What Is the Hippocratic Oath? - Definition & Parts

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

The Hippocratic Oath is a sworn agreement that medical students take when they become doctors. Learn the components of the oath as well as how it pertains to ethical issues or bioethics. Updated: 12/21/2021

What Is the Hippocratic Oath?

When you think of the Hippocratic Oath, you probably think of, ''First do no harm.'' However, it turns out that those particular words aren't even in the oath. In this lesson we're going to talk about what is found within the oath and its implications.

The Hippocratic Oath is a sworn agreement made by physicians when they become doctors. It isn't a law but rather a guiding principle for doctors. It was written by the Greek physician Hippocrates, who lived from 460 to 377 BC. It's one of the oldest binding documents in history and has great symbolic importance for medical doctors.

It has been rewritten multiple times, and medical schools use different versions. Some use the original Greek oath, while others use the Declaration of Geneva or the Oath of Maimonides, both of which reference the original. Whichever version is used, virtually all medical schools use an oath of some kind. Let's take a look at its basic components.

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  • 0:04 What Is the Hippocratic Oath?
  • 1:03 Components of the Oath
  • 2:30 Implications for Bioethics
  • 3:34 Lesson Summary
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Components of the Oath

The original oath starts by swearing on the Greek god Apollo to fulfill the oath. The oath begins with an agreement by practitioners to openly share knowledge with the physicians that follow them for the sake of the profession. The second part, and perhaps the most well-known, swears that treatments will be used for the benefit of the ill and not for harm. That's the ''do no harm'' part, though it's worded quite differently:

''With regard to healing the sick, I will devise and order for them the best diet, according to my judgment and means; and I will take care that they suffer no hurt or damage.''

It then follows with statements saying that doctors will not administer a deadly drug or tell someone else how to do so, and doctors will not conduct an abortion, though this part has often been removed or rewritten in modern versions. Next, the oath says that doctors will allow specialists to complete surgeries, being aware of their own limits, and that doctors will not use their position to complete sexual acts, or otherwise take advantage of their patients.

Finally, the oath talks about doctor-patient confidentiality, requiring that doctors do not reveal details of their meetings, conditions, or treatments.

The oath concludes by saying that fulfilling the oath will lead to prosperity and good fortune. One who follows the oath will be held in good repute forever, while breaking the oath will lead to the opposite.

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