Is the Hippocratic Oath still relevant today?

There was a time when doctors swore an oath when they qualified, and in some medical schools they still do. We didn’t but I was curious to read the Hippocratic Oath, and to see if we missed out, and whether it still felt relevant in modern medicine. After all, 400BC is a long time ago!


There have been a couple of modern revisions, in 1964 at Tufts Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, the Dean of Medicine wrote a ‘modern version’, and the BMJ published a more recent revision a few years ago. It begins;

The practice of medicine is a privilege which carries important responsibilities. All doctors should observe the core values of the profession which centre on the duty to help sick people and to avoid harm. I promise that my medical knowledge will be used to benefit people’s health. They are my first concern. I will listen to them and provide the best care I can. I will be honest, respectful and compassionate towards patients. In emergencies, I will do my best to help anyone in medical need.”

It goes on to cover respect, especially of vulnerable people; remaining independent of politics; not putting profit before patients; respect for life, but not at any cost; a holistic approach; informing patients of their options; confidentiality; knowing the limits of one’s own knowledge; respect for colleagues, and finishes;

I will use my training and professional standing to improve the community in which I work. I will treat patients equitably and support a fair and humane distribution of health resources. I will try to influence positively authorities whose policies harm public health. I will oppose policies which breach internationally accepted standards of human rights. I will strive to change laws which are contrary to patients’ interests or to my professional ethics.”

There is no doubt in my mind that the original and modern versions are still fundamentally relevant today, and perhaps even more so in our politically damaged NHS. As doctors we need to remember who to put first, despite the huge pressures on us from political masters to meet targets and dumb down to ‘tick box medicine’. We must protect those who cannot speak up for themselves, and care equally for those with mental health issues, despite the NHS under-funding their care.

I have enjoyed learning about the Hippocratic Oath, and am glad that, despite never having sworn it aloud,  I live by it every day.