Hippocratic Oath
EDP column by Dr Ketan Dhatariya

“What is the Hippocratic Oath that doctors are supposed to recite?" 
“I swear by Apollo the Physician and Asclepius and Hygeia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfil according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant”

This is the first line of the Oath that Hippocrates is supposed to have written. Little is known about Hippocrates, but he was a Greek physician probably born on the island of Kos in about 460 BC. He became one of the most famous physicians in history due to his innovative way of diagnosing illness. His method involved observing the human body based on detailed anatomical study – a practice that is still carried out to this day. He believed that illness and disease had a physical basis, and rejected the idea that sickness was due to superstition, magic or ‘angering the Gods’.

In treating his patients, he used the ‘holistic’ approach – that is treating the individuals as a whole, not just as series of body parts. He also advocated the use of lots of rest, a good diet and fresh air to aid recovery.

One of the things that he is said to have written is the classic statement often quoted by doctors today ‘Primum non nocere’ (‘first do no harm") as well as his famous Oath.

The Hippocratic Oath is a series of ethical statements that is divided into two parts, the first is a contract between a teacher and a student, the second is how a doctor should conduct themselves when treating someone. It provides and outline about how physicians should maintain a certain etiquette when treating patients. It contains statements that ‘everyone should be treated the same’ (a revolutionary statement in a time when slavery was common), ‘the teaching of medicine should be free’, ‘treating them to the best of my ability’ and so on. There are several statements that are relevant to today’s world as well – ‘I will not help someone to die’ and ‘I will not tell others what I have heard in the process of treating someone else’. Whilst most doctors do not recite the Oath when they qualify, the principles within it are upheld every day.

Hippocrates died in about 380 BC after having travelled widely and taught extensively. He is widely referred to as the ‘father of medicine’.