UAB launches new degree in medical sociology

The new program will begin enrolling in fall 2017.

sociology streamWhat do Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King Jr. and Michelle Obama have in common? They all obtained degrees in sociology — the scientific study of human behavior.

Social factors play a critical role in many aspects of understanding and influencing individuals and society as a whole, including providing medical care and other health-related services. In response to the growing interest in the connections between health care and sociology, the University of Alabama at Birmingham is now offering a Bachelor of Science degree in medical sociology.

“Medical sociology is a field within sociology that can be very job-motivated,” said Chris Biga, Ph.D., associate professor and director of Undergraduate Studies in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences Department of Sociology. “With the highest concentration of medical sociologists of any other academic institution and the only medical sociology-specific doctoral program in the country, we wanted to create a niche program to help undergraduate students interested in health and medicine be more competitive upon graduation.”

Medical sociologists study the impact of social and cultural factors on health care. This work includes studying the access to medical care of different ethnic groups, social classes and how broader socioeconomic factors shape the organizational structures used by health care providers.

The new program is a research-focused degree that prepares students for graduate studies in medical sociology or a career in health-related services, medical research or government data analysis.

The new program is a research-focused degree that prepares students for graduate studies in medical sociology or a career in health-related services, medical research or government data analysis.

On its own, medical sociology can be a steppingstone to several different careers, including an academic career. UAB’s new program provides an analytical framework for understanding the social contexts of health, illness and health care. Additionally, when the Bachelor of Science degree in medical sociology is paired with pre-professional medical program requirements, students are provided with additional rigor in the social dynamics of careers in nursing, medical school and the health professions.

“Social factors are of high importance in the medical field,” Biga said. “In 2015, the Medical College Admission Test was updated to include a section on behavioral and social sciences.”

The program includes courses in minority health, the sociology of mental health, HIV/AIDS and society, and human sexuality. The program will begin enrolling in fall 2017.

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