MSc Medical Anthropology

About the programme

The MSc in Medical Anthropology at UCL provides students with a unique opportunity to learn and gain valuable skills and training in one of the most innovative and cutting edge masters courses in the UK. We are committed to anthropological research and teaching at the intersections of clinical practice, primary care, global public health and science and technology.

With expertise in social, biological, medical anthropology and material culture, the department aims to incorporate and develop interdisciplinary and interdepartmental linkages in our programme while at the same time retaining the strength of core subject areas in the discipline of medical anthropology.

Combining cutting edge taught courses and guided independent research training in advanced medically and clinically-related applied anthropology and anthropological theory, the course uniquely attracts a wide cross-section of students. This includes social and biological anthropologists, physicians, health workers, doctors in training and pre-medical students, creating rich opportunities for cross-disciplinary dialogue and practice-based learning in applying anthropological theory and methods to real world health challenges.

The programme aims:

  • To provide a special programme for people who already have a general social science background but who wish to start focusing seriously on health-related anthropology;
  • To prepare candidates who lack appropriate social science training to start a programme that leads to a PhD in the field of Medical Anthropology;
  • To equip medical professionals who need to employ anthropological techniques in, or formulate an anthropological dimension to, their professional work;
  • To act as a training programme for non-British students with medical or social science degrees who are interested in aspects of the discipline as distinctively developed within British Social Anthropology.

Core Courses

Medical Anthropology

The core course, running over two terms, provides a framework by topic on which to construct an analysis of medicine and human wellbeing as practiced in any one system of healing: cosmopolitan, traditional or plural.

  • Term 1 The Medical Anthropology core course provides a comprehensive overview of key concepts and approaches in the discipline, including interpretative and critical medical anthropology, therapeutic interrelations between patient, healer and community, belief and efficacy in healing practice, global public health challenges and the role of health technologies in addressing risk and prevention across local and transnational arenas of health care.
  • In Term 2, a seminar on Clinical Ethnography will cover methodological approaches to provide a hands on approach to the practice of doing clinically-relevant ethnography. This will include discussions of the ethical dimensions of work with clinical populations, designing and setting up a project, using clinically-informed ethnographic techniques, and critical analysis of the inequalities and cultural ideologies shaping intervention and health outcome. Examples will illustrate the range of clinically-relevant ethnographic approaches, exploring such topics as understanding patients' experiences of cancer or mental illness, clinical trials, bioethics, cultural competency, reflexivity, interviewing, narrative analysis, and constructing an anthropological understanding of local therapeutic approaches in sociopolitical context.

Assessment of Core Courses

  • By formal written examination on the whole field of medical anthropology
  • By writing an essay on a topic the student chooses related to the core Medical Anthropology elements during Term 1
  • By drafting a research proposal in the context of the Term 2 Clinical Ethnography Seminar

Methods and Research

  • Anthropological Methods - The methods taught are both those developed in classical social anthropology (as used in extended fieldwork) and those more recently developed for shorter-term social survey work, along with computer-based analytical techniques. The Clinical Ethnography seminar in Term 2 provides a framework for thinking and practically applying different methodological approaches to real world health situations. In addition, weekly Research Seminars critically examine methods and research techniques (and their problems) that are particular to medical anthropology.

Optional Courses

The student takes three subsidiary subjects or options. Options available include courses that are both complimentary to medical anthropology and/or those that provide theoretical and methodological approaches drawn from across the broad focus of the department including social, cultural, biological and material culture.

Highlighted options for the MSc Medical Anthropology include:

  • Anthropology of Science, Society and Biomedicine
  • Ritual Healing and Therapeutic Emplotment
  • Reproduction, Sex and Sexuality
  • Anthropology of Ethics and Morality 
  • Anthropology and Psychiatry


By three essays, one for each of three optional courses. These essays together are worth 25% of the degree's total mark.


