Portrait of Claire Wendland
Claire Wendland, MD, PhD
Reproductive and Population Health


Claire Wendland, MD, PhD, FACOG is Professor in the Departments of Anthropology and Obstetrics & Gynecology. Her areas of active research, teaching and publication are primarily related to medical training and practice in contexts of scarcity and inequality. She is an ethnographer with experience in a range of qualitative methodologies. Her research has been funded with intramural and extramural grants including a 2019-20 Fellowship from the American College of Learned Societies. Her medical degree is from Michigan State University, and she completed her residency in Ob-Gyn at University of New Mexico. Before her graduate studies in anthropology (at UMass Amherst), she worked in the Navajo area of the Indian Health Service both at Chinle Comprehensive Health Care Facility and at Gallup Indian Medical Center, where she was Chief of the Ob-Gyn Department. Her teaching at UW-Madison has been recognized with the Dr. Brenda Pfaehler Award of Excellence, the Phillip R. Certain Letters & Science Distinguished Faculty Award, and the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award. 

BS Linguistics Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 1986
MD Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, East Lansing, Michigan 1990
Residency Obstetrics & Gynecology University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico 1994
PhD Anthropology University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Amherst, Massachusetts 2004

2020–present: State of Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services
1996–present: American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology 
1993–present: New Mexico Board of Medical Examiners     
2002–2009: Malawi Medical Council Register of Specialists
1991: Certified, National Board of Medical Examiners

American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, Fellow 1996-present, Junior Fellow 1990-96
Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society
American Anthropological Association
Society for Medical Anthropology
African Studies Associatin
Phi Kappa Phi
Phi Beta Kappa
American Association for the Advancement of Science

Admitting privileges: A construction ecology perspective on the unintended consequences of medical school admissions

Janelle S Taylor, Claire L Wendland, Kulamakan Mahan Kulasegaram, Frederic W Hafferty

Medical-school applicants learn from many sources that they must stand out to fit in. Many construct self-presentations intended to appeal to medical-school admissions committees from the raw materials of work and volunteer experiences, in order to demonstrate that they will succeed in a demanding profession to which access is tightly controlled. Borrowing from the field of architecture the lens of construction ecology, which considers buildings in relation to the global effects of the resources...

Published: 03/01/2023

Advances in health sciences education : theory and practice pmid:36856902

Society for Medical Anthropology Statement on Supreme Court Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization Decision

Mara Buchbinder, Joanna Mishtal, Elyse O Singer, Claire L Wendland

This statement summarizes key findings from anthropological and related scholarship on the harmful consequences of inadequate abortion access, leading the Society for Medical Anthropology to register profound concern about the recent Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson. After circulation to SMA members for input, a finalized version passed a membership vote by an overwhelming margin. This statement complements one produced by the Council for Anthropology and Reproduction, available here.

Published: 11/26/2022

Medical anthropology quarterly pmid:36433774

The changing dynamics of community care and support in rural Malawi: The impact on Women's health and wellbeing at end of life

Maren M Hawkins, Anne Dressel, Nancy Kendall, Claire Wendland, Stephen Hawkins, Kimberly Walker, Elizabeth Mkandawire, Jackline Kirungi, Peninnah Kako, Lucy Mkandawire-Valhmu

In this critical ethnographic study, we examined women's end of life experiences in Malawi, one of the few countries in the world with a national palliative care policy. Specifically, we explored how women's and their caregivers' experiences were shaped by family and community care, and material needs. Interviews and observations with female clients of a non-governmental organization in rural Central Malawi, and with their caregivers, revealed that community-level support was both precarious and...

Published: 04/04/2022

Social science & medicine (1982) pmid:35378429

Women's work at end of life: The intersecting gendered vulnerabilities of patients and caregivers in rural Malawi

Lucy Mkandawire-Valhmu, Nancy Kendall, Anne Dressel, Claire Wendland, Victoria L Scheer, Peninnah Kako, Tammy Neiman, Wilmot Valhmu, Ashley Ruiz, Jeneile Luebke, Peter Minjale, Anne Merriman, Lucy Finch, Leonard Egede

Gender inequality in the form of gender-based violence manifests throughout the course of women's lives but has a particularly unique impact at end of life. We sampled 26 patients and 14 caregivers for this qualitative critical ethnographic study. The study purpose was to describe the lived experience of female palliative care patients in rural Malawi and their caregivers. The specific aims were to (i) analyse physical, spiritual and mental health needs and (ii) guide best healthcare practice....

