experiences and public encounters: selfhood and personhood amidst the chaos of homelessness.

Here's what some of our former students have to say:

Birgit: “When I came back from a mission with Médecins sans Frontières in Mozambique, where I had worked on an HIV/AIDS programme, I searched for training opportunities and found out about Medical Anthropology at Brunel. I was thrilled – the subject matter described exactly what I had experienced in project work: divergent perceptions of sickness and health from a Western medical perspective and from a ‘traditional’ point of view.

The difficulties communicating essential health messages threatened the aim of prevention, and a great need was felt to better understand local ideas of mother-child health in the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I was attracted by the perspective to learn how to conduct qualitative studies on health-related issues, and fascinated by the stance to comprehend ‘culture’ not as a normative and static condition, but as a constant process of negotiation and renewal.

I had the great opportunity to return to Mozambique for the dissertation fieldwork, studying traditional concepts of child nutrition and child health. I could pursue questions that were crucial in my past project work, and which were essential to the success of HIV/AIDS prevention. Writing transformed into something very unexpected, especially when working on the dissertation. It became an opportunity to think things through, to contextualize, discuss, explore and explain conclusions. Investigation and writing were two separate and still corresponding parts of an intense learning process. This process also taught me about ethical dilemmas in anthropological enquiry, about methodological constraints and limitations of inference, and it raised questions on what both tradition and human agency may mean.“

Julia: Whilst retaining our core values the NHS is being challenged to adopt new ways of commissioning and delivering quality services that are patient-focused and safe. So where does Medical Anthropology come into this change agenda?

It was not until I started my Masters that I really began to undertstand the concepts of culture, disease and illness, and how fundamental these are in influencing the NHS organisation. The course has challenged me to think differently and has transformed the way I plan and deliver patient-centred care, how I interact with colleagues and how I in turn educate professionals within our organisaiton.

I cannot recommend the course too highly, from the content of the modules to the excellent support of all the staff in the department. I have been provileged to have had this transformational learning opportunity.

Entry Requirements

Normally a good Honours degree from a UK institution; an equivalent overseas qualification; or an equivalent professional qualification (eg from a health background or similar).

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Recipient: Brunel University London

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