Do Nurses Take the Hippocratic Oath?

Is there a Hippocratic Oath for nurses? While television shows like Grey's Anatomy and ER make it seem like everyone in scrubs lines up to promise they'll "do no harm" for the duration of their medical career, the oath is quite different in real life —and not everyone takes it. For most healthcare professionals, the only thing guiding their choices is a strong set of personal morals and, perhaps, a more modern code of nurse ethics.

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What is the Hippocratic Oath?

The Hippocratic Oath is a text written by the Greek physician Hippocrates who sought to create a sort of credo that set the standard of care for all future doctors. That oath went on to become one of the most well-known tools in the healthcare profession, providing guidance on how patients should be treated and how doctors should ideally practice medicine.

The classic script mentions several Greek gods and includes references that would be considered outdated today; addressing relationships with slaves, for instance, is no longer pertinent, and there were passages directing doctors to teach for free and commands regarding subjects such as euthanasia that might come into conflict with current legal changes. To that end, there is now a modernized version of the oath that includes these core tenets:

Core Tenets of the Hippocratic Oath

  • Respecting the physicians who came before and sharing knowledge with the next generation of doctors
  • Remembering that bedside manner is as important (if not more so) than science
  • Protecting patient privacy
  • Recognizing when a patient problem requires a more skilled or experienced physician
  • Engaging in disease prevention
  • Treating patients like human beings rather than a collection of symptoms
  • Never "playing at God"

Who Takes the Hippocratic Oath?

The oath was created for and is traditionally recited by physicians, but even that practice has shifted over the last few decades. While taking the Hippocratic Oath was once an integral part of becoming a doctor, its use has become increasingly sporadic. Some doctors don't seem to mind the change. In 2017, only 39% of responding physicians under the age of 34 had taken the Hippocratic Oath and only a little more than one-third that the oath was "very meaningful." Seventeen percent took a newly written oath authored by the faculty at their medical school.

The Nightingale Pledge: A Hippocratic Oath for Nurses

Nurses and other healthcare professionals don't take the Hippocratic Oath, though they may make similarly aligned promises as part of their graduation ceremonies. One such alternative: the Nightingale pledge, a document written in 1893 and named in honor of the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale. During their graduation and/or pinning ceremonies, new nurses may be invited to recite the following:

I solemnly pledge myself before God and in the presence of this assembly to pass my life in purity and to practice my profession faithfully. I will abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous and will not take or knowingly administer any harmful drug. I will do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession and will hold in confidence all personal matters committed to my keeping and all family affairs coming to my knowledge in the practice of my calling. With loyalty will I endeavor to aid the physician in his work and devote myself to the welfare of those committed to my care.

Some have the same issues with the Nightingale Pledge as they do with the Hippocratic Oath, namely references to God and passages such as "pass my life in purity" that may infringe on a nurse's freedom to live their personal life as he or she deems fit. That point of view has given birth to other pledge that vary in terms of verbiage but share one universal aim: to help shape a nurse's responsibility to always act in the best interest of their patients —very much the same spirit as the Hippocratic Oath.

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