The Hippocratic Oath

The last time I was part of a ceremony where the oath was taken was at Kavitha’s graduation a few years ago. I wasn’t expecting it, so it came as a surprise when we were asked to rise while the graduates took the oath. She was graduating from St Bartholomew’s Hospital or St Bart’s for short. It took me back to my medical school years.

There I was back in my classroom, this time the first day at college. The night before we had our initiation to medical school. ‘Ragging’, a term which has different meanings in different parts of the world. For us in India, it was a chance for our seniors to show us how tough they were. We were lucky, our seniors were too kind and soft hearted to bully us, but they tried their best. Sreekumari was asked to stand in a Shakunthala pose and sing ‘ഉജ്ജയിനിയിലെ ഗായിക’ and she did both like a true professional. She only sang two lines, but I still remember how sweetly she did it.

Our seniors gave us strict instructions regarding the dress code for our first day in class. We had to have our hair pulled back in a tight bun, with not a hair out of place. The next morning you could make out the day scholars from the boarders as we made our way into class.

I cannot remember who the teacher was, who took our first class, but I do remember us all standing up while the oath was recited. I felt special and part of an elite group.

Yesterday I was going through the recent BMJs and came across an article about the oath and that’s how I started thinking about all this. They talked about the original, the translated and the revised versions and the relevance it has in the modern era. Does the ‘Primum non nocere’ quote still ring true in the current times or has the GMC’s ‘Good Medical Practice’ guidelines taken over. Well I will leave it at that.

Regarding ‘Rag’ in English terms, it means raising and giving. Student volunteers do fundraising activities to raise money for charity. As the students in the eastern countries are looking to the west for inspiration, maybe it is time they adopted the good traditions as well.

A few years ago we holidayed in Kos, one of the Greek islands, it was a bit of a lacklustre holiday for me. From what I remember, there wasn’t much to see and the food was not that great. It was only yesterday that I realised that Kos was Hippocrate’s birth place. Hippocrates of Kos, the Father of Modern Medicine as he is otherwise known. The birth place and time, the only biographical information that the historians agree about him apparently.

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