Lynn Morison and Daniel Brown, both professors of anthropology, with three students demonstrating blood pressure testing

The anthropology department at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo will be offering a new academic program starting this fall that focuses on different influences on people’s health. The new track, called medical anthropology, explores how health and illness are shaped, experienced and understood within the context of culture, ethnicity, socioeconomic and political factors.

Medical anthropology, a subfield of anthropology, focuses on the evolution of humans and pathogens, the effects of globalization on health disparities and the health legacies of colonialism—all topical issues here in Hawaiʻi. Students from a wide range of majors may be interested in this track.

This area of expertise may appeal to students interested in careers as health services directors, health and social policy analysts, health care consultants, data analysts, social workers, health librarians, acupuncturists and naturopaths. UH Hilo students interested in pursuing a graduate degree in public health may also find that the study of medical anthropology will prepare them well for future careers.

“All of the courses in this track have Hawaiian content,” says Lynn Morrison, professor of anthropology and chair of the department who will be teaching courses in the new program. “Increasing information and education about the cultural and biological basis of health has the potential to have impact on the local community if our future health-care professionals are coming out of this track. They will be trained to better implement health promotion and prevention.”

Two courses—evolutionary medicine and global health in evolutionary perspective—are new in the last two years and taught by Daniel Brown, a professor of anthropology who has done extensive research on health issues found in the East Hawaiʻi community.

Morrison says medical anthropologists have knowledge and skills that lend themselves to a variety of careers, from medicine and medical research to academia and government. These skills include analyzing cultural development and the effect of culture on health, understanding medical data, investigating the spread of disease, studying alternatives to modern medicine and communicating across cultures and languages.

For more information on the courses, read the UH Hilo Stories story.

—By Susan Enright