hippocratic oath

The myth of the Hippocratic Oath

Robert H. Shmerling, MD

Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Many people think of the Hippocratic Oath as the embodiment of ideal medical ethics. But today, the original oath is rarely a part of the initiation of new medical students. And despite its original good intentions, it no longer offers adequate guidance for the complex scientific and ethical challenges that arise in the modern practice of medicine.

First, do no harm

Robert H. Shmerling, MD

Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

It’s a common belief that all physicians swear to uphold the Hippocratic Oath and its critical dictum, “first, do no harm.” In fact, the Hippocratic Oath doesn’t include this promise — and many fledgling doctors do not take this oath (or any oath). What’s more, “do no harm” isn’t always a realistic goal in the day-to-day practice of medicine. However, it is an important reminder that we need to learn more about the risks and benefits of any treatment, and to use this information wisely.