Do Nurses Take the Hippocratic Oath?

by Fraser Sherman; Updated September 26, 2017
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The Hippocratic Oath is for doctors only; nurses do not take it when they finish nursing school. Nurses may take a similar oath known as the Nightingale Pledge, depending on the policy of their nursing school. Despite the long tradition of medical professionals taking oaths, there are differing opinions in the medical field as to whether the Hippocratic Oath and the Nightingale Pledge have any influence on how medical professionals actually conduct themselves.

History

When a doctor took the original Hippocratic Oath -- named for Hippocrates, a physician of classical Greece -- he swore by Apollo to treat his medical mentor as a father and to teach students at no charge. He also swore to act for the benefit of the sick, to keep his patients' confidences and to not practice surgery -- for centuries, surgeons were seen as separate from doctors -- euthanasia or abortion. The new doctor asked for fame and honor if he lived up to the oath and infamy and shame if he failed.

Changes

The Hippocratic Oath dates back to the sixth century. Twenty-first century medical schools use a variety of modified oaths with different tenets: The oath no longer calls for doctors to teach students for free or to abstain for surgery, for instance. Only a minority of modern oaths include bans on abortion and euthanasia, and only a minority invoke a deity. The majority of modern oaths do not call down any punishment if the doctor betrays her trust.

Nightingale Pledge

Nursing oaths are a comparatively late addition to medical practice: The "British Medical Journal" reported in 2001 that when one nursing school asked graduates to take a modified Hippocratic Oath in 1901, it was regarded as an unusual concept. Today the Nightingale Pledge -- named for nursing legend Florence Nightingale and loosely based on the Hippocratic Oath -- is used at many nursing graduation ceremonies. It calls on nurses to maintain professional standards, keep their patients' confidence, serve doctors faithfully and preserve their personal purity.

Controversies

Some nurses have called for a rewrite of the Nightingale Pledge, deleting references to God and to purity. Other critics have raised questions as to whether there's any point to the Nightingale Pledge or the Hippocratic Oath. Neither creed imposes a penalty for oath breakers, and some doctors say the Hippocratic Oath ignores the complex realities and decisions involved in modern medicine. Some medical professionals say that while the classic oaths were seen as solemn covenants, today they're meaningless rituals with no influence on doctors' or nurses' behavior.

About the Author

A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.

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