Name: William Hill Winstead
Year of Graduation: 2013
Minor: Medical Anthropology
“Both anthropology and history equipped me with a different mindset and lens through which I can see the world.”
- Why did you decide to pursue your given major and minor?
I had no clue what I wanted to do when I came, and history was a topic that I always really enjoyed. Looking back now with the knowledge that I have about the resources available, I probably would have applied to the school of public health. I stumbled into medical anthropology by complete accident. I took Anthropology 147 – Comparative Healing Systems and ended up completely hooked and signed up for the minor.
- When did you become interested in studying medical anthropology?
It was my sophomore year, and I had begun to get interested in medicine. I remember being blown away by this whole different way of looking at healthcare. Beforehand, everything had been black and white to me- either you’re sick or you’re not. I remember realizing that there are so many other ways of looking at health. That whole experience got me interested in medical anthropology.
- How do you feel the medical anthropology minor tied into your main field of study?
History and anthropology don’t necessarily line up perfectly, but I found that they complement each other quite nicely. They are both about understanding things in a broader context. Both anthropology and history equipped me with a different mindset and lens through which I can see the world.
“The thing about medical anthropology is that it gives you a mindset, and lens, and an approach that shifts your thinking.”
Post Graduation Life
- What was the most difficult part about adjusting to life after UNC?
Going from the mind-set of being a student but then going into the work-world where all of a sudden my opinions can have a serious impact. That transition from the theoretical to the real with very real impacts was tough.
- What are you up to these days?
Shortly after I graduated, I started working for Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. I work in a department called business process excellence. It’s an internal management-consulting department within the company. It’s very interesting and completely different from history and anthropology, but at the same time I see the value of both of those fields in my work everyday.
- How do you apply medical anthropological insights to your career?
Most of the folks I work with are from an engineering or a business background. Coming from their background, they tend to have a very linear thought type. Coming from my background, I’m not biased by having been taught “this is how certain things are done.” It’s important to understand the context. It’s important to understand the perspectives of people you’re interacting with. It’s important to understand their beliefs, their behaviors, and their opinions. My anthropology and history background equipped me with a different lens through which I can see business that a lot of my coworkers don’t have because they come from a more traditional background.
- Were there any moments of insight during these last few years where you thought about things in a certain way because of your background in medical anthropology?
When I was in college, I worked with Wake County EMS. That was when medical anthropology began to have an impact on what I did outside of school. For a while, I was assigned to the night shift in southeast Raleigh, a low socioeconomic status part of Raleigh. Working there was eye-opening in the sense of just how broad socioeconomic statuses are in the United States. I remember treating a patient who was a diabetic and didn’t have access to care. Before medical anthropology, I probably would’ve thought to myself “why hasn’t this guy taken better care of himself?” But with medical anthropology, I began to understand that there’s a lot more at play than just taking care of oneself. Instead of trying to change the way people interact with the system, we can change the system to better serve the way that people interact with it.
“Everything that seems absolute is only absolute to you.”
- What are your career objectives in the long-run?
I will be coming back to UNC to attend the school of public health for health policy and management. I want to look into the idea of decentralizing emergency care.
- How can you apply anthropological concepts to the public health field?
The options are huge, especially when you look at clinical applications. I hate to use the term patient-centered because it’s really cliché in healthcare right now, but it’s important to take a more patient-centered focus and try to have a more holistic approach in medicine. The thing about medical anthropology is that it winds up giving you a mindset, a lens, and an approach to things that shifts your thinking.
- How would you explain medical anthropology to someone completely unfamiliar with the field?
Everything that seems absolute is only absolute to you.
- How do you think that other professions might benefit from a medical anthropology background?
Anthropology is applicable in a lot of fields. I think medical anthropology in particular has the potential to be a tremendous asset in the public health world. I think it’s about getting public health practitioners to look beyond the biomedical and look at the sociocultural and the socioeconomic drivers of health behaviors.
“Don’t give up. Don’t sweat the mistakes.”
Historical figure you’d love to meet: Paul Farmer or Admiral James Stockdale
Who or what inspires you: The surgical oncologist Keith Amos
Favorite book: the Southern Past by William Fitzhugh Brundage.
Most intriguing medical anthropology sub-discipline: Social hierarchies that operate in clinical settings and the socialization and conceptualization of error among healthcare providers.
Most influential medical anthropological concept: Cultural Relativism.
Most important academic lesson: Don’t give up. Don’t sweat the mistakes.
Favorite medical anthropology course: Anthropology 444.
Favorite non-medical anthropology course: The Geography of North Carolina with John Florin.
Favorite medical anthropology professor: Dr. Rivkin-Fish.
Most important life lesson: Don’t rush to judge people. It goes back to my experience as an EMT. It’s tremendously humbling to walk into a perfect stranger’s house at 2 in the morning and ask “what can I do to help?” when you know nothing about this person or their situation. One of my very first calls was a heroine overdose. You walk into situations like that, and it’s very easy to sit back and judge these people. Yet, you know nothing about them, you know nothing about how they got to that situation, and it very easily could have been any one of us but for a series of chances.
“Don’t rush to judge people… it very easily could have been any one of us but for a series of chances.”
by Phoebe Pradhan, Kerstin Harper, Nicole Huntley, and Jessica L’Amoreaux
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