Skip to Content

Family, Culture, Medicine

A Problem-Based Learning Case


Deborah Engelen-Eigles
Department of Sociology / Women and Gender Studies
Century College


This four-part problem-based learning case examines cultural conflicts between Western medicine and non-Western traditional healing practices. Students consider notions of cultural relativism and ethnocentrism through the lens of social institutions, including the family and the medical system. After an introductory scenario, students are asked to assume the roles of ethics committee members of a national nursing professional organization to provide advice to a member chapter confronting a difficult clinical situation. Student work involves individual and group assignments, written products, and oral presentations. While developed for a course on the sociology of the family, the case could easily be adapted to other sociology courses such as social problems, sociology of culture, and sociology of medicine, as well as disciplines such as public health and social work.


  • Gain an introduction to a sociological approach to the study of culture.
  • Explore the significant ways families are repositories and transmitters of culture, as well as how culture shapes families' relationships and practices.
  • Apply knowledge of culture and families in the specific context of the medical system.
  • Apply knowledge of culture and families in advocating for appropriate and culturally competent child protective services and policies.
  • Gain familiarity with aspects of the structure and role of professional organizations.
  • Practice critical thinking and oral and written communication skills.
  • Practice and evaluate effective group process.


Family; culture; cultural competence; non-western medicine; traditional medicine; healing practices; professional practice; immigrant; Mien; Yao; Laos

Topical Areas

Ethics, Policy issues, Social issues, Social justice issues

Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division, Professional (degree program), Clinical education



Type / Methods

Analysis (Issues), Dilemma/Decision, Discussion, Problem-Based Learning, Role-Play



Subject Headings

Sociology  |   Medicine (General)  |   Nursing  |   Anthropology  |   Public Health  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

Case teaching notes are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering.

Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.


Jo Robins
Virginia Commonwealth University
Richmond, VA
I found your site while redesigning a graduate level nursing course entitled Psychological Issues for Advanced Practice Nursing. Thanks so very much for sharing these beautiful cases and guidance for how to use them. As a relatively new faculty member in a topic area I love but experience challenges for helping students who may be more diagnostic and procedure oriented to learn about the impact of psychosocial issues on health and health outcomes, I am most grateful!