March 2009 Issue • Volume 37 • Issue 3

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The Golden Anniversary
of Medical Sociology

The ASA Medical Sociology Section is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding. In his The Word as Scalpel: A History of Medical Sociology, Samuel W. Bloom recounts the establishment of the section on medical sociology, which seeks to examine the phenomena of health and illness, the social organization of health care delivery, and differential access to medical resources. The American Sociological Society (now the American Sociological Association) Council approved the formation of the Section on Medical Sociology in September 1959. This followed the formal creation of ASA’s sections as they exist today, which were established "as a means for accommodating ‘special interest’ groups in the Society." Formerly their activities were primarily limited to organizing a session for the Annual Meeting.

By January 1960, the section had 407 members. A.B. Hollingshead was Chair, Odin Anderson served as Chair-Elect, and Samuel Bloom was Secretary-Treasurer. Everett Hughes, George Reeder (a physician), and Benjamin Paul (an anthropologist) were council members. From that auspicious beginning, the section has swelled to 1,022 members (as of 2008), making it the fourth-largest section. The medical sociology field is concerned with basic sociological research and its implications for public policy and practice, including medical care, financing and health insurance, inequities in access to care, medical technology, bioethical concerns, the continuum of care, and comparative health policies.

Annual Meeting Activities

To celebrate the Golden Anniversary, Janet Hankin, Chair of the Medical Sociology Section (Wayne State University) has planned special sessions for the 2009 Annual Meetings that highlight a common theme, "Fifty Years of Medical Sociology: Contributions and New Directions." The sessions include the topics of Patients Meet Providers, Health and SES, Health Policy and Reform, and Fifty Years of Methods in Medical Sociology.

Special activities at the meetings include student roundtables, organized by our student council representatives, which will feature famous medical sociologists who will share their expertise with the next generation of medical sociologists. We will recognize past chairs and Reeder Award winners at our reception. A special invited session will feature authors who are contributing to the Extra Issue of Journal of Health and Social Behavior: "What Do We Know? Key Findings from 50 Years of Medical Sociology" to be published in 2010.

Extra Issue of JHSB

Thanks to a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to the ASA, the section is publishing an extra issue of JHSB. In the past half-century, medical sociologists have provided key insights and findings on social dimensions of health and health care ranging from causes and consequences of health disparities to the organization and financing of health care. Unfortunately, many policymakers, funding agencies, and health scholars outside sociology are unaware of the scope and breadth of these sociological contributions. This forthcoming issue seeks to remedy this.

The extra issue of JHSB will review key findings on core topics from sociological studies of health, illness, and healing and suggest the policy implications of those findings. Leaders in each of the core topics will be invited to write short articles reviewing the key findings that have been produced in their subareas. The extra issue will seek to accomplish two specific goals. The first will be to provide a broad overview of the state of research on health, illness, and healing for sociologists and health scholars in other disciplines. This should also be accomplished through the scheduling of sessions at the 2009 and 2010 ASA Annual Meetings. The second goal will be to produce an executive summary highlighting three or four key findings for each topic. This executive summary will be written by a professional science writer and disseminated widely to policymakers, funding agencies, media outlets and other non-academic stakeholders.

The Guest Editors for the Extra Issue are Hankin and Eric Wright, Indiana University-Purdue University (Indianapolis). Eliza Pavalko, Indiana University, is the Editor of JHSB. logo_small


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