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Medical Sociology

What is Medical Sociology?

Medical sociology is the study of the societal dimensions of health and medicine. It is a well-recognized field that offers great preparation for graduate school in the health-related professions. The Sociology Department has a large group of medical sociology faculty, and there is a good sequence of courses in the department for students with a pre-med or pre-health career path.  In the graduating class of 2012, three students planned to go to medical school, one to a graduate program in health services administration, and one to a program in social work. One student has a job in human resources and recruiting in a health software company.

What is Special about the Major in Sociology?

The sociology degree has a very strong sequence of four courses on theory and research methods that are the foundation for the major. The sequence provides you with the basis for reading scientific research and also conducting sociological research.

A degree in sociology provides several skills that can be the basis of a successful career in many fields:

  • Sociologists are trained to weigh controversies and develop complex analyses of social and organizational problems, a skill that is important in many careers, especially those that involve leadership positions.
  • Sociologists understand how to review a social science literature on a problem, assess the direction of the literature, and provide thoughtful and well-written summaries and analyses. The capacity to digest, analyze, and synthesize a diverse set of sources is valuable in a wide range of careers.
  • Sociologists are trained to translate research into policy analysis and develop policy based on research.
  • Sociologists are trained in hypothesis generation and testing, data analysis, and both qualitative and quantitative methods.
  • Sociologists have a broad understanding of our rapidly changing world and are well-equipped to adapt to new career circumstances and to help organizations adapt to changing economic, political, and social environments.

Medical Sociology at Vanderbilt

Our faculty lead the university’s Center for Health Disparities, which studies inequality and health, and Vanderbilt has a unique partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Medical sociology is a recognized health field and one of the largest subfields in sociology. Medical sociologists are especially suited to develop research and programs on health disparities, to improve the doctor-patient relationship, and to develop community outreach and education programs. Unlike study in the medical humanities, medical sociology provides a rigorous foundation in hypothesis testing, data analysis, and both qualitative and quantitative methods.

Some recently offered courses in medical sociology are listed below. See the catalog for more details, and see YES for current offering:

  • MHS 2430 Social Capital and Health
  • Soc 3313 Soc. of Health and Environ. Sciences
  • Soc 3301 Society and Medicine
  • Soc 3723 Gender, Sexuality, and the Body
  • Soc 3303 Social Dynamics of Mental Health
  • Soc 3304 Race, Gender, and Health

Medical Sociology Faculty

The Sociology Department has a strong cluster of faculty who teach on medical sociology. Most of the faculty who do teaching and research in this area also are affiliated with the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society, and Sociology faculty member Jonathan Metzl is the director of the Center.  Here is a brief description of the sociology faculty who teach in this area:


Laura Carpenter works on gender and sexual health over the life course.  She has taught “Race, Gender, and Health” and “Womb to Tomb: The Life Course,” as well as “Gender, Sexuality, and the Body.”  She has written about the controversies over male circumcision and over the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine and is author of the book Virginity Lost: An Intimate Portrait of First Sexual Experiences.

André Christie-Mizell is a Robert Wood Johnson faculty member and an affiliate with Meharry Medical College.  He conducts research on family, race, and mental health, including research on bullying among children. He teaches “Sociology of Mental Health.”

David Hess teaches “Sociology of Health and Environmental Science,” which examines scientific controversies over health dimensions of environmental issues such as radiation exposure, chemical toxicity, and food-related risks.  He has also studied patient advocacy groups associated with complementary and alternative medicine.

Jonathan Metzl is Director of the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society. He is the author of Prozac on the Couch: Prescribing Gender in the Era of Wonder Drugs and The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease.

Evelyn Patterson studies demography and disease.  She has received wide public acclaim for her studies of mortality rates and race among prisoners. She has taught a seminar on “Population Health.”

Lijun Song studies social networks, social capital, and health. She has taught “Society and Medicine,” “Chinese Society and Medicine,” and “Social Capital and Health.”

LaToyna Trotter studies health professions, the medical workplace, and the nursing profession.

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