Medicine encompasses a variety of healthcare practices evolved to maintain and restore health by the prevention of illness.  As a consequence, the medical profession has gained a great amount of prestige and society views the profession as vital.

The medical profession has such prestige due to to the level of expertise involved and needs to attract some of the most intelligent and talented members.

Barber states that doctors have such prestige because to be involved in the profession one must have extensive theoretical knowledge for which you have trained for a long period of time. However, Waitzkins challenges this, arguing that not all groups in society have equal access to join the medical profession, such as women who were encouraged to become nurses or midwives, rather than doctors. Barber also states that another reason for such prestige is the idea of caring for the vulnerable, the public also expect this. Contradicting Barber, Ilich argues that not all doctors act in the best interest of the patient. This is called iatragenesis. Another functionalist view is that, supported by Parsons. Parsons states that to manage illness, the medical profession has to determine who is legitimately ill or not, this is referred to as the “sick role”. However not everyone goes to the doctor and misdiagnosis can occur.

Overall functionalists believe that the medical profession deserves such prestige because it has an overall positive benefit to society. Although McKeowan argues not all improvements are down to doctors.

The Weberian view argues that the medical profession has gained this prestige because of the demand on its members to gain esoteric knowledge. This is very similar to Barber’s view. This idea of gaining qualifications, in turn benefits society. Similar to Barber, the Weberian view recognises the education barriers which suggests that only an elite group can enter the profession. Waitzkin challenges this. The Weberian view also “put(s) down” any challenges to their superior knowledge. However, Cant and Sherma recognize that other groups such as chiropractors have fought the exclusion by the medical profession for 60 years.

Another reason for the prestige is that doctors have “clinical freedom”, which emphasizes the idea that doctors have a divine right and that they are to be trusted. However Professor Hampton states that clinical freedom is “dead” due to technological advances, and there has been a shift in power. Overall the Weberian view believes that the medical profession has socially constructed its prestige.

According to the Marxist view prestige is linked to maintaining the status quo and reinforcing a capitalist society. Navarro states that doctors are part of the bourgeoisie and that in return, doctors shift the blame of illness away from the state and back to the individual to take full responsibility. Funtionalists such as Barber are critical of this view because it ignores the fact that doctors are supportive of patients whose illnesses are caused by social factors. Navarro further states that the idea of doctors sharing such prestige also upholds the capitalist ideology that the working population support the structure of society. Doctors ultimately decide who is fit for work. McKinley also states doctors act as pawns in the capitalist system, as they prescribe drugs to patients in order to boost sales for pharmaceutical companies.

However, other sociologists argue doctors maintain their profession by controlling their medical prestige. The feminists take a view that the medical profession has such prestige because they use their power to reinforce patriarchy. Oakley argues that women have been marginalized by men into junior roles within the medical profession. However, arguably over the last 15 years, the number of women who have trained as doctors is almost equal to men. This suggests that the women have broken the ‘glass ceiling’.

Similarly with the Weberian and functionalist view, Witz recognises the educational barrier. Women were not encouraged into the medical profession. In the Victorian times, stereotypically, women were viewed to have too fragile brains to cope with specialist knowledge. Witz, a liberal feminist, states that women should fight this ideology. For example in 1885 legal changes meant women now had opportunity to be equally recognised as doctors. Another reason for doctors’ prestige according to feminists is the idea that women were confined to an extension of expressive roles. Witz refers to this as demarcation. However, women since have raised the status of their jobs by making them professions e.g., midwifery. This is referred to as dual closure.

The feminist Lupton states that male doctors have abused the natural occurrence of childbirth by adding technical procedures, the control is thus taken away from women. Giddens conversely argues that there is an increase in individual desire and choice, thus giving women more power.

Finally Foucault believes that knowledge is power. He states that doctors create a framework for ideas, seen as superior. Foucault also acknowledges that doctors help develop rational thought by providing explanations above  the religious and spiritual. Dissection provides a rational understanding of the body. This gives doctors prestige in society because they’re at the forefront of new discovery. This is still the case. Foucault implies that his theory is more superior than the meta narratives in understanding the role of medicine.


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