Wednesday Wisdom by Dr. James Scott Wright

Thoughts on the journey, personal growth, and making a difference.

Individual and Social Responsibility

I was reminded recently of the Hippocratic Oath, sworn by many graduating medical students around the world.  The original covenant, written around the third century B.C., is attributed to the Greek doctor Hippocrates.  There have been many revisions to the text over the centuries, but the essence remains largely the same.  A 1964 version penned by Louis Lasagna, Dean of the Tufts School of Medicine, has been widely used in the United States by medical schools.  Emphasis in the oath is placed on physicians dealing ethically and responsibly with their patients and to focus on the needs of the individual person and not simply their infirmity.  

A recent update to the oath, written by medical students at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, caught my attention.  While retaining much of the original sentiment, the new version emphasizes the social responsibility of doctors to help create a more inclusive and just society.  

I offer the text here so that you might ponder it.

“Acknowledging the privilege and responsibility that come with being a physician, I take this oath as a call to action to fulfill my duty to patients, to the medical profession and to society.

Thereby, I pledge as a physician and lifelong student of medicine:

I will support and collaborate with my colleagues across disciplines and professions, while respecting the patient’s vital role on the health care team.

I will honor my physical, mental and emotional health so as to not lessen the quality of care I provide.

I will carry on the legacy of my predecessors by mentoring the next generation of diverse physicians.

I will recognize the pivotal role of ethical research in the advancement of medicine and commit myself to endless scholarship with the ultimate goal of improving patient care.

I will care for my patients’ holistic well-being, not solely their pathology. With empathy, compassion and humility, I will prioritize understanding each patient’s narrative, background and experiences while protecting privacy and autonomy.

I will champion diversity in both medicine and society and promote an inclusive environment by respecting the perspectives of others and relentlessly seeking to identify and eliminate my personal biases.

I will be an ally to those of low socioeconomic status, the BIPOC community, the LGBTQIA+ community, womxn/women, differently-abled individuals and other underserved groups in order to dismantle the systemic racism and prejudice that medical professionals and society have perpetuated.

I will educate myself on social determinants of health in order to use my voice as a physician to advocate for a more equitable health care system from the local to the global level.

I will restore trust between the health care community and the population in which I serve by holding myself and others accountable, and by combating misinformation in order to improve health literacy.

In making this oath, I embrace the ever-changing responsibilities of being a physician and pledge to uphold the integrity of the profession in the clinic and beyond.”

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