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The oath physicians take: Comparing what new medical school graduates promise

Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician hailed as the father of medicine.

Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician hailed as the father of medicine. The oath new doctors take is often referred to as the Hippocratic oath.


Although new doctors are not required to take an oath, medical students graduating from Upstate Medical University have traditionally recited a version of the Hippocratic oath, which was written around 400 BC and attributed to the Greek physician Hippocrates.

It‘s meant to reinforce that the practice of medicine is both a privilege and a great responsibility.

Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) was an 1834 graduate of Geneva Medical College, a forerunner of SUNY Upstate Medical University.

Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) was an 1834 graduate of Geneva Medical College, a forerunner of SUNY Upstate Medical University.

The World Medical Association in 1948 adopted a contemporary successor to the Hippocratic oath called the Declaration of Geneva. It outlined professional duties and ethical principles. Only minimal changes have been made in the intervening 70 years — until now. The association in October approved a revised declaration, which medical schools may ignore, alter or use verbatim during graduation ceremonies.

The oath new doctors recite in Syracuse has been tweaked over the years. Many phrases are the same or similar (in blue) in Upstate‘s oath as in the association‘s declaration and the original Hippocratic oath. In all the vows, new physicians agree to serve humanity, to respect patients‘ secrets, to show gratitude to their teachers and to share their medical know-how.

Some differences (seen in the versions reproduced below):

The Hippocratic oath differentiates (in red) between physicians and surgeons and speaks of physicians “gaining the respect of all men for all time.”

The association‘s updated declaration includes a sentence (in green) about

self-care. “This clause reflects not only the humanity of physicians but also

the role physicians‘ self-care can play in improving patient care,” describes

an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Upstate‘s oath describes (in purple) a “joy of healing” those who seek the physicians‘ help.

versions of physicians' oath



Upstate Health magazine spring 2018 coverThis article appears in the spring 2018 issue of Upstate Healthmagazine.