Meet Erica Gibson: Our New Medical Ethnographer

Erica Gibson, Ph.D., recently joined the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Innovation Center team as the new medical ethnographer. In this blog post, she explains what a medical ethnographer does and her new role at the Innovation Center – and with the linkAges Timebank community.

Erica GibsonHi, I’m Erica. I recently moved to California from Florida and I am enjoying exploring my new community while working with a great team as the Innovation Center’s new medical ethnographer.  I received a Ph.D. in medical anthropology from the University of Alabama in 2007 and I have been working as an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Women’s and Gender Studies for the past six years.  My previous ethnographic experience includes cross-cultural studies on pregnancy and birth in the Southern U.S., Mexico, and Italy, and clinical and chronic pain studies in communities in Florida.

Ethnography is an on-the-ground method of learning about the social and cultural life of communities and individuals, with an emphasis on the perspectives of the people.  Medical ethnography allows us to understand behaviors that impact people’s wellness. This helps the team to design innovations that can improve health at both the individual and community levels. The Druker Center for Health Systems Innovation at Palo Alto Medical Foundation is dedicated to working in-depth with the local community, and many of our team members already do this.  As the medical ethnographer, I am working with community members to better understand the experiences of older adults and caregivers in the challenges that they face affecting their health and well-being.

Through participant observation, I can explore what community members are experiencing on an individual level, both as someone performing an activity, as well as through watching and learning.  For instance, in order to meet community members and learn first-hand about linkAges, I became a member of the linkAges TimeBank.  Upon learning that time banks often receive more offers than requests, I decided to post a request, rather than an offer for my first exchange.  The idea behind this is that people don’t want to ask for help; however they are very happy to offer help. In order to engage with the other TimeBank members quickly, I asked for help with a task that was intimidating to me but could probably be easily accomplished by someone in the TimeBank with the right skill set.  I requested help in sprucing up my cubicle. Two TimeBank members responded within days and I recently completed my first exchange with TimeBank member Judy Ott!  Judy helped me create an inviting work space by sharing her design expertise.  This exchange resulted in a positive change to my work space, but it also allowed me to understand exactly what is involved in a TimeBank experience from a participant’s perspective.  Also I had a great time just chatting with Judy and learning about fun things to do in and around the Bay Area!

Part of my time will be spent out in the community, getting to know TimeBank members and learning about how we can better serve them through linkAges programs.  You may see me at local events such as TimeBank Tales, orientation sessions, Meet and Move walks, or posting offers and requests on the TimeBank website.  Please feel free to come up and say hello, especially if you are interested in helping our team by speaking with me about your experiences with linkAges programs. You can also send me an email at gibsone@pamf.org if you would like to know more about what I do and how you can help make linkAges better for everyone.

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