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Medical Oath Taking

Halperin, Edward C., MD, MA

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000002648
Letters to the Editor
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Chancellor and chief executive officer, New York Medical College, Valhalla, New York, and provost, Biomedical Affairs, Touro College, Valhalla, New York; edward_halperin@nymc.edu.

Disclosures: None reported.

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To the Editor:

I commend Scheinman and colleagues’1 wise article “Oath Taking at U.S. and Canadian Medical School Ceremonies: Historical Perspectives, Current Practices, and Future Considerations.” The authors note that 18% of medical students recall at least three obligations in their school’s oath.2 This is consistent with my finding that 10% of physicians and medical students could correctly answer five questions about the contents of the Hippocratic Oath.3

Medical school oaths are sacred texts consisting of hallowed words—either because they are associated with the divine or because they are consecrated or deserving of reverence.4 Examples of sacred texts include the Bible, the Koran, the Gettysburg Address, and professional oaths. We venerate these texts and turn them into wall plaques and authority objects (putting your hand on a Bible when taking an oath, for example