Published: 02/22/2020

Global public health pmid:32083982

Who Counts? What Counts? Place and the Limits of Perinatal Mortality Measures

Claire Wendland

Maternal and neonatal mortality statistics foreground some possible causes of death at the expense of others. Political place (nation, state) and place of birth (hospital, home) are integral to these statistics; respect for women as persons is not. Using case examples from Malawi and the United States, I argue that the focus on place embedded in these indicators can legitimate coercive approaches to childbirth. Qualitative assessments in both cases reveal that respectful care, while not...

Published: 03/16/2018

AMA journal of ethics pmid:29542438

Assessing empathy development in medical education: a systematic review

Sandra H Sulzer, Noah W Feinstein, Claire L Wendland

CONCLUSIONS: We suggest that future research should follow the lead of basic scientific research that conceptualises empathy as relational - an engagement between a subject and an object - rather than as a personal quality that may be modified wholesale through appropriate training.

Published: 02/21/2016

Medical education pmid:26896015

Exceptional deliveries: home births as ethical anomalies in American obstetrics

Claire L Wendland

Interest in home birth appears to be growing among American women, and most obstetricians can expect to encounter patients who are considering home birth. In 2011, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued an opinion statement intended to guide obstetricians in responding to such patients. In this article, I examine the ACOG statement in light of the historical and contemporary clinical realities surrounding home birth in the United States, an examination guided in...

Published: 11/29/2013

The Journal of clinical ethics pmid:24282852

2. A Qualitative Study of Medical Student Socialization in Malawi's College of Medicine: Clinical Crisis and Beyond

Claire Wendland, Chiwoza Bandawe

No abstract

Published: 07/24/2013

Malawi medical journal : the journal of Medical Association of Malawi pmid:23878638

1. A Qualitative Study of Medical Student Socialization in Malawi's College of Medicine: Preclinical Training and Identity

Claire Wendland, Chiwoza Bandawe

No abstract

Published: 07/24/2013

Malawi medical journal : the journal of Medical Association of Malawi pmid:23878637

Midwives' verbal support of nulliparous women in second-stage labor

Noelle Borders, Claire Wendland, Emily Haozous, Lawrence Leeman, Rebecca Rogers

CONCLUSION: Nurse-midwives use a range of verbal support strategies to guide the second stage. Directive support was relatively uncommon. Most verbal support instead affirmed a woman's ability to follow her own body's lead in second-stage labor, with or without epidural.

Published: 04/23/2013

Journal of obstetric, gynecologic, and neonatal nursing : JOGNN pmid:23600405

Marriage as a risk factor for HIV: learning from the experiences of HIV-infected women in Malawi

Lucy Mkandawire-Valhmu, Claire Wendland, Patricia E Stevens, Peninnah M Kako, Anne Dressel, Jennifer Kibicho

The gender inequalities that characterise intimate partner relationships in Malawi, a country with one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world, arguably place marriage as an important risk factor for HIV infection among women, yet few studies detail the complex interactions of marriage and risk. In order to develop HIV-prevention interventions that have lasting impacts in such communities, we need a deeper understanding of the intricacies of women's lives, how and why they are involved...

Published: 01/29/2013

Global public health pmid:23350930

Health Electives in Africa and the Duty to Care in the Age of HIV/AIDS

Claire L Wendland

No abstract

Published: 11/13/2012

The virtual mentor : VM pmid:23140872

Moral maps and medical imaginaries: clinical tourism at Malawi's College of Medicine

Claire L Wendland

At an understaffed and underresourced urban African training hospital, Malawian medical students learn to be doctors while foreign medical students, visiting Malawi as clinical tourists on short-term electives, learn about “global health.” Scientific ideas circulate fast there; clinical tourists circulate readily from outside to Malawi but not the reverse; medical technologies circulate slowly, erratically, and sometimes not at all. Medicine's uneven globalization is on full display. I extend...

