Intended for healthcare professionals


The Hippocratic oath

BMJ 1994; 309 doi: (Published 08 October 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:952

Is alive and well in North America

  1. R Crawshaw

    EDITOR, - If, as Irvine Loudon speculates,1 oath taking by medical graduates in the United Kingdom is a myth it stands in stark contrast with the use of medical oaths in Canada and the United States. I have followed the growth of the use of medical oaths in the United States for 30 years.2 Currently, about 98% of the medical schools in the United States use some form of medical oath.

    A remarkable development can be seen in how the classic Hippocratic oath is being displaced by other medical oaths and covenants, presumably because the classic oath ignores relevant ethical issues. Another custom of note is found in the Province of Quebec. Here, swearing a medical oath takes on political shadings as it is a prerequisite for obtaining a licence to practise.

    In 1989 I surveyed the use of medical oaths at 126 medical schools in the United States; 119 replied. They reported the use of the oath of Geneva (33), the classic Hippocratic oath (three), a modified Hippocratic oath (67), the prayer of Maimonides (four), a convenant (one), other oaths (eight), an unknown oath (one), and no oath (two). Some used a combination of oaths and prayer.

    Loudon or some other concerned physician should perhaps write to the medical schools to ascertain the present status of medical oaths in the United Kingdom. The answers may be surprising in view of the shared belief that medical practice is at heart a moral undertaking.


    1. 1.

    Is not administered in the strictly legal sense

    1. T H Pennington,
    2. C I Pennington

      EDITOR, - Irvine Loudon may well be right - in the strictly legal sense - to conclude that the …

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