The Death of the Doctor’s Oath?


Did you take the Hippocratic Oath when you graduated from medical school, and if so, what did the doctor’s oath mean to you? Do the words still apply to your physician job today?

The Hippocratic Oath is an oath that physicians take when graduating medical school. The oath has them promise things such as to treat the sick to the best of their ability, preserve patient privacy and teach the secrets of medicine to the next generation. Basically – do no harm, but always strive to do the best you can do. Sounds good, right? Although it is one of the oldest binding documents in the history of the world, the oath might eventually fade away, according to a recent study. The study revealed that younger physicians care much less about the doctor’s oath than older physicians. There are also fewer physicians reciting the oath when graduating from medical school than there were before, the study revealed. Some physicians are saying that the doctor’s oath is not important anymore because the words that make up the oath are inadequate or irrelevant to the healthcare industry as it stands today. For example, the medical world has so many aspects to it now, many of which were unheard of in the times when the Hippocratic Oath originated, such as legal abortions, physician-assisted suicide, and other scientific developments. Yet, older physicians still tend to cling to the ancient tradition, the survey said.

Impact of the Doctor’s Oath on Physicians

doctor's oath

The survey also examined whether or not the doctor’s oath, because it focuses on putting patients first, contributes to physician burnout and if physicians can even put patients first in today’s healthcare environment. Almost half of the physicians surveyed who were under 34 years old – 47 percent – said the oath contributed to physician burnout, while only 27 percent of those 65 years and older felt that way. When asked if they were able to put patients first in the current healthcare environment, only 12 percent of the doctors under 34 said “always,” but 40 percent of doctors 65 years and older felt they could put patients first.

The Hippocratic Oath has been changed many times over the years. There is the original version as well as several slightly modified versions to adjust it to fit the times. An example of how some of the phrases in the oath of been altered include:

  • Classic Version: “I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfill according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant…”
  • Modern Version: “I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant…”

Here is a table showing various answers to the question: As a medical student, which version of the doctor’s oath did you recite?

Answer 65 and Older (%) Under 34 (%) All Physicians (%) Med Students (%)
Hippocratic Oath (original version) 64 39 56 33
I didn’t take an oath 17 14 14 19
An oath written by my med school faculty 4 17 9 19
Declaration of Geneva (1948) 4 13 6 11
Modernized oath by Louis Lasagna (1954) 3 9 5 7
Oath by Maimonides 5 2 3 1
Alternative written by med school class 0 2 1 6
Alternative version I wrote myself 0 0 0 1
Other 2 4 4 4

Author: Lenay Ruhl

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