Remembering Sharon Kaufman, PhD

April 5, 2022 | By UCSF School of Medicine

Dr. Sharon KaufmanIt is with profound sorrow that we share the news that Sharon Kaufman, PhD, past Chair of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences in the School of Medicine, and member of the Institute for Health and Aging in the School of Nursing, passed away on Saturday, April 2, at her home in Ross, California. She was 73 years old. The cause was a very recently diagnosed cancer.

Dr. Kaufman was a member of the first cohort of graduate students in the young field of medical anthropology, receiving her PhD in 1980 from the discipline’s pioneering program based at the UCSF School of Medicine and the anthropology department at UC Berkeley. Dr. Kaufman’s anthropological research on how Americans age and how medicine and the pharmaceutical industry respond was pathbreaking in its impact – both clinically for geriatric medicine and theoretically for the social sciences.  

In addition to dozens of pioneering scholarly articles, her extensive book publications include The Ageless Self: Sources of Meaning in Late Life(1986), A Healer’s Tale: Transforming Medicine and Culture(1993), And a Time to Die: How American Hospitals Shape the End of Life(2005 – recipient of the New Millennium Book Award, one of the highest honors bestowed by the Society for Medical Anthropology), Ordinary Medicine: Extraordinary Treatments, Longer Lives and Where to Draw the Line(2015). In 2018 she was awarded the Robert B. Textor and Family Prize for Excellence in Anticipatory Anthropology by the American Anthropological Association.  

Dr. Kaufman was one of medical anthropology’s most cherished public intellectuals, having trained a large portion of the medical anthropologists currently working in the U.S. today. Her pedagogical work earned her The Helen Nahm Research Lecture Award from the School of Nursing in 2016, and the UCSF 150th Anniversary Alumni Excellence Award, among many other honors and awards.

So many have been privileged and honored to have had Dr. Kaufman as a mentor, colleague, and friend. Her loss will be felt far and wide, and with deep reverberations across her professional and personal life.

UCSF Health Chaplains, Spiritual Care Services, offer support for members of our community who experience sudden loss of a colleague. 

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be sent to:

Gay Becker and Sharon Kaufman Memorial Fund 
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
490 Illinois St, Floor 7
San Francisco, CA 94143-0850