UCL Anthropology


Medical Anthropology IBSc

About the programme

How would you deal with the fact that someone’s housing is exacerbating their diabetes or that global market forces are fuelling your patient’s isolation? What would you do if your patient refused a blood transfusion on religious grounds or a COVID-19 vaccine because of their mistrust of doctors?

If you want to understand how social, cultural, economic and political issues shape health and well-being across the world, then this IBSc is for you.

If you want to prepare yourself for working in the real world as a medical practitioner in diverse cultural contexts with different patient populations, then this IBSc is for you.

If you’re excited about exploring a wide range of healing practices that include everything from new reproductive technologies to coming-of-age-ceremonies, then this IBSc is for you.

Join us if you want to immerse yourself in a different world of knowledge and understanding and take a journey of discovery into what it means to be a doctor with fresh eyes.

Medical anthropologists explore the nature of health and healing in diverse cultural settings ranging from genomic laboratories to ritual ceremonies to ask questions about how life, death, health and sickness relate to factors such as culture, religion, ethics, gender, environment, politics and economics. The IBSc in Medical Anthropology at UCL is uniquely designed to provide medical students with knowledge and skills that will enhance medical practice by providing them with life-long learning skills that they can use throughout their medical career. Students will be taught key concepts in Medical Anthropology and examine how health and well-being are socially and culturally shaped in contexts of cultural diversity.

Medical Anthropology at UCL provides a comprehensive and innovative teaching, learning and research environment with an active student society. The department offers one of the best and most exciting programmes of broad-based anthropology for graduate and undergraduate study in the UK. We are committed to developing medical anthropology at the intersection of, and in dialogue with clinical practice, primary care, public health, psychiatry, demography, genomic science and technology.

Beyond this core syllabus, students are able to select from across the full range of disciplinary options in the topics that cut across social and cultural anthropology, evolutionary anthropology and human ecology and material and visual studies. Students will also have the opportunity to focus on a topic of their choice in more depth through a dissertation project (with guidance and support of a supervisor).

Aims & objectives of core course teaching

Having completed the IBSc students will have:

  • gained an in-depth knowledge of a range of ethnographic material, theories and concepts that deal with topics relevant to medical practice, health and well-being and beyond;
  • developed a range of research and communication skills relevant to UG level including research design, investigation, analysis, evaluation, writing, presentation and implementation;
  • obtained a good understanding of how theory and practice are integrated in anthropology;
  • employed key critical skills concerning reflexivity, positionality and ethics in relation to anthropological research;
  • produced a substantial piece of anthropological research in the form of a written dissertation.

None, other than successful completion of years 1 and 2 of the MBBS programme. No previous academic knowledge of social anthropology is required, though an interest in experiencing ways of thinking beyond scientific biomedicine may be an advantage.


Students take 60 credits worth of compulsory modules and a further 60 credits of optional modules from across the department. The compulsory course ANTH0033 "Anthropology for Medical Students" is exclusive to the intercalated students taking IBSc Medical Anthropology. It is designed as a 'link course' to the other Anthropology compulsory and optional modules and focuses on issues of particular interest/relevance to medical students. It is assessed through a dissertation on a subject of the students' choice. Most other courses are assessed by essays, examination, presentations and/or practical work.

Compulsory Courses

  • Medical Anthropology ANTH0182
  • Anthropology for Medical Students ANTH0033
  • Introduction to Social Anthropology ANTH0208

Optional Courses

Recent Dissertation Projects
  • Understanding Mental Illness in London's South Asian Muslim Community
  • Blood: Soup or Soul? A Study into the Meaning and Representations of Blood as Encountered in the Clinical Setting
  • "It Does No Harm Anyone, but It Is Harming Us". Crematoria, Cremation and a Culture Clash
  • Fetal Personhood and Mothers in Limbo: an Anthropological perspective on narratives of Miscarriage
  • Lectures, Labs and Anatomy: a Medical Student's Notion of the Body
  • Organ Transplants and the Contemporary Body-Self in a Euro-American Context: Online Communities and the Social Lives of Organs
  • The Singleton Experience in reference to China's One Child policy
  • No visible whip marks please, I have a meeting on Monday. An ethnography of a london Fetish Club
  • Women and High Heels: The Search for Power
  • Cosmetic Surgery as a Cultural Phenomenon: Race and Gender Ideologies and the Medicalisation of the South Korean Female Body
  • Papering over the cracks: A Critique of the Admissions Process at the Royal Free and University College Medical School
  • Ori: The Yoruba Conceptualisation of Destiny, Society and Religion
  • How has the medicalisation of childbirth altered Women's subjective experience of childbirth
  • Risk and Public Health Policy
  • Bangladeshi Shamanism
  • Cultural perspectives of Epilepsy
  • The Emergence of an Autistic Culture
Programme tutors