Published: 06/06/2012

American anthropologist pmid:22662357

Risky business

Claire Wendland

No abstract

Published: 07/31/2010

The Hastings Center report pmid:20672459

The vanishing mother: Cesarean section and "evidence-based obstetrics"

Claire L Wendland

The philosophy of "evidence-based medicine"--basing medical decisions on evidence from randomized controlled trials and other forms of aggregate data rather than on clinical experience or expert opinion--has swept U.S. medical practice in recent years. Obstetricians justify recent increases in the use of cesarean section, and dramatic decreases in vaginal birth following previous cesarean, as evidence-based obstetrical practice. Analysis of pivotal "evidence" supporting cesarean demonstrates...

Published: 07/03/2007

Medical anthropology quarterly pmid:17601085

Taylor J, Wendland C.  The hidden curriculum in medicine’s culture of no culture.  In The Hidden Curriculum and Health Professions Education, editors Joseph O’Donnell and Fred Hafferty, pp. 53-62. Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press; 2014.


Wendland C, Bandawe C.  Letter to a young Malawian doctor. In The World of Work: Imagined Manuals for Real Jobs, editor Ilana Gershon, pp. 10-27. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press; 2015.


Wendland C, Erikson S, and Sullivan N.  Beneath the spin: moral complexity and rhetorical simplicity in global health volunteering.  In Volunteer Economies: The Politics and Ethics of Voluntary Labour in Africa, editors Hannah Brown and Ruth J. Prince, pp. 164-182. London: James Currey Press; 2016.


Wendland C.  The anthropology of African biomedicine.  In The Medical Anthropology of Global Africa, editors Kathryn Rhine, John M. Janzen, Glenn Adams, and Heather Aldersey, pp. 45-53. University of Kansas Press, #26 in the Monographs in Anthropology Series; 2014.


Wendland C. Estimating death: a close reading of maternal mortality metrics in Malawi. In Metrics: What Counts in Global Health, editor Vincanne Adams, pp. 57-81. Durham, NC: Duke University Press; 2016.


Wendland C. Excerpts from A Heart for the Work [pp. 2-4, 120-133, 157-163] reprinted in Foundations of Global Health: An Interdisciplinary Reader, editors Peter Brown and Svea Closser, pp. 385-396. New York: Oxford University Press; 2018.


Wendland C. Legitimate care, dangerous care, and childbirth in an urban African community. In African Medical Pluralism, editors Carolyn Sargent and William Olsen, pp. 244-260. Bloomington: Indiana University Press; 2017.


Wendland CL. A Heart for the Work: Journeys Through an African Medical School. University of Chicago Press; 2010.


Borders N, Wendland C, Haozous E, Leeman L, Rogers R. Midwives’ Verbal Support of Nulliparous Women in Second‐Stage Labor. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing. 2013 May 1;42(3):311-20.


Erikson SL, Wendland C. Exclusionary practice: medical schools and global health clinical electives. BMJ. 2014 Jun 5;348.


Leeman LM, Wendland CL. Cervical ectopic pregnancy: diagnosis with endovaginal ultrasound examination and successful treatment with methotrexate. Archives of Family Medicine. 2000 Jan 1;9(1):72.


Mkandawire-Valhmu L, Wendland C, Stevens PE, Kako PM, Dressel A, Kibicho J. Marriage as a risk factor for HIV: Learning from the experiences of HIV-infected women in Malawi. Global Public Health. 2013 Feb 1;8(2):187-201.


Peters RW, Wendland C. Up the Africanist: the possibilities and problems of ‘studying up’in Africa. Critical African Studies. 2016 Sep 1;8(3):239-54.


Sulzer SH, Feinstein NW, Wendland CL. Assessing empathy development in medical education: a systematic review. Medical Education. 2016 Mar;50(3):300-10.


Wendland C, Bandawe C. A qualitative study of medical student socialization in Malawi's College of Medicine: Clincal crisis and beyond. Malawi Medical Journal. 2007 Oct 16;19(2):71-4.


