Teaching Medical Anthropology in UK Medical Schools: Cultivating Autoethnographic Practice among Medical Students


  • Tyler Harvey School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent.
  • Lisa Dikomitis Centre for Health Services Studies and Kent and Medway Medical School, University of Kent, UK
  • Brianne Wenning Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery & Palliative Care, King’s College London




Behavioural and social sciences (BSS) are a core component of undergraduate medical education in the United Kingdom. Despite the formal recognition of BSS by the UK’s General Medical Council (GMC), anthropology remains largely at the periphery in the medical curriculum. Medical students often describe it as ‘fluffy’ or as ‘common sense’, in comparison to biomedical learning content. To make anthropology more relevant and applicable to future clinical practice, we draw on ethnographic data (interviews, focus groups, field notes and reflective texts written by medical students) collected by an anthropologist during fieldwork in two UK medical schools. We suggest moving this content out of the preclinical phase and instead incorporating it into the clinical phase. Specifically, we propose that having students conduct a micro-autoethnography during the clinical phase brings together two crucial aspects of medical student training: BSS principles and formation of a professional identity. Embedding these concepts in this specific context will allow students to process tensions they may feel between interactions they observe in a clinical context and team versus what they have been formally taught. This process allows them to negotiate their own professional identity between practice and ideal while more robustly situating BSS content in a relevant and immediately applicable manner within the current constraints of the medical curriculum.