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Modern-Day Hippocrates: Incoming School of Medicine Students Write Their Own Oath

First: Do no harm. And then: Adjust to the changing times.

In addition to reciting the traditional Hippocratic Oath during the White Coat Ceremony on Aug. 16, the members of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Class of 2024 started a new tradition by writing their own class oath to acknowledge their ever-evolving responsibilities as physicians.

On the Friday before the ceremony, students officially presented the new oath to Anantha Shekhar, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of the School of Medicine.

“At Pitt, we challenge our students to change the world—and the future of medicine—for the better. This class didn’t wait,” said Shekhar. “Their class oath, the first of its kind in our program’s history, speaks to the power and importance of clinical care and research in creating a more inclusive and just society, and I am excited to watch them put this promise into practice.”  

Working with advisors and student affairs leadership, the oath-writing committee dedicated 80 hours to writing the Oath of Professionalism during orientation week. The oath—which highlights issues such as COVID-19, health care disparities and racial injustice—is not merely about current events, said first-year medical student Tito Onyekweli.

“We believe that our oath acknowledges the context of U.S. history and medicine, and uses it to explain our current state,” Onyekweli said. “We used the past and present to clarify our future goals as physicians.”

The students did acknowledge that they are beginning their careers in medicine at an unforgettable time. The oath addresses championing diversity in medicine and society, being an ally to those of low socioeconomic status and restoring trust in the health care community.

“We start our medical journey amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and a national civil rights movement reinvigorated by the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery,” the oath begins. “We honor the 700,000+ lives lost to COVID-19, despite the sacrifices of health care workers.”

Moving forward, each incoming Pitt Med class will be invited to write its own unique oath during orientation week in an effort to help establish their professional identities as physicians.

“We worked collaboratively but disagreed at times,” Onyekweli said. “We brought up topics that were triggering for some but did not push the status quo enough for others. We were diverse in the most collective sense. More than anything, this oath-writing process was human.”

University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Class of 2024 Oath

As the entering class of 2020, we start our medical journey amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and a national civil rights movement reinvigorated by the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. We honor the 700,000+ lives lost to COVID-19, despite the sacrifices of health care workers.

We recognize the fundamental failings of our health care and political systems in serving vulnerable communities. This oath is the first step in our enduring commitment to repairing the injustices against those historically ignored and abused in medicine: Black patients, Indigenous patients, Patients of Color and all marginalized populations who have received substandard care as a result of their identity and limited resources.

Acknowledging the privilege and responsibility that come with being a physician, I take this oath as a call to action to fulfill my duty to patients, to the medical profession and to society.

Thereby, I pledge as a physician and lifelong student of medicine:

I will support and collaborate with my colleagues across disciplines and professions, while respecting the patient’s vital role on the health care team.

I will honor my physical, mental and emotional health so as to not lessen the quality of care I provide. 

I will carry on the legacy of my predecessors by mentoring the next generation of diverse physicians.

I will recognize the pivotal role of ethical research in the advancement of medicine and commit myself to endless scholarship with the ultimate goal of improving patient care.

I will care for my patients’ holistic well-being, not solely their pathology. With empathy, compassion and humility, I will prioritize understanding each patient’s narrative, background and experiences while protecting privacy and autonomy.

I will champion diversity in both medicine and society, and promote an inclusive environment by respecting the perspectives of others and relentlessly seeking to identify and eliminate my personal biases.

I will be an ally to those of low socioeconomic status, the BIPOC community, the LGBTQIA+ community, womxn/women, differently-abled individuals and other underserved groups in order to dismantle the systemic racism and prejudice that medical professionals and society have perpetuated.

I will educate myself on social determinants of health in order to use my voice as a physician to advocate for a more equitable health care system from the local to the global level.

I will restore trust between the health care community and the population in which I serve by holding myself and others accountable, and by combating misinformation in order to improve health literacy.

In making this oath, I embrace the ever-changing responsibilities of being a physician and pledge to uphold the integrity of the profession in the clinic and beyond.