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How Being an Anthropology Major Prepared Me to be a Better Applicant and Hopefully Future Physician

Taking an alternative path can help students see different perspectives in medicine

By: Ariel Lee

In my previous article, I shared my journey to becoming an Anthropology major. In this article, I plan to take a deeper dive into how being an Anthropology major made me a more well-rounded medical school applicant and hopefully future physician. In hindsight, here are some of my specific takeaways from Anthropology that I will bring into my future career as a physician: 

1. I now understand and value other cultural forms of medicine, and grasp that American biomedicine is just one form of ethnomedicine.

The first realization from Anthropology that blew my mind is that Western medicine, otherwise known as biomedicine, is just one of many forms of ethnomedicine (traditional medicine practiced by a specific culture or ethnic group) that exist in cultures around the world. As such, I realized that insisting that biomedicine is the ultimate, or “correct” form of medicine, is not only narrow-minded but also destructive—as was the case in the “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” by Anne Fadiman.  

2. I now have a greater sensitivity to and understanding of how religion and spirituality are closely entwined with how a patient experiences physical suffering. I also realize that being a good physician is just as much about preparing patients to die well, in addition to prolonging life.

Through my thesis work, I learned that the end of life stage not only requires medical interventions but also a sensitivity to patients’ religious and spiritual notions of death and dying. I learned through anthropology that suffering not only comprises the physical aspect of pain, but also a deeper spiritual dimension of suffering. Physicians are just as responsible for treating patients’ ailments in order to prolong life, as they are for ensuring that the patient dies comfortably and peacefully.

3.I now recognize and admit my hidden cultural biases about health care and understand the importance of communicating in a culturally sensitive way.

As an anthropology major, I realized that I had been carrying many ingrained cultural biases about medicine and the human body. Studying other cultures and their understanding of health and the human body humbled me to reexamine my biases. For instance, I now understand that when patients reject or disagree with biomedical treatments in favor of alternative medicine, physicians should accept and respect the wishes of their patients, honoring their autonomy and beliefs.

I realize that majoring in the humanities is becoming a trend among pre-meds to “stand out” in the applicant pool. However, merely taking on a second major in humanities to get a leg up in admissions detracts from the true value in getting a humanitarian perspective of medicine. Ultimately, it is about how you are able to articulate your passions and motives in majoring in the humanities and how that will enable you to be a better physician.

Ariel Lee

Ariel Lee is a graduate of Brandeis University in the class of 2018 with a B.S. in Biology and Anthropology. She is medical student in the class of 2023. Her areas of interest include: geriatrics, end-of-life care, and the intersection of spirituality and medicine. In addition to writing for Prospective Doctor, she runs a blog at lightandsalt.org, where she writes on her journey in the Christian faith and other personal reflections.

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