Personal oaths interpreting the original Hippocratic oath have been crafted by current and former Keck students over the past seven years. A representative sample of these oaths has been compiled in a new book published by University of California Medical Humanities Press.
These are personal vows dedicated to upholding the foundations that medicine is built upon – compassion, knowledge, empathy and a commitment to benefit patients’ lives.
Hippocrates Revisited: A Collection of Personal Student Oaths is curated by Keck School of Medicine faculty members Jo Marie Reilly, MD, Allan S. Lichtman, MD, Rosemary R. Lichtman, PhD, and third-year medical student Helena Yu.
The works celebrate values hed by students during their journey through medical school and into their careers, Reilly said.
“Medicine is a science and an art,” said Reilly, an associate professor of clinical family medicine and associate director of the Introduction to Clinical Medicine Program. “This anthology reflects the art of medicine. The oaths represent creatively the themes that students are struggling with and celebrating as they begin their journey in the medical profession.”
The vows come in many forms — photo collages, musical scores, poems, personal essays — and are based on the Hippocratic Oath, a rite of passage signaling the transition of medical students into physicians that is considered among the most sacred binding documents in history.
Named after Hippocrates, the oath lays a foundation for the practice of ethical medicine by touching on themes of knowledge, compassion, empathy and fortitude in the face of adversity.
Students recite the Hippocratic oath before the ceremony at which they receive their white coats at the start of medical school, promising to practice medicine with honor, loyalty and professionalism. Then they are assigned to compose their own personal oaths in the Professionalism and Practice of Medicine course required of all Keck first-year students.
“Students haven’t had any tests or hard work yet, so it’s an honest and thoughtful opportunity to reflect on what it means for their life,” Reilly said. “The oaths become something they refer back to and keep. It’s very positive for them.”
Students at the Keck School have been crafting their own personal oaths for about seven years, and Reilly shares her own oath with them at the start of each semester. The assignment stemmed from Reilly’s personal journey as a practicing physician.
“I had been in practice for about 10 years,” she said. “It gets busy and it gets crazy. You think, ‘Why am I doing all this?’ You can get in an overwhelmed state. You have to sit down and remember why you started.”
The oaths were submitted by 76 authors. Many of the oaths are done by former students who have gone on to become practicing physicians.
“What we read were very inspirational and positive, in a world that may not be so positive for us these days,” Allan Lichtman said. “We felt that these oaths should be published to reveal the dedication and inspiration that our first-year students demonstrated.”
The anthology was made possible by grants from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation and the USC Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics. After being published in May, the anthology was distributed to all new graduates and to those who submitted oaths that were published.
“We hope to share the value of professionalism in medicine, and we believe this project will continue to remind and inspire students to keep humanity in patient care at the core of their practice of medicine,” Yu said. “As my classmates and I move through the clinical years of medical school into residency and beyond, I hope this anthology will continue to be an encouraging and motivational reminder of our reasons for pursuing a career in medicine.”
The personal oaths are aimed at inspiring everyone from prospective medical students to those who have long completed medical school and are now practicing medicine.
“For me, reading these oaths continues to be an affirmation of hope,” Reilly said. “As you get out and practice, you see a lot of things and your work can be challenging. These oaths remind you of why you started, who you are and where you have been. They inspire students and let them know this is a great career and a wonderful profession of service. From the days of Hippocrates it was, and it still is now.”
Hippocrates Revisited: A Collection of Personal Student Oaths can be purchased at the USC Bookstore on the Health Sciences Campus and at amazon.com. The book is also available through the UC Medical Humanities Press.
— Douglas Morino