An Anthropological Approach to Medicine

Oct 31, 2014, 2:00 PM, Posted by

Theresa Yera is a senior at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo. A project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, and Rutgers University, Project L/EARN is a 10-week summer internship that provides training, experience and mentoring to undergraduate college students from socioeconomic, ethnic and cultural groups that traditionally have been underrepresented in graduate education.

When I applied to the 2014 Project L/EARN cohort, I was seeking exposure to anthropological research that would lead me into a career of public health service. I wanted to pursue L/EARN because of my strong interest in anthropology and medicine. My previous experience in health care included studying for the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) examinations, volunteering as a Campus Health Educator (CHE), and participating in qualitative and quantitative research projects for almost three years.

The training as an EMT introduced me to patient and health care provider interaction and raised questions on streamlining the process. It also trained me to think critically and quickly, sharpen my leadership skills, and develop interview questions. Patients complained of many chronic and acute health problems that stemmed from their health behaviors and environment. The CHE initiative led me to value a community approach for health problems. In CHE, I worked to end racial disparities in organ donation and increase awareness of the need for organ donation and a healthy lifestyle. I met many individuals with personal stories that explained why they either did or did not want to donate.

The following summer, 2012, I excelled in biophysical research. I learned the biological mechanisms of health but wondered, “How does this apply to people with an array of other experiences outside of biology?” Subsequently, in 2013, I studied, through qualitative methods, how staff and patients of an East Buffalo family practice interpreted the overlaps between spiritual and medical needs. Learning about patients’ struggles at home and in society stimulated me to continue asking medical anthropological questions.

These key experiences revolving around care inspired me to keep an eye out for more opportunities relating to socio-medical study. I knew that to continue and strengthen my education, it would be important to reinforce. That was when I learned about the opportunity to work with top-notch researchers, learn quantitative research methods, and create three vehicles (poster, oral, and paper) for disseminating research with Project L/EARN. I jumped on the chance to apply because my previous experiences involved meeting a diverse crowd of individuals with varying experiences. Understanding the root of their health problems pushed me learn more about public health.

I want to conduct research on health inequities, and the experiences and narratives people have regarding health. I plan to accomplish this by continuing my education to earn a doctorate. Project L/EARN strengthened my statistical and analysis prowess. It became the complementary capstone of my undergraduate university experience and will catapult me into doctoral study.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.