Author biography:

Dr Cecil G Helman is Professor of Medical Anthropology in the Department of Social Sciences and Law at Brunel University, and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Primary Care and Population Sciences, Royal Free and University College Medical School, University of London. He is one of the leading international experts on medical anthropology, cross-cultural health care, and the cultural dimensions of health, illness and medical care.

Dr Helman was born in Cape Town, South Africa, where he graduated as a doctor at the University of Cape Town Medical School, and then took a post-graduate degree in social anthropology at University College London. In 1983/4 he was a Visiting Fellow in Social Medicine and Health Policy at Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA, where he taught clinically-applied medical anthropology, and carried out research on psychosomatic disorders.

Dr Helman has been invited to lecture in many different countries, and has been a visiting professor at several institutions, including Hooker Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Department of Anthropology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada (1991), and Visiting Professor in the Multicultural Health Program, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia (2001). He has also been a visiting lecturer in medical anthropology at Cambridge University, and a guest lecturer at many medical schools and universities, including Brown University, Michigan State University, Willamette University, University of Geneva Medical School (Switzerland), Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium), Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil), the Red Cross University College of Nursing (Sweden), and the University of Cape Town and University of the Western Cape (South Africa). He has also given seminars at the World Health Organisation in Geneva, and in 2005 gave the David Rogers Colloquium on Health Policy at Cornell Medical School, New York.

He has presented research papers, and been a key-note speaker, at meetings of many learned societies and organisations world-wide, including in the USA the American Anthropological Association, the Society for Applied Anthropology, and the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine, and in Great Britain the Royal College of Psychiatrists, The Royal Society of Medicine, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Institute of Child Health, the Institute for Nursing Studies, the Transcultural Psychiatry Society, the Society for the Social History of Medicine, the British Association for Medical Humanities, the Oxford University Forum for Medical Humanities, and at the 8th Brazilian Congress on Family and Community Medicine.

He has been involved in international medical aid programmes, funded by the British Council, with the Community Medicine Program, Conceiçao Hospital, Porto Alegre, Brazil (1989-1991); the Department of Primary Care, University of Cape Town, South Africa (1997-2000); and the Department of Family Medicine, University of Transkei, South Africa (1997-2004).

Dr Helman’s research – in Britain, the USA, Brazil, and South Africa, has focused mainly on patients’ health beliefs; issues in communication between health professionals and their patients; psychosomatic disorders; cross-cultural perspectives on body and self; and the social, cultural and economic context of health, illness, and medical care.

In addition to Culture, Health and Illness, Dr Helman has published a book of essays The Body of Frankenstein’s Monster: Essays in Myth and Medicine (New York: W.W. Norton, 1992), a collection of medical writings Doctors and Patients: An Anthology(Oxford: Radcliffe Medical Press, 2003), and two books of poetry. His memoir Suburban Shaman: Tales from Medicine’s Frontline (London: Hammersmith Press, 2006) was selected by BBC Radio 4 as a ‘Book of the Week’, and serialized in March 2006. He has also published numerous articles in academic journals, including in The Lancet; British Medical Journal; Social Science and Medicine; Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry; Annals of Internal Medicine; Family Medicine; British Journal of General Practice; and Anthropology Today.

He has received the two top international awards in medical anthropology. In 2004 he received the Career Achievement Award of the American Anthropological Association’s Society for Medical Anthropology, and in 2005 the Lucy Mair Medal for Applied Anthropology of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain.

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