The Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine held their annual Founders’ Day Convocation on August 10th, 2018, the official opening of the school year, to celebrate the founders of Northwestern Medical School and to welcome the first-year medical students. During the event, family and friends witnessed the dean of the medical school and other school leaders welcome the first-year class into their hallowed profession. Each first-year student was paired with a second-year medical student, who ceremoniously placed a physician’s white lab coat on each of the first-year students during the ceremony. At the conclusion, the students recited together the Declaration of Geneva … that’s right, the Declaration of Geneva, not the Hippocratic Oath.
The original Hippocratic Oath, written 2,500 years ago and recited by nearly all physicians at some time during their training (usually at graduation), has periodically been modified by various groups. The objective has been to keep it modern and relevant. Modernizing the Hippocratic Oath, probably considered heretical by some, does seem reasonable when one considers that the original version actually refers to the Greek Gods (e.g., “I swear by Apollo the Healer, by Asclepius, by Hygieia, by Panacea, and by all the gods and goddesses”). Interestingly, the oft-quoted phrase “primum non nocere” (Latin for first do not harm) has never been part of the Hippocratic Oath.
There are actually a few modern forms of the Hippocratic Oath. The pledge recited at the Northwestern event was a recent version of the Declaration of Geneva, originally adopted by the World Medical Association (WMA) in 1948, after World War II raised concerns about physicians’ ethics. The WMA General Assembly adopted the most recent version of the Declaration of Geneva on October 14, 2017, in Chicago.1 I encourage you to read it (https://bit.ly/2zfW1Zi). Of special note, one realizes how pertinent it is now to put an emphasis on not letting a patient’s political affiliation get in the way of taking care of a patient. One could argue that all health care professionals should recite some version of the Hippocratic Oath on an annual basis. Perhaps it should be part of obtaining and renewing hospital privileges — it seems more important than most of the things hospitals require employees to renew.
What a wonderful pledge for all doctors, and for all health care workers, as a reminder of what really matters in medicine.
- Parsa-Parsi RW. The Revised Declaration of Geneva: A Modern-Day Physician’s Pledge. JAMA. 2017;318(20):1971-1972. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.16230