The purpose of the dissertation is to provide both an exercise in and a test of the student's mastery of the medical-anthropological approach to an issue of his or her choice. The topic chosen usually arises either from a professional interest of the student, or may be part of a research programme to be developed in the PhD.

Recent masters dissertation topics have included:

  • Religious Notions Related to Clinical Treatment: An Example of Burmese Buddhists in England
  • The Evil Eye: Dialectices of Change and Modernity
  • You Can Never Tell: A study of information control by African women living with HIV in London
  • Reflections on Hygiene and Sanitation: Rituals of Purity and Impurity in a Nepalese Brahman Household
  • Identity and Psychopathology in Black African-Caribbeans in London


A dissertation of 15,000 words within the field of medical anthropology (50% of total mark).

Research seminars and activities

A weekly Medical Anthropology Research Seminar, open to all, runs through both terms, in which well-known researchers in the field of medical anthropology present their most recent findings. MSc students are required to attend and are expected to participate in the discussion.

In addition to one-off special events throughout the term, there are also Research Reading Groups in the department that offer students and staff an informal and productive alternative learning environment for generating new ideas and developing critical, engaged thinking.

Current relevant active RRG groups include

Our newly established research platform Subjectivities and Biosocialities of Health and Illness provides an overview of the wealth of research and collaborations currently taking place in the department under the aegis of the medical anthropology section.

Current Course Tutors:

Joe Calabrese
Interests include Medical anthropology, cultural psychiatry, mind/self/personhood, clinical ethnography, severe mental illness, stigma, healing, ritual, postcolonial revitalisation movements, family life and comparative human development, Native North Americans, African Diaspora societies, Bhutan.

Jo Cook
Interests include medical anthropology, the anthropology of ethics, mindfulness-based therapy, post-democracy, well-being and happiness, UK & Thailand.

Sahra Gibbon
Interests include genomic knowledge/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/ cross-disciplinary research practices.

Roland Littlewood
Medical and social anthropology of the Caribbean (Trinidad, Haiti), Albania and UK.

Key Information

Programme starts

September 2017

Location: London, Bloomsbury


Medical Anthropology is a rapidly expanding interdisciplinary field and graduates of our programme have gone on to develop exciting careers in academia, clinical services, social services, government, and non-governmental organisations.

Top career destinations for this degree
  • Medical doctor in specialty training, Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital (NHS)
  • MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery), Newcastle University
  • Research Degree: Anthropology, University College London (UCL)
  • Midwife, King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • PhD Population Health Sciences, The University of Edinburgh

Our approach is broad and open-minded, encompassing analysis of diversity issues in clinical practice, critical medical anthropology, psychology/psychiatry, social impact of genetic technologies, demographics, ethics, and studies of traditional healing. UCL is ranked fifth in the QS World University Rankings and our students benefit from a wealth of resources.

Careers data is taken from the ‘Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education’ survey undertaken by HESA looking at the destinations of UK and EU students in the 2012–2014 graduating cohorts six months after graduation.

Degree last modified on 6 January 2017 at 11:58 by UCL Publications & Marketing Services. Please contact us for content updates.

Students who complete the MSc Medical Anthropology have a large number of career options available to them. This includes:

  • working as a medical anthropologist academically within the discipline of anthropology or other social science or health science field;
  • working as an anthropologist in an applied health care setting in the UK or elsewhere particularly with NGOs and development agencies in developing country contexts;
  • for those who already work as a health professional and return to their careers following completion of the degree gaining specialist knowledge and research techniques often enables them to work more effectively in different or cultural settings and with diverse populations.

Some of our recent graduates have gone on to secure jobs in academia, clinical services, social services, international aid, government, non-governmental organisations, and a variety of other domains. The skills taught in the course relate to field techniques and approaches to the analysis of data with an emphasis on qualitative methods and analysis.

On completion of the course the student will have a framework with which to construct and analyse medicine as practiced in any one society or community whether in the UK or a developing country, the ability to identify key problems and suggest solutions and an awareness of how lay responses and interpretations develop in matters of health and misfortune.