The modern Hippocratic Oath begins with the line:

"I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant”

Formerly it began as such:

"I swear by Apollo The Healer, by Asclepius, by Hygieia, by Panacea, and by all the Gods and Goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this indenture."

We can clearly see that there are large changes in the wording but it is evident that it begins with the promise that the physician solemnly 'swears' to do certain things - so how does this play out in our modern world?

I Swear, We Swore

Before God, man and the good green earth, we swore an oath. We swore to others, but more than that, we swore to ourselves that we will uphold the purity of our art which is the science of medicine. We made a promise but the age old saying “promises are meant to be broken” creeps up upon us every now and then. Though we know what should be done, we don’t always do so.

"I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow."

In many instances, this has been broken. Medicine is a competitive field. We compete with others when in truth we should just be in competition with ourselves. We tend to selfishly keep knowledge to ourselves so that we can be a step ahead of others. We should share what we know and instead aim to improve ourselves and not impede the improvement of others.

"I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of over treatment and therapeutic nihilism.
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."

There are treatments that do more harm than good. We have been equipped with the knowledge where we know the extent of disease and the appropriate treatments. All the options should be presented and carefully explained to the patient. Remain empathetic and give them the care they want, not the care we want.

"I will not be ashamed to say "I know not," nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient's recovery."

Open communication and knowing your limits. We can’t do it all and we don’t know it all. The patient’s life is in our hands. The priority is the patient’s well being and not our egos.

"I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know."

The President comes in with a woman, not the first lady, and is complaining about burning pain while urinating. You may want to tell your colleagues, friends and family about this scandal but as the saying goes, "What happens here, stays here.” We are tempted to gossip as we see quite a number of juicy stories that will make other people’s head flip, but we can’t because we shouldn’t.

“...Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. Above all, I must not play God. I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person's family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick."

Treat the patient, not the X-ray. With all the modern tests we have become dependent on the ease of ordering them that we forget to look at the patient. Our patients are living, breathing human beings and not two dimensional 14 by 17 inch film.

"I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure."

Start in the clinic with the patient across you. Begin to teach them preventive measures for themselves and for their loved ones. Tell them about the signs and symptoms of diseases, the warning signs and risk factors and what to do during an emergency. Keeping them from falling ill is another task we have.

Our Roles

We have several duties and responsibilities in our profession. Though we may serve different purposes, we are part of society. We are not better than our fellow members of society as we are just members with different tasks. Our roles are to treat everyone no matter their sexual orientation, colour of their skin, political or religious views, economic status or position.

"I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm. If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help." MIMS