What Is The Hippocratic Oath And Is It Used Today?

Wondering what the Hippocratic Oath is, and whether doctors these days adhere to it? Read on to discover more…

Back in the days, when medicine was still very much a rare craft, patients didn’t have much in the way of protection against negligent physicians. The closest thing that came to this was the Hippocratic Oath.

These days, the law is much clearer about what constitutes negligence, which means the oath itself has become somewhat obsolete. With the help of a medical negligence solicitor, patients who have experienced negligent medical care can be compensated. That said, that doesn’t mean that the oath still isn’t used, in some part, as a traditional code of ethics to stick to.

In this article, we’ll be breaking down the ins and outs of the oath, and talk about what elements of it are used today. Take a look…

What Is The Hippocratic Oath?

The Hippocratic Oath has been attributed to Hippocrates; a Greek physician of the Age of Pericles, and one of the most notable figures in the history of medicine.

The works attributed to Hippocrates include a variety of medical texts, all incorporated into what’s known as the Hippocratic Corpus. Included within the corpus is the Hippocratic Oath, one of the oldest binding documents in history.

It urges practicing physicians to treat the ill to the best of one’s ability, amongst other a professional ethical standards. The oath itself requires a new physician to swear upon various healing gods to uphold these standards.

What Are The Key Pointers In The Classic Hippocratic Oath?

To give you a breakdown of what the document entails, some of the key pointers within the original oath include:

  • To hold the person who taught you your medical craft in as high esteem as your own parents.
  • To uphold your teacher’s offspring with the same reverence as your own siblings, and to teach them his works without expecting anything in return.
  • To impart your knowledge to those who would like to learn, who have also sworn against this oath.
  • To prescribe dietary regimens to patients to the best of your ability and judgement.
  • To not put any patient under your own knife, and refer them instead to a professional surgeon.
  • To avoid voluntary acts of corruption, and enter all homes with the aim to heal.
  • To keep the patient’s privacy intact.
Photo by humberto chavez on Unsplash

Is The Hippocratic Oath Still Used Today?

Nowadays, the oath isn’t strictly adhered to, but many of the moral and ethical codes laid out for doctors seem to have been inspired by the original oath.

Of course, some physicians take the oath more seriously than others, seeing it as a rite of passage. On the other hand, others see it as completely irrelevant, so it’s all down to personal preference. Because of this, it often stirs up a fair amount of debate, as it brings to mind what pointers should be upheld in the profession.

In fact, although the oath is not strictly adhered to, it is still recited by medical students in some colleges and universities. Although it isn’t legally binding, it acts as a nod to the classical physicians of the ancient times.

What Elements Of The Hippocratic Oath Are Adhered To Today?

There are various versions of the oath which are recited these days. For example, the modern Hippocratic Oath in the US was written in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, an Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University. Some of its key points include:

  • To respect the discoveries and paths drawn by those physicians before.
  • To share your own medical knowledge to those who follow in your own footsteps.
  • To ensure that all measures required are administered to the sick, avoiding anything that might overdo it.
  • To remember that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh surgery or drugs sometimes.
  • To admit when you do not know, and to call in a colleague to help in these instances.
  • To respect the privacy of one’s patients.
  • To understand that you are not treating a disease, you are treating a human being, and you should treat them as such.
  • To prevent disease where possible, rather than have to treat it later on.

As you can see, it follows a similar pattern to the original oath. These modern ideas are certainly a moral code worth sticking to.

How The General Medical Council Lives Up To The Hippocratic Oath

Although the Hippocratic Oath is not necessarily binding, the closest association we now have to these old traditions are bound up within the General Medical Council (GMC). This UK organisation is charged with supervising the conduct of the medical profession. This includes:

  • Ensuring that educational standards are met;
  • And making sure ethics and behaviour are taught.

The GMC publishes advice for doctors called “Good Medical Practice“; a PDF which is updated as and when it’s deemed necessary. It discusses the duties a registered doctor should stick to, and mentions many similar ideas mentioned in the original Hippocratic Oath.

A short breakdown of some of the key elements of the GMP include:

  • Put patient care at the forefront of everything.
  • Develop and maintain your professional performance.
  • Recognise the limits of your competence.
  • Record your work and communicate accurately, clearly, and responsibly.
  • Comply with systems in order to protect patients.
  • Protect patients from risks posed by your own health.
  • Work with colleagues to improve patient care.
  • Listen to patients and adhere to their preferences and concerns.
  • Provide patients with the information they need or want in a way they can understand.
  • Support patients to maintain their own physical health.
  • Respect your patients and their wishes.
  • Respect patient confidentiality.
  • Be honest and act with integrity.
Photo by Joyce McCown on Unsplash

The Moral And Ethical Medical Code Is Clear

As you can see, although doctors may recite the Hippocratic Oath as part of a rite of passage, it is not necessarily adhered to, per se. Instead, it has inspired the way in which doctors treat patients in a moral and ethical sense.

What do you think of the oath as a code to adhere to? Be sure to leave your thoughts about it in the comments down below!

*collaborative post

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