TOPIC: Medicine in America with Dr. Bernice Pescosolido
11:15AM- 12:30PM Tuesdays and Thursdays
Class Number: 30237

Contemporary America faces a strange medical paradox: While the profession of medicine has at its disposal the most powerful technology ever known and the most generous financial support ever provided by public and private sectors, it is severely criticized for its failure to cure society's ills (e.g., cancer, heart disease, and mental illness) and for its unresponsiveness to people's needs (e.g., issues of cost and access). We are in a new era of health problems and the provision of medical care. Issues dealing with health and medical care are ones with which we all have experience. They represent concerns that none of us will be able to ignore in our lives or as responsible members of society.
This course explores questions on a wide range of topics dealing with providers and recipients of care, and the larger context in which they face problems of health, illness, and disease. What is "sickness?" Who is most likely to fall ill? What health problems will face us in the future? How do ethnicity and social class filter perceptions of pain? What is all the "hype" about stress? Is obesity "contagious"? Is mental illness a myth? How does the physician act as a "gatekeeper" to medical care? How do individuals seek care, and to what extent are they coerced into care? How are these decisions shaped by the society in which we live, and in other past and contemporary societies? What are "alternative" medical systems (e.g., acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy) and why do people use options outside the "canopy" of modern medicine? We will explore challenges facing medicine and individuals. Is there a "crisis" in medical care in the U.S.? How did the scientific medical community attain its monopoly over the healing arts? Is this power being eroded by changing relations among different providers in the medical division of labor? What kinds of renegotiations are occurring in the social contract between medicine and American society? What is the role of industry, advertising, and individual responsibility in the "production" of health problems? Can the public, control the direction and costs of medical care?

In addition, this course takes on the issue of stigma (the shame, secrecy, prejudice, and discrimination surrounding certain illnesses, especially mental illness) from theoretical, research, and policy perspectives. We will examine the nature of prejudice and discrimination, how it affects health, whether it has increased in the U.S., and how individuals, medical systems, and societies have responded to this problem. The goal of this course is to introduce you to a perspective that should be useful in examining these issues: the sociological perspective examines how health, illness, and healing are shaped by social factors - culture, community, organizations. We will ask how these factors shape the medical problems that people face and the societal solutions that are brought to bear. We need not ignore or reject the importance of genetics, biology, individuals' psychology, or any other factors - society and individuals are very complex. But our job in this course is to provide you with yet another unique lens with which to view physicians, patients, and their problems.