This paper investigates the development of medical sociology in four selected Western nations -the United States, Great Britain, West Germany and Austria-where the state of the field ranges from highly developed to underdeveloped. The focus of the paper is to explore the problem of applied versus purely theoretical medical sociology and assess the direction of the field. The trends noted in the analysis clearly indicate that contemporary medical sociology is primarily an applied subject. The evolution and implications of this situation for the subdiscipline are discussed. © 1983.