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This unit consists of materials on the field of medical sociology, categories of medical sociology, differences between medical sociology and social medicine and the contribution of medical sociology to health. It also explains the major concerns of medical sociology.



Medical sociology is a new field within sociology. It attempts to analyze social action and social factors in illness and illness related situation. The ultimate for this is that we would be able to appreciate the meaning and implication of any illness episode for the symptomatic person, as well as significant others, the health professionals and all other stakeholders in the wider society.

Definition of Sociology and how it is related to Medicine

Sociology is a major discipline in the social sciences founded by Auguste Comte, a French philosopher and Herbert Spencer an Englishman in the mid-1800s. These founding fathers were worried about the political instability of their time and they attempted to analyze society and highlight the various strategies by which social order could be restored to the fabric of society. This was the beginning of the study of sociology as an academic discipline.

Sociology therefore focuses on social order and the analyses of social groups in particular and society in general. Sociology is interested in analyzing how human beings interact with one another and the forces that determine social order or harmony in human interactions. Sociology studies behavioural patterns, be they rational, non-rational or irrational. In its quest for understanding human behaviour, sociology employs scientific methodology.

Sociology is related to medicine in several ways. First, the incidence of illness is to a large extent determined by social and cultural factors. As a result of this, knowledge of these factors in the aetiology of illness cannot be overemphasized. Besides, success in therapeutic efforts may be limited, except physicians and other health workers can show some appreciation of forces that are not entirely “medical”.

Sociology is also related to medicine because it helps us to understand and appreciate the various actors in the treatment settings, such as physicians, pharmacists, laboratory technologists, nurses etc. Sociology indeed equips us with the knowledge of understanding such attitudes that may constrain or facilitate the treatment process. Sociology provides a careful study of all those who are relevant in providing support during the post-treatment phase. The study of these issues and many more definitely brings into focus the relationship between sociology and medicine.

Definition of Medical Sociology

Medical Sociology is a branch of sociology, which addresses a wide range of key issues and especially the interplay between social factors and health.

The field of medical sociology is a sub-discipline of sociology, which attempts to analyze social action and social factors in illness and illness-related situations with a view to making it possible for all involved in the illness situation to appreciate the meaning and implication of any illness episode.

In the 1950s, medical sociological studies were limited in scope as they concerned the social aspects of mental disorders and their consequences. Today, the field of health sociology, as it is more appropriately called, is concerned with virtually all aspects of health and medical care.

Areas of coverage in medical sociology include the aetiology of disease and illness, illness behaviour, health-seeking behaviour and the delivery of health services and access to them. Others are: patterns of disease and mortality, medicine as a profession, ethical, political and organizational issues in relation to health.

Major Approaches in Medical Sociology

Medical Sociology overlaps with Social Epidemiology, Health Services Research, Behavioural Medicine, Social Psychiatry and Medical Anthropology. There are two major approaches to the study of medical sociology. The first approach sees medicine as a social institution which one should study and test using sociological hypotheses. The other approach sees medicine as an applied enterprise seeking to reduce the suffering of humans and to improve the quality of life.

Major Concerns of Medical Sociology

Medical Sociology is concerned with the following perspectives:

Looking at how diseases in the population are located among social groupings.

Explaining how people respond to diseases with a view to defining them in predictable ways from the perspective of their culture and their social class within a particular culture.

Describing how society prescribes means of treating diseases.

Investigating how social institutions give their support to the medical organizations in their bid to treat the sick.


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