Headshot of Sophie Nathenson, Phd for a Profile on Her Work of Invoking Widespread Wellness Through Sociology

Sophie Nathenson, PhD: Widespread Wellness through Sociology

Editorial Note:

This profile of Sophie Nathenson, PhD is brought to you through a joint collaboration between Applied Worldwide and Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS). Thank you to SWS and all those who made valuable contributions to the Profiles in Applied & Clinical Sociology series.

This profile is presented as part of a larger project with the intentions of: 1) providing students with examples of applied sociology, 2) providing market value to sociological skills and services, and 3) promoting the work of individual sociological practitioners and organizations. Learn more about Sociologists for Women in Society at socwomen.org.

Sophie Nathenson, PhD

Sophie Nathenson is an applied and public medical sociologist whose journey first started with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Psychology, with a minor in Spanish, from the University of Tulsa. From there, Dr. Nathenson moved into the world of sociology by earning her MS in Sociology followed by her PhD in Sociology with an emphasis in population health from the University of Utah. She also holds a Certificate in Social Entrepreneurship & Social Innovation from Portland State University and a Certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language from Bridge Linguatec.

As an applied sociologist, Nathenson reviews research on the connections between societal structure and health, and then translates that research into curriculum with a purpose. As an academic, she designs programs to train students in sociology while applying their sociological imagination and research skills to address local social problems. As Nathenson put it, “I identify trends in the health-related job market and build curriculum so that sociology majors can contribute in those fields.”

When we asked Dr. Nathenson about her work as an applied sociologist, she told us,

I developed a Population Health Management Bachelor’s degree program and an affiliated community research center in a rural area of Oregon where I worked alongside students in assisting local coalitions and organizations with gathering sociological data to design or evaluate programs intended to improve health. I engage in public sociology by bringing a sociological framework to understanding health issues and helping people solidify their vision into concrete steps and mechanisms to evaluate success. I encourage research on the population-served, and a focus on the connections between innovation, wellbeing, and systems-change in fields such as healthcare, public health, and social work.

Continue reading for the full interview with Dr. Sophie Nathenson on her inspiring work as an applied medical sociologist! You can connect with Dr. Nathenson further on LinkedIn and Instagram and learn more about her work at WidespreadWelness.org.

Using Sociology in Practice

How did you establish yourself as an applied or clinical sociologist?

I established myself as an applied sociologist first by working at a polytechnic university with a mission that focuses on career placement. I have spent my career investigating and promoting the relationship between sociological skills and successful, meaningful careers. I became very involved in my local community by joining boards, groups, and volunteer activities where I talked about social research and its utility. This led to contributions as an applied sociologist on many projects including community health and food assessments. During the pandemic, I started a business to offer mentorship and education outside of academia. I had moved to a new city, and began connecting with other professionals online. Eventually I was connected with a company that delivered continuing education for health professionals and found a home for developing content on how tools from sociology and psychology can improve collective wellbeing.

What services do you offer and who is your clientele?

As a consultant, I provide services related to education, mentorship, and project design. I build and deliver educational courses for continuing education in healthcare on topics such as burnout, systems change, cultural humility, equity, and the social and structural determinants of health. As a professional mentor, I coach professionals who may be feeling stuck or desiring more guidance in the development of their career as an academic, health professional, or entrepreneur. I use my research skills and experience as a professor to help people design various projects, whether it be a research study, thesis, dissertation, or health promotion initiative. I also love to help professionals bring new energy into their careers and passions by designing resume makeovers and websites.

In general, how do you use sociology in practice?

I use sociology in practice by bringing a sociological perspective to health issues. I train health professionals to understand social and structural determinants of health.

How do you use sociological research methods in practice?

I use sociological research methods in practice by using skills in surveying, interviewing, and data analysis to produce reports on health issues.

How do you use sociological theory in practice?

I use sociological theory in practice by applying fundamental cause theory to physical and mental health issues.

Lessons for Future Practitioners

What types of courses should undergraduate students take in preparation for a career similar to yours?

  • Medical Sociology
  • Social Research Methods
  • Public Health
  • Epidemiology
  • Psychology
  • Marketing

What types of courses should graduate students take in preparation for a career similar to yours?

  • Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methods
  • Design Thinking
  • Entrepreneurship

What types of experiences should undergraduate students seek in preparation for a career similar to yours?

Study abroad, internships, and joining local groups that focus on health promotion or social problems.

What types of experiences should graduate students seek in preparation for a career similar to yours?

Giving presentations and networking with professional organizations outside sociology, i.e, medicine, social work, education, etc.

What texts or authors can people reference to learn more about the work you do as an applied or clinical sociologist?

Medical Sociology authors & researchers including:

  • Michel Foucault
  • Viktor Frankl
  • Paul Starr
  • Ivan Illich
  • Arthur Kleinman
  • Chloe E. Bird
  • Lisa Berkman
  • Peter Conrad
  • Howard Waitzkin
  • Bernice Pescosolido

More generally, what are the best outlets to learn more about the work you do as an applied or clinical sociologist?

Association for Applied & Clinical Sociology and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

How would you describe the daily life of an applied or clinical sociologist?

Reading research, meeting with people, giving presentations, and enjoying life.

What advice do you have for aspiring applied and clinical sociologists?

Network with professionals outside of sociology. Find a way to contribute by completing a project that is attainable, interesting to you, and has a deliverable that can be shared with others. Start with a person or organization that you feel comfortable collaborating with and failing. Brainstorm a way to fund your work. Once you have a paid project with a clear benefit under your belt, it gets easier.