How the Hippocratic Oath Has Evolved in The Medical Industry

Hippocrates Model with Medical Textbooks and Stethoscope

The Hippocratic Oath is an ancient Greek pledge about medical ethical conduct, but this oath has been revised and carried over the last 2,000 years. It’s now used to introduce new doctors into the field and help them follow ethical standards in their practices. But what was the original oath about? How did it change? Is it even relevant? 

The Hippocratic Oath: Its History and Future

The oath is considered one of the oldest of its kind, named after Hippocrates, the Greek philosopher, and physician who helped influence others to establish today’s field of modern medicine. The oath originally was intended as a Healer’s oath, and because Greek civilization during that time was polytheistic, swore under the influence of Greek gods such as Apollo, Hygieia, Asclepius, and Panacea to help the sick according to their judgment and ability, and abstain from doing wrongdoings to the patient. 

Because this oath was heavily influenced by its time, organizations such as the World Medical Association adjusted the oath’s statements to make it more applicable to future generations. This includes the removal of its religious connotations and removed many of the restrictions it placed upon doctors, such as being forbidden to perform surgeries and abortions. It is believed that due to their lack of awareness of bacteria and viruses, that infection would occur. 

Because of these adjustments, the Hippocratic oath has since been left intentionally vague and open to interpretation. The oath has become symbolic for many doctors, as its the first oath given to new doctors and the last oath they follow until the end of their career. It is not a legally binding oath but rather a place of moral and ethical advice for doctors to follow. It reminds doctors that they are part of the greater whole of medical care, and it works to remind doctors of what it means to be a healer. 

How Has The Hippocratic Oath Influenced Healthcare Today?

The Hippocratic oath is viewed as symbolic for many, but what has it actually influenced? Modern laws do require doctors to follow certain parts of the oath and could face legal trouble if they don’t. The HIPAA forms patients fill out are reminders of their rights to their private information, and the Hippocratic Oath helped influence it. Violating HIPAA means that doctors could face penalties. 

But most of all, the Hippocratic Oath is a public claim to the commitment of medicine, allowing doctors to declare their duties and values to the medical world. Medicine is a robust, ever-evolving place that requires extensive knowledge and skill to perform. It’s a feat not many people get to achieve in their lifetime, and it places the patient’s autonomy above all else. Today, many medical professionals continue to discuss the moral implications of the Hippocratic Oath and its purpose in medical practices. But it also represents an opportunity to see what honest and open medical care can do for society when we focus on what matters most – the patient. 

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Linda Clark, NP

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