Is the Writing on the Wall for Current Medical Oaths? A Brief Historical Review of Oath Taking at Medical Schools

  • Nathan GambleEmail author
  • Benjamin Holler
  • Steven Thomson
  • Stephen Murata
  • Frank W. Stahnisch
  • Gül Russell


Oaths recited in medical schools provide valuable insight into the medical profession’s evolving core of ethical commitments. This study presents a brief overview of medical oaths, and how they came to attain their current prominence. The authors examine medical oaths used in twentieth-century North America (the USA and Canada) through a critical review of six studies on oath administration and content that were undertaken between 1928 and 2004. While oath-taking became almost universally prevalent in twentieth-century North American medical schools, the ethical content of oaths grew increasingly heterogeneous. The findings challenge assumptions about the content of medical oaths. They also create dynamic markers for gauging the variability in the current ethical milieus of medical education, providing a basis for evaluating future direction.


Oath-taking Hippocratic oath Hippocrates Medical ethics History of medicine White-coat ceremony 


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Not applicable.

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Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© International Association of Medical Science Educators 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of TorontoTorontoCanada
  2. 2.St. Mary’s University, TwickenhamLondonUK
  3. 3.Department of MedicineUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada
  4. 4.Stritch School of MedicineLoyola University in ChicagoChicagoUSA
  5. 5.Department of Community Health ScienceUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada
  6. 6.Department of Humanities in MedicineTexas A&M Health Science CenterBryanUSA

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