Wendland C, Bandawe C. A qualitative study of medical student socialization in Malawi's College of Medicine: Preclinical training and identity. Malawi Medical Journal. 2007;19(2):68-71.


Wendland C, Baszanger I, Bharadwaj A, Geissler PW, Gibson D, Kamat VR, Kyaddondo D, Langwick S, Meinert L, Pfeiffer J, Redfield P. Animating biomedicine’s moral order: the crisis of practice in Malawian medical training. Current Anthropology. 2012 Dec 1;53(6):755-788.


Wendland C.  The Cult of Domesticity and the Brotherhood of Science: Gendering American Medicine in the Nineteenth Century.  The Pharos. 2006;69(3):30-37.


Wendland C. Who counts? What counts? Place and the limits of perinatal mortality measures. AMA Journal of Ethics. 2018 Mar 1;20(3):278-87.


Wendland CL, Byrn F, Hill C. Donor insemination: a comparison of lesbian couples, heterosexual couples and single women. Fertility and Sterility. 1996 Apr 1;65(4):764-70.


Wendland CL. Exceptional deliveries: home births as ethical anomalies in American obstetrics. The Journal of clinical ethics. 2013;24(3):253-65.


Wendland CL. Health Electives in Africa and the Duty to Care in the Age of HIV/AIDS. AMA Journal of Ethics. 2010 Mar 1;12(3):218-24.


Wendland CL. Moral maps and medical imaginaries: clinical tourism at Malawi's college of medicine. American Anthropologist. 2012 Mar;114(1):108-22.


Wendland CL. Opening up the black box: looking for a more capacious version of capacity in global health partnerships. Canadian Journal of African Studies. 2016 Sep 1;50(3):415-35.


Wendland CL. Physician Anthropologists. Annual Review of Anthropology. 2019 Oct 21;48:187-205.


Wendland CL. Research, therapy, and bioethical hegemony: the controversy over perinatal AZT trials in Africa. African Studies Review. 2008 Dec 1:1-23.


Wendland CL. The Vanishing Mother: Cesarean Section and “Evidence‐Based Obstetrics”. Medical Anthropology Quarterly. 2007 Jun;21(2):218-33.


Wendland published in Advances in Health Sciences Education

Claire Wendland, MD, PhD, Professor and Chair of the UW-Madison Department of Anthropology and professor in the UW Ob-Gyn Division of Reproductive and Population Health, co-authored a new publication in the journal Advances in Health Sciences Education!

In the article “Admitting privileges: a construction ecology perspective on the unintended consequences of medical school admission”, Wendland and co-authors reframe medical school admissions as a social phenomenon with far-reaching, unintended consequences in medicine as a field and beyond:

“Pre-medical hopefuls seek convincing evidence of their unique fitness for the medical profession. The search for experiences that can serve as evidence of this fitness drives them to do things, and the things they do have effects that are not always in keeping with the stated values of medicine or the goal to diversify the profession. Those effects are geographically and socially far-reaching, moving beyond medical schools into would-be applicants’ families and communities, and even into distant countries. They are also fundamentally shaped by the unequal starting points from which applicants begin their journeys toward the applicant pool.”

Read the whole publication here!

Wendland publishes op-ed in Cap Times

Professor Claire Wendland, MD, PhD, Chair of the UW-Madison Department of Anthropology and faculty member in the UW Ob-Gyn Division of Reproductive and Population Health, published an editorial in the Cap Times drawing on her many years of clinical and research experience to share potential consequences of overturning abortion rights.

In “I've seen what happens when abortions are unavailable”, Wendland shares examples of adverse outcomes when abortion access is limited, both in the United States and in other countries. She also outlines the research that tells us this decision could come with a heavy toll on individual and community health:

“The bottom line: People in Wisconsin will die because of this decision. People in the U.S. will die. The deaths won’t be easy to calculate, but years of national and international research leave no doubt about how they will be distributed. Disproportionately they will be poor women, rural people and scared girls. No matter how you feel about the constitutional issues involved, or about the legitimacy of this court, or about the many other recent decisions these nine people have made for us all, or about what’s evidently next on their agenda (contraception, queer rights and marriage equality), it’s worth keeping these stakes in mind.”

Read the whole editorial here.

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