Medical sociology is a branch of sociology based on analyzing the field of medicine as a whole, particularly as it relates to the availability of medical care and to the social impacts of medical professions. This field is based on the work of many different fields, ranging from public health to statistics. It is also a very diverse group in terms of specific ideology, approach, and focus. One group may study the social nature of a specific group of health care institutions, while another may focus on the social impact of disease. The significant variance in focus has led some to believe that medical sociology should be considered a loosely connected group of disciplines instead of a single unified field.
Generally speaking, an education in medical sociology comes as a part of a general sociology or public health program. Some such programs offer concentrations or specializations in medicine-related subjects. Medical sociologists may find employment in many different fields, ranging from academia to social work to health policy. Their training and interest gives them the ability to look beyond doctor-patient interactions and to seek social explanations for trends in medical fields. They are also well-equipped to seek explanations and solutions for differences between the levels of health care received by different social groups.
The multifaceted nature of medical sociology tends to lead students through a wide variety of coursework. A student of this field tends to begin his education with classes on general sociology and psychology. After gaining familiarity with general social and psychological problems and methods, students generally move on to more specific coursework based on their particular interests. This may include such topics as the sociology of aging or of mental health. Students of medical sociology may also study the history, philosophy, and social issues associated with medicine.
Politics and economics are often of particular interest in medical sociology, as they tend to have a tremendous effect on social structure. Different socioeconomic groups, for example, often receive significantly different levels of health care. The effects of capitalism are often called into question during an analysis of the social and political effects on medicine. Some claim that capitalism leads to significant inequalities in wealth that result in significant inequalities in healthcare. Others claim that capitalism is the driving force that leads to rapid advancement in health care and that, even though a division may exist, everyone is better off because of the advancements made through capitalism.