With 15 percent of the 2014 Geneseo graduates majoring in biological and biomedical sciences, students would expect that a course titled “Sociology of Medicine” would be a class attempting to satisfy students majoring in science. Associate professor of sociology Elaine Cleeton, however, formats the class, SOCL 213, so that students from a wide range of disciplines can maintain interest.
“The first thing we do is look at how medicine has developed over time in this country. We look at its power to shape individual lives; we look at how patients have ceded their responsibilities to their doctors, believing that the true experts are the doctors and the health care givers,” Cleeton said. “So we work very hard to begin to understand that multiple factors shape illness and its treatment and its recovery and that, ultimately, the body heals itself.”
Cleeton stressed the importance of not only studying current medical issues but also history, such as the emergence of medicine. Furthermore, the class has a total of four required readings, including Harriet Brown’s Brave Girl Eating: A Family’s Struggle with Anorexia—a topic very applicable to college students, considering that 25 percent of college-aged women engage in binging and purging as a weight-management technique according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.
“There’s just so many dimensions to health care that you may not have even considered,” senior Tashira Hargrove said.
“[The class] deals with issues on a broad basis, not just the role of doctors and health care professionals, but also that of policy makers and family and how they come together to create a complete picture of health,” junior Lisa Kunnumpurath said.
Though Cleeton noted that any student could take the class and learn from it, she underscored that SOCL 213 is extremely beneficial for pre-med students. “It is a superb [class] for the pre-med students to bring their science knowledge and begin to understand how it is applied, and to bring into account the social factors that influence recovery,” Cleeton said. “So it is brilliant for pre-med and health care majors and it is also extraordinarily interesting to everyone else.”
It’s imperative to remember that at college, it is easy—natural even—to feel disconnected from the world and topics such as health care; thinking about issues like health care is simply not a priority for students when they have exams and essays to worry about. Cancer survivor senior Andrea Rossman reminds her fellow students in the class, however, that health care is something they have to understand.
“A lot of the students, they’re probably [underclassmen]: they’ve never had to deal with the pitfalls for health care,” she said. “Right after I went through cancer treatment, I went through five years where I didn’t have insurance. Every doctor’s appointment, I had to find a way to pay for it out of my pocket because we fell in that bubble of, ‘We make too much for this, but make too little for this,’ and just that kind of hovering area.”
Health care is not something that can be taken nonchalantly—as if it is just one class for one semester that will soon be forgotten. “[By taking this class, students] begin to see that accessing health care cannot be taken for granted,” Cleeton said. “So those of us who have health care are partially covered by health care insurance. These are all key issues that we must understand and address if we’re going to find ways to give basic health care to all Americans.”
This is a class every student can learn from and find an interest in because it relates to life, which is relevant to us all.