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Patient-Centered Care: How Anthropology is Innovating Healthcare

It’s a Skype interview, but the hustle and bustle of the café Felipe Dest has settled down in reflects the fast track his life is currently on.

After graduating from UNC with an Anthropology degree, Dest spent time in AmeriCorps, leading to his interest in patient care after working in a community health center in Berkley, California. “It was a 10 month program and after I finished, I got hired on and worked my way up into the quality improvement department there, at the community health center. I was doing a lot of stuff related to patient experience. I worked with the patient advisory council within the community health center and I did a lot of data analytics.” Right from the start, it’s clear that unique experiences have shaped Dest’s career path, from his Anthropology interests at UNC (Professor Rivkin-Fish’s classes are one of his top recommendations) to a study abroad program in Brazil, his subsequent work in AmeriCorps, and now at Johns Hopkins pursuing a masters in Health Administration.

Like many students at UNC, Felipe Dest arrived to college with an interest in pursuing a career in medicine . He was aware of his interests in public health, sociology, and environmental impacts on health, but struggled to find a program of study that truly reflected and encompassed all of these areas. After some friends recommended that he take a class with Professor Rivkin-Fish, he realized that medical anthropology was this program that he had been looking for. Dest noted that “it seemed to culminate all those things I was interested in,” and he enjoyed the way the classes challenged him to think about health and systems of care from different perspectives.

Dest’s academic interest in anthropology is also reflected in the extracurricular activities he was involved in at UNC. He was involved with MANNA Project International through Nourish International, a part of the Campus Y, where he worked with a UNC anthropology professor on summer projects in Peru. He remembered how the professor would provide the local residents with basic health necessities in exchange for community protection of his archeological dig sites. Dest’s studies in medical anthropology also helped him determine where he would spend his semester abroad. He studied in Brazil, analyzing the health care systems and methods of healing in the local society, with a specific focus on nutrition. This experience led him to working with the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, working with a Warren County community to promote healthy eating and food security. Through these activities, he developed his passion for patient-centered care. His work helped him develop into a patient advocate, giving patients a stronger voice to assert their health needs.

Post-grad life definitely hasn’t swayed Dest from his passion for medical anthropology. His anthropology degree is something that has been a major talking point in his interviews. He’s looking forward to spending the coming months working in and observing hospital life and attributes his observation skills to his time studying under UNC’s anthropology department. He’s pursuing his passion of patient-centered care and restructuring healthcare systems in his Masters work in Health Administration. His main priority is taking care of patients and, in doing so, considering the “different factors that play a role, whether it’s environmental, political, structural, or social.” Dest is appreciative of his anthropology background having given him a perspective outside of that of a businessman or a healthcare provider.

That outside-looking-in point of view really came in handy when he did a stint in AmeriCorps prior to graduate school. He was able to coordinate the patient advisory council, implementing new initiatives and programs, ultimately giving patients a stronger and more active role in their own care. He has always been committed to revealing the heart of the issue or need. Anthropology, he believes, will allow him to do just that. “You could figure out more in depth like what staff or organizational culture is like and provide analysis on a way to actually improve it from a deeper level, which would result in more sustainable or longstanding change.” Dest felt most impacted when it came to his view of health care, both nationally and internationally. His eyes were opened by his Carolina education to conditions around the world and what health care actually looks like, logistically from the most basic levels to the chaotic functionality of a busy hospital. He emphasized the Health Administration program as a perfect fit for him as he’s always been interested in enacting policies at a larger level, as a person who “could change things.”

Year of graduation: 2011

Profession/employment/post-graduate study: ten-month AmeriCorps immediately following graduation; currently pursuing a Masters degree in Health Administration at Johns Hopkins University

What inspires you: The desire to give patients a stronger voice and make them more active participants in healthcare; solving complex challenges

Favorite anthropology book: When Bodies Remember: Experiences and Politics of AIDS in South Africa by Didier Fassin

How I define medical anthropology: The ways that political and social structures impact systems of care delivery and people’s perceptions of their own health

By Katie Huber, Hayley Conyers, Rachel Bailey, and Doreen Nalyazi

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