How do I Become a Medical Anthropologist?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

There is a plethora of paths to become a medical anthropologist and most of these end with people completing doctoral or master’s studies at colleges offering degrees in medical anthropology. Significantly more diverse are studies preceding graduate school entrance, which vary. Most come to this field with medical knowledge, which they’ve acquired from a variety of sources, and all people completing grad school have, at minimum, an undergraduate degree.

Medical anthropology draws upon a variety of academic disciplines.
Medical anthropology draws upon a variety of academic disciplines.

One requirement to enter any form of graduate studies in medical anthropology is ability to understand and interpret medical literature. When looking at problems in human health from a cultural perspective, understanding may be limited if health conditions and their ramifications are not fully comprehended. For this reason, most people who apply to programs to become a medical anthropologist have significant medical training. At minimum, unless having studied public health or medical anthropology in undergraduate programs, people wishing to apply to masters’ of doctoral programs in medical anthropology have practical training, such as a bachelor’s degree in registered nursing.

Becoming a medical anthropologist typically requires obtaining an advanced degree.
Becoming a medical anthropologist typically requires obtaining an advanced degree.

Another way for people to become a medical anthropologist is to first study medicine more extensively by getting an advanced degree, like a nurse practitioner master’s or doctorate degree. Other people major in pre-med in undergraduate studies and then complete medical school. Some medical schools may offer joint majors that lead to an M.D. and a PhD in medical anthropology. It’s easy to see that people join this field from very different backgrounds, but all come to it with ability to understand the medical literature they may study as students and as anthropologists.

One thing people will need to decide when they choose to become a medical anthropologist and have met minimum requirements for entry to graduate school is whether to purse a master’s or doctoral degree. A master’s degree can lead to job opportunities, but doctorates offer a higher level of training and an opportunity to claim expertise in the field. If a person wants to do more than practice medical anthropology in the field, and especially if he or she would like to teach, a doctorate is highly recommended.

It should be noted that some people who would like to become a medical anthropologist will apply to schools offering more than one degree. For instance some programs jointly offer a PhD in medical anthropology and a master’s degree in public health (MPH); these two areas of study are closely joined. Yet, MPH students don’t always refer to themselves as medical anthropologists, and a degree more specific to anthropology might be necessary.

Given different degrees and increasing number of graduate programs in this area, people should take time to research options and determine best programs. Getting advice from working medical anthropologist is advised. The way various degrees are perceived may differ by region, but it’s a general rule that earning doctorates results in greater career flexibility. On the other hand, training possessed prior to graduate studies, like holding an M.D., may render earning a PhD unnecessary.

Most people who become medical anthropologists have medical training.
Most people who become medical anthropologists have medical training.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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