Which way to the medical career?

Anthropology majors map out their varied routes into health care

Why do so many Wheaton anthropology majors work in the health care industry?The question came to Donna Kerner, professor of anthropology and department chair, when she was thinking of a way for her department to participate in “Science at the Center,” a series of lectures and events held at the Mars Center for Science and Technology.”I thought it might be interesting to connect students in our course on medical anthropology—one of the fastest-growing subfields in the discipline—and our alums who had gone on to careers in medicine,” says Kerner.

When she examined the alumnae/i database, she found anthropology graduates in every area of health care, from medical doctors and international health policy experts to scientists with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It makes sense,” Kerner says. “A training in anthropology is key to understanding the different ways that culture influences how people in a community conceptualize the human body and the practices surrounding health and wellness.”

“If you study communities, it would follow that you would want to do something good for those communities,” adds M. Gabriela Torres, assistant professor of anthropology.

Kerner and Torres invited seven alumnae/i to speak on the connection between an anthropology degree and a career in health care at the Health Careers without Borders alumnae/i panel, held in the Mars Center last spring. Students considering the college’s new public health minor and students enrolled in medical anthropology asked presenters questions about a range of subjects—from personal career trajectories to the role anthropology plays in health care.

The panelists—working in global public health, nursing, hypnotherapy, pharmaceutical marketing, and the management and training of personnel in cancer research and health care software development—stressed that the intercultural communication skills they acquired as anthropology majors help them in their careers every day.

“They understand the institutional cultures in which they work,” says Torres, “and that makes them excellent managers.”

The Quarterly caught up with five of the panelists to learn more about their creative paths to careers in health care. Here are just a few of the routes: