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As they don their white coats for the first time, a new crop of medical students nationwide is taking an oath — but it may not be the one you think.

The Hippocratic oath has been out of fashion for a while. It doesn’t actually say, “do no harm,” but it does pledge allegiance to mythical goddesses, among other things. In its place are modernized oaths, which combine the idea of “do no harm” with vows to remember both the human beings on the other end of the stethoscope and their social and financial well-being when treating them.

“We see health as a much broader context than just the physical symptoms and diagnoses,” said Steve Smith, associate dean for student affairs at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, one of three new medical schools opened in the US this summer.


Dell let its inaugural class select and revise their own oath earlier this month. The students decided to modify parts of a more humanistic oath written in 1964 by Dr. Louis Lasagna, a former dean at Tufts University School of Medicine.

“I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, or a cancerous growth, but a sick human being,” the students vowed at their symbolic white coat ceremony. In these ceremonies, now common nationwide, students accept white coats, recite oaths, and commit to practice ethically as they begin their medical education.


Oath-taking has become nearly universal at US medical schools, and while oaths of all stripes are often called “Hippocratic,” hardly any schools use the original oath that Hippocrates, the Greek “father of medicine,” is said to have written over 2,000 years ago.

That oath has several problems, said Smith. For starters, he pointed to the Greek gods: “I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses,” the oath begins. The original oath also asks doctors never to “give a woman a pessary to procure abortion,” and to abstain from euthanasia (“I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it”).

Lasagna’s oath is the most popular one used by medical schools: 33 percent use it, according to a 2009 survey of 135 US and Canadian medical schools. Just 11 percent of the schools use the classical Hippocratic version, researchers found.

“I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug,” Lasagna’s oath reads in part. Lasagna’s version also calls on doctors to admit when they don’t know the answer; prevent diseases; and to take responsibility not just for the patient’s health, but for the way an illness affects a person’s “family and economic stability.”

How would you change the Hippocratic oath?

  • What oath would you take if you were a doctor-in-training? How would you fill in the blank?

Other values influence a school’s oath. Dr. Robert Orr, a professor at Loma Linda, a Seventh-Day Adventist university outside of Los Angeles, surveyed medical schools in the US and Canada in 1993 about this practice. While oath-taking had become widespread, he and coauthors concluded the content of the Hippocratic oath had been watered down over the years. He joined a panel that rewrote the oath in 1995 at Loma Linda’s medical school, which had been using a secular version.

The school’s new oath doesn’t swear off abortion or euthanasia, as Hippocrates’s version did. But it brings back one thing Orr noted had gone missing — a pledge to God.

“This is not a code of ethics for providers,” Orr told students in a 2012 ceremony before they took the new oath, “but a professional oath sworn to God almighty.”

New York Medical College, Tulane, and the University of California, San Francisco, all have students vow not to discriminate against patients based on gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation.

Most schools stick with one of three main versions of the oath, often for the sake of tradition — Hippocrates’s, Lasagna’s, and the Declaration of Geneva, said Dr. B. Alex Foster, the coauthor of the oath survey and an assistant professor at UT Health Science Center in San Antonio.

But some medical school classes have revised their oaths to reflect their personal values.

Medical students at Creighton University, a Jesuit university in Omaha, Neb., revised their school’s oath last year to keep up with modern times, adding a pledge not to discriminate against patients based on sexual orientation, according to spokeswoman Cindy Workman.

At Harvard Medical School, each class of students now writes its own oaths, one at the white coat ceremony and another at graduation, when they take the oath as a newly minted doctor.

The latest version that incoming students at Harvard recited in August reads in parts like a fiery sermon. It calls on doctors-in-training to “wake up to the realities of the world” and “rise up.”

“We promise to bear witness to historical injustices that continue to unfold for marginalized communities,” the oath reads, in part. “… We must have the courage to act when we witness injustice.”

  • I do not think most “doctors” give a damn about the survival of their patients, more like just getting PAID! Nurses no hope!

    • Mr.B.Smith,,,u nailed it,,,,the care nothing about their patient,,a fellow humanbeing.They only care about the $$$$$,,,and if they screw-up,,,how to cover it up..I am willing to bet 99.9%%%% are in that category..Ethics,morality,humane care,,,gone,,,gone to the almighty dollar,,,,,Sickening,,they’ve become like animals,,going after the weakest in society,,to extort money from,,,Doesn’t matter if their patient is in physical pain,,doesn’t matter if they have to choose food over paying for a medical bill,,Doctors just don’t give ashit anymore about humane care,,,,all they care about is their condo in Florida,and their condo in Colorado,and the 5 Mercedes,,,makes me sick,,,I only know of 5 doctors in the pain community they care about us,,,sadly none of them are my personal doctor,,,maryw

  • I believe that one should do everything possible to do good for the person who is in need of greater health. Do not let money dictate how much we can do for the individual. What if we were the ones at the other end,what would we want for ourselves? If we had the talent to do so, use it or loose it.

  • The Hippocratic Oath is a pledge to satin and his entourage if evil demons. The Medical symbol is also of satin. satin created cancer, the Oath is a hex.

    • In the past I would have responded to your post in anger that you have been taught and are passing on such nonsensical beliefs.

      At this point all I have is pity for people who are not capable of using the brain they were born with.

  • To those of you bashing doctors and the healthcare system… find alternatives that you believe are better. Stop whining and complaining. It’s easy and gives you no credibility. Take ownership of your own health. Provide solutions to the problems. Here’s an idea, become a doctor yourself and make the system better. Otherwise, pipe down.

    • No doubt doctors can be unfairly bashed these days and there is a lot of complaining. Couldn’t agree more that we MUST start taking ownership of our own health.
      At the same time, big medicine in the US (not the fault of MD’s) has become more about a revolving door treatment centric approach that seems to put profits over patients.
      As one solution, there must be far more focus on prevention and conventional doctors need to be trained more in integrative and lifestyle medicine and less as Rx script writers.

    • I know 90 % of the population in America still think the oath to ”do no harm,” still stands,,,As far as becoming a doctor,,,YOUR CHOICE,,YOUR RESPONSIBILITY,,, to do no harm,,,but now a day,,,it is about money,tampering w/medical records to cover up deaths,wrong diagnoses,screw-up,,and screw truth and the patient…maryw

  • This explains why doctors no longer care, or are the majority narcissists? Doctors now put financial gain before saving a human life? I was sadly mistaken in believing we at least had the protection of the oath when it included “treat anyone regardless of ability to pay”. Since Americans don’t realize their company offered Insurance is actually a self insurance plan, owned by their employer these days, who contract with a major insurance company to manage them, our healthcare has reverted from HMO’s back to Indemnity plans of the 1960’s and 70’s. Not to mention, with a self insurance plan, our employers essentially are bypassing the HIPPA laws, as the owner of their companies insurance policy, they can see where their money is going, DOS for the patients and know if an employee really went to the doctor the day they requested time off of work. If you require a surgery, you must first meet your personal deductible, then pay 20% of your surgery. Unless you’re married with both spouses working and both spouses having healthcare, then you’re able to take advantage of the coordination of benefits. Otherwise, you’re looking at a $6,000 to $20,000 COPAY. Why the American public and our physicians are not educated on self insurance plans is beyond me. This new revision of the oath, coupled with a heartless employer hoping to make a profit from their self insurance plan, frankly means there is no hope of feeling secure when our health is threatened. Is this how we take care of overpopulation these days? Very sad.

    • They don’t give a shit about the patient now. All they want is your insurance information. Pardon me but can you stall that heart attack until we get your insurance information?

  • Thanks for guaranteeing failure and poverty to the family lines of those who choose to harm their patients..trashing doctors is a highly commendable idea if you are an idiot, think u r smarter than God and dont mind taking you and your patients to hell for eternity..Ski]ing God is VERY expensive and foolish..Your children will suffer dearly for it..Deuteronomy 30:19…Proverbs 24:11..Drs free to kill patients-what an abomination to the real doctors and their Creator..What are you afraid of that you would do such a thing ?????!!!!

  • Norma Roberts, you are correct in noting a drastic decline in the quality of medical care in western medicine, but it’s not because doctors are tools of Big Pharma. You’re also correct that we don’t know everything, but we know a whole lot more than you do. You are lucky to have us for the time being. Instead of joining the doctor-bashing that’s so fashionable now among the elites, you should be worried about that declining quality of medical care. And that sad trend is the result of policy–laws, regulations, and attitudes resulting from people put in power by people like–you. Instead of talking smack about doctors, you should be enjoying the little reserve of energy and good will we have left. Soon the old-school trained generation of doctors will be gone, and what you’ll have left is the millennial generation of 9 to 5 key-punching clerks “caring” for you the way their corporate paymasters tell them to.

  • The drastic decline in the quality of medical care in western medicine is doctors have bought into the drug companies thesis of building a large base of customers rather than healing the sick and have a “god complex” leaving they unable and unsure how to react when they are interviewed to be on the patients health team rather than have the patient bow down and worship them because they got an education. That doesn’t mean they know everything or how to best treat them. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes research for the best way to treat a disease. The eastern medical society is based on outcome medicine – keep the patient well and medical cost low – unlike n the west where it is based on how much you can lne your pocket for the least amount of effort with little to no respect for what it does for/to the patient and their family. This is nothing short of legalized malpractice and many times murder,I..e. Diabeticand cancer treatment.

    • It used to be an honorable profession to be proud of, being a doctor, and now it’s comparable to the worlds oldest profession…..
      Show me the money and we’ll see what we can do for you!
      And then it’s “Sorry I can’t see you, see my P.A.” If I wanted a P.A., I would have made an appointment with a P.A. Why is the charge the same when I see the P.A. as a P.A. is not a doctor??? To those doctors that don’t believe in Hell, you will one day! Karma is a Bitch!

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