Medical anthropology is a field of empirical research, one that examines human existence through the lens of health, disease, and biocultural adaptation. The term itself dates to 1963, as a subset of social and cultural anthropology. Medical anthropology grew out of examinations of folk medicine, frequently used to describe the medical practices of aboriginal peoples.
During the 20th century, the pioneers of medical anthropology began to distinguish folk medicine from other traditional practices, including magic and religion. In this sense, a culture’s medical systems are the result of their cultural history. Today, medical anthropologists view cultural representations of health practices on the local level.
In practical terms, medical anthropology allows for the development of community health services for ethnic and cultural minorities. Medical anthropologists work towards creating health programs in developing nations, the influence of culture on epidemiology, cultural resistance to modern medical applications, and the adaptation of folk healers and midwives in modern medical science. Most medical anthropologists come to the field from traditional medical fields, such as nursing, and concentrate in anthropology, with emphasis on psychiatry in order to better understand the peoples in their native cultures. Many American universities offer Ph.D. programs in medical anthropology today.