Health & Societies:  "Look back; Look around; Look ahead"

The Health and Societies (HSOC) major examines health and medicine in social context, equipping students with the critical faculties and multidisciplinary skills that will prepare them for careers in public health, health services, and a variety of other arenas. The program is built on the foundation of three core disciplines: anthropology, history, and sociology. Methods and courses from other disciplines and fields—including epidemiology, political science, business/economics, law, environmental studies, and bioethics—supplement the core disciplines and provide majors with the variety of skills necessary to grasp the forces that have shaped our contemporary health landscapes. The Health and Societies graduate is a "multilingual" scholar and citizen, fluent in the methods and perspectives of several social science disciplines--- theoretically informed but practically minded, with a global outlook and local experience. HSOC majors:

  • Read scientific and medical texts critically, and assess their social, cultural, and political origins and ramifications;
  • Identify and define key social determinants of health in a variety of historical and contemporary contexts;
  • Analyze the interplay of factors that have resulted in particular health outcomes and policies;
  • Integrate methods from history, sociology, anthropology, and other disciplines in empirical assessments of communities, populations, and policy interventions on multiple levels;
  • Pursue in-depth research projects using published sources, archival material, and ethnographic and experimental data;
  • Analyze data using both quantitative and qualitative methods; and
  • Participate in the design of effective multipronged strategies to address health challenges in local, national, and international contexts.

What our graduates say

"HSOC allows you to study the big picture and understand real issues for a real world."

"I can't stress how important my Health and Societies major was during my interviews. In fact most of the medical school applications, both the primary and supplemental, in one way or another explored the applicant's understanding of the societal impact and social determinants on health and disease."

For Prospective Students

  • This website contains detailed information about the major and we urge prospective students to study it thoroughly in advance of contacting faculty or visiting campus. 
  • Any appointments with faculty must be arranged prior to visiting campus and depend on faculty schedules and availability. 
  • If you wish to speak with the HSOC Director or Associate Director please contact them by email to arrange an appointment.
  • If you wish to visit classes, the recommended courses for visitors are listed on the College’s “Courses for Visitors” page.  Prospective students should check with the course instructor to make sure that the day they plan to visit is good for seeing the class in action, and that there is no field trip or exam on that day.
  • The most appropriate classes for visitors are lecture classes.  If a student very much wishes to visit a freshman seminar or other seminar class, they must email the instructor for permission.  Due to the character of seminars, these classes are not well-suited for observation and participation.
  • What HSOC Graduates Do

Myths about Majors: 

  • I have to find the right major to get a job/get into graduate school
  • I have to know now exactly what my career path is
  • I have to do something pre-professional right now
  • I am the only person at Penn who doesn't know what they want to do after college

College of Arts and Sciences