Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 185–194 | Cite as

The “Soul of Professionalism” in the Hippocratic Oath and today

  • Friedrich HeubelEmail author
Scientific Contribution


This article views the Hippocratic Oath from a new perspective and draws consequences for modern health care. The Oath consists of two parts, a family-like alliance where the teacher of the “art” is equal to a father and a set of maxims how the “art” is to be practiced. Self-commitments stated before the gods tie the parts together and give the alliance trustworthiness. One might call this a proto-profession. Modern physicians form a similar alliance. Specific knowledge and skills and specific action guiding rules are elements of a profession but its trustworthiness rests on a combination of professional autonomy and public control. In order to be granted autonomy the profession must show some effort in enforcing its specific rules and in order to do so its members need to be convinced of the intrinsic value of their profession (the “soul of professionalism” according to Freidson). Whereas in antiquity physicians acted as single individuals the modern alliance is shaped by division of labour. Physicians use each other and other professions by mutual consent and the health care system as means in the diagnostic-therapeutic process. As any actor is reponsible for the means he uses physicians are co-responsible accordingly. Thus, professional conduct now entails care for the organisation of the alliance as detailed in the “Charter on Medical Professionalism”. The effort the profession gives to this task will confirm its trustworthiness.


Hippocratic Oath History Trustworthiness Profession Professional ethics Charter on medical professionalism 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Akademie für Ethik in der MedizinMarburgGermany

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