Dr Dalia Iskander
Lecturer, Medical Anthropology 

E-mail: dalia.iskander@ucl.ac.uk 

Fieldwork in the Philippines and Malaysia on malaria and environmental change; Cambodia on microfinance debt and nutrition; and UK on sugar taxes and craft practices. Particularly interested in using participatory visual methods (photography, film and mapping) in engaging communities in research and sensory approaches to understanding practice. More recent work on the UK craft economy, creative health and miniature-making (e.g., dollshouse). Interests in infectious diseases, political ecology, phenomenology and the body, participatory methods, behaviour-change and creative health.   

Dr Susie Kilshaw
Associate Professor, Medical Anthropology

E-mail: s.kilshaw@ucl.ac.uk

Fieldwork in UK and Qatar on pregnancy, pregnancy endings, and miscarriage; UK on emergence of new and contested illness, Gulf War Syndrome. 
Interests include medical anthropology, anthropology of reproduction, clinical anthropology, gender, pregnancy and pregnancy ends, miscarriage. Previous research focused on psychiatry and anthropology, cultural mediation between psychiatrists and black mental health service users.

Dr Joseph Calabrese 
Reader, Medical Anthropology 

E-mail: j.calabrese@ucl.ac.uk 

Fieldwork with Native North Americans, in Haiti and, most recently, Bhutan. Trained in Anthropology and Clinical Psychology. Interested in culture and mental health, with several years spent working with persons having mental illness (both as a clinician and as a researcher). Was a Medical Anthropology fellow and a Clinical Fellow in Psychology at Harvard. Other interests include anthropology of religion and ritual, healing, postcolonial revitalization, symbolism, and comparative human development. 

Dr Jo Cook 
Reader, Medical Anthropology 

E-mail: joanna.cook@ucl.ac.uk 

Fieldwork in Thailand and the United Kingdom on Buddhist meditation practices and their incorporation into mental healthcare programmes. Interests include medical anthropology, the anthropology of religion, the anthropology of Southeast Asia, anthropology of ethics, asceticism, gender, the body, the gift, hagiography, theory and methodology. 

Dr Carrie Ryan 
Lecturer, Medical Anthropology 

E-mail: c.ryan@ucl.ac.uk 

Fieldwork in the United States and United Kingdom on ageing, care, wellbeing, and loneliness. Interests include medical anthropology, population ageing, risk, retirement, end-of-life care ethics, disability, play, friendship, ritual, community, and applied anthropology. 

Dr Sahra Gibbon 
Professor, Medical Anthropology 

E-mail: s.gibbon@ucl.ac.uk 

Fieldwork in Cuba, Brazil and UK on genetics, breast cancer, disparities and activism. Interested in genomic knowledges/technologies and public health in comparative cultural arenas (especially Latin America); gender, kinship, breast cancer and 'BRCA' genetics; biosocialities and communities of health activism; and inter and cross-disciplinary research practices. 

Dr Aaron Parkhurst
Associate Professor, Medical Anthropology

E-mail: a.parkhurst@ucl.ac.uk

Fieldwork in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Oman on the relationship between Modernity, Urbanisation, and Chronic Illness; Britain and the USA on Cyborgs, emerging technology, health and Urban Living; and ‘off-world’, on the International Space Station in relation to the human body in future habitation on the Moon, Mars, and on Earth in the context of rapid environmental change. Interested in chronic illness (Type 2 diabetes, Obesity and Heart Disease), the body and space.


Below are a list of books that have been written by staff in the Medical Anthropology section in case you would like to get a sense of some of the work we do is and some of the themes you will be exploring in your course: