Model stories written by young professionals/students.


Two sides to Every Coin"


Every time I’ve ever thought about a disease, I’ve always wondered one thing: “What can be done to save people?” While this may seem like a simple question, there are actually a couple ways to look at it. On one hand, can changing an aspect of the society change the way the disease affects the population? For example, by creating programs to increase funding of sanitation in a developing country, are the people less likely to fall ill with an infection? On the other hand, the other way to approach the topic has to do with the individual. If an individual comes to the hospital with an infection, the doctor is going to treat the problem of the individual. The person will be given an antibiotic and sent on their way.

Neither approach is wrong; they are simply looking at a problem from different perspectives. While the first example focuses on the “big picture,” the second example shows the problem on a smaller scale, with focus on the individual as opposed to the masses. This can be compared to the way sociology relates to public health. The broad spectrum follows along more closely with the sociology of public health. While the more specific sociology in public health is related to the smaller scale focused on the individual.

The sociology of public health focuses on the organizational structure, relationships, and behaviors of the society (Straus 202). A sociologist of public health looks at the increase of diabetes mellitus in sub-Saharan Africa and finds the reasoning to be the rising rate of obesity (Idemyor 650). They would most likely suggest increasing the funding to local farms and a higher tax on imported food. This sociologist looks at the culture of the population and finds ways to change the population as a whole in order to affect the mortality of the masses.

The sociology in public health focuses on the research and integration of concepts, techniques, and personnel from multiple disciplines (Straus 203). A sociologist of this type would tend to overlook social causes and view poor health as a consequence of behavioral choices made by the individual (Levinson 75). A sociologist in public health will look at malnutrition in underdeveloped nations and create a food supplement plan (Levinson 75).  

The sociology in public health seems to look for a direct solution to the problem at hand, while the sociology of public health looks for a reason there is a problem and how to fix it from the source. These different ways of looking at public health are very important because in order for public health programs to work, both sides of the coin must be observed. For example, let’s look at a current problem America is facing: cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is currently the leading cause of death in the United States (Heidenreich 933). A sociologist of public health would most likely tackle this problem by encouraging programs that increase funding to public schools (for healthier lunches), programs that encourage the teaching of nutrition classes in schools, and programs that taxed unhealthy foods at higher rates. A sociologist in public health would be more likely to encourage programs that helped individuals to eat better foods and exercise more. 

Straus stated, “These two types of medical sociology tend to be incompatible with each other,” (Straus 203). He goes on to make some valid points, such as the sociologist may lose objectivity or risk relationships, however, I disagree with his belief that the two types are incompatible. While the two types of sociology are very different, they are vital to one another. Instead of pitting them against one another and claiming one viewpoint is better, they should be seen as a sort of ying and yang. A balance. One view sees the big picture, while one can focus on the smaller details. One view is more objective and focuses on the population, while one focuses on the individual. This balance is what creates a sound public health system. Being able to see both the “big picture” and creating preventative health programs is just as important as seeing the “little picture” and creating programs that help individuals to become healthier.

Just because the differing types of sociology are a balance, doesn’t mean it’s easy for one person to fit both types. Most sociologists can’t look at the cardiovascular diseases epidemic and see how both increasing public school funding and increasing funding to programs that encourage a healthy diet and exercise would help. Granted, these each help to reduce the epidemic, but they do require different forms of thought. After all, the different types of sociology are different ways of thinking, and changing the way one thinks is difficult. However, change isn’t necessary. Understanding is the key to the balance that can be achieved when sociology in public health and sociology of public health are used together. By understanding the main ideas of the two types, a common goal can be found between them: bettering the health of the public. With that goal in mind, suddenly, the two sides of the coin, of vers


Works Cited

Heidenreich, P., et al. “Forecasting the Future of Cardiovascular Disease in the United States.” Circulation 123.1 (2011): 933-944. Print.

Idemyor, V. “Diabetes in sub-Saharan Africa: health care perspectives, challenges, and the economic burden of disease.” Journal of the National Medical Association 102.7 (2010): 650-653. Print.

Levinson, Richard. “Issues at the interface of medical sociology and public health.” Modernity, Medicine, and Health. Ed. Graham Scrambler, Paul Higgs. New York: Routledge, 1998.  67-81. Print.

Straus, Robert. “The Nature and Status of Medical Sociology.” American Sociological Review 22.2 (1957): 200-204. Print.

-RA Fulkerson