Pittsburgh Medical Students Rewrite Hippocratic Oath to Recognize Systemic Racism, COVID-19 and Police Violence

Zack Linly
·4 mins read

We’ve all heard the calls to declare racism a public health crisis. Well, a group of medical students in Pittsburgh, Pa., have taken things a step further and rewritten the Hippocratic Oath to include acknowledgments of racism, the pandemic and victims of police violence and racial violence.

CNN reports that the group of class of 2024 students at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine were urged to write their own oath revising the original Hippocratic Oath which was “written in 5th century BC, making it one of the oldest documents in history,” according to the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California.

From CNN:

The symbolic white coat ceremony marks the beginning of an academic journey for students in medical programs across the country — it’s a time when students accept their white medical coats and recite an oath vowing to be fair and ethical as they begin their medical education.

As part of their orientation, first-year medical students were challenged by Chenits Pettigrew, the medical school’s associate dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and assistant dean for Student Affairs, to create a new class oath that acknowledged “their ever-evolving responsibilities as physicians,” Patrick McMahon, executive director of Communications at Pitt told CNN.

You can read the full oath here, but it’s petty long so I’ll just give you the highlights.

“As the entering class of 2020, we start our medical journey amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and a national civil rights movement reinvigorated by the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery,” the students’ oath begins. “We honor the 700,000+ lives lost to COVID-19, despite the sacrifices of health care workers.

“We recognize the fundamental failings of our health care and political systems in serving vulnerable communities. This oath is the first step in our enduring commitment to repairing the injustices against those historically ignored and abused in medicine: Black patients, Indigenous patients, Patients of Color and all marginalized populations who have received substandard care as a result of their identity and limited resources.”

And here are a few pledges included in their oath that you won’t find in the original:

I will champion diversity in both medicine and society, and promote an inclusive environment by respecting the perspectives of others and relentlessly seeking to identify and eliminate my personal biases.

I will be an ally to those of low socioeconomic status, the BIPOC community, the LGBTQIA+ community, womxn/women, differently-abled individuals and other underserved groups in order to dismantle the systemic racism and prejudice that medical professionals and society have perpetuated.

I will educate myself on social determinants of health in order to use my voice as a physician to advocate for a more equitable health care system from the local to the global level.

Tito Onyekweli, one of 12 students on the oath writing committee, told CNN he and his fellow students “saw our oath as an opportunity to specifically call out certain groups of individuals and say, hey we know you’ve been left out; we know that it is because of us and our health care system and we want to remedy that.”

“You have doctors who don’t really prioritize communities of color,” Onyekweli continued. “A lot of that isn’t on doctors, it’s on the health care system at large, but doctors have a very important role to play. How are we going to shape our education so that we’re better prepared to serve the communities in need?”

Report after report after report shows how racial biases affect the way physicians care for Black patients (especially Black women). It warms the heart to know that there are future doctors who are ready to tackle the issue head-on and change things for the better.

To the class of 2024 students at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, we salute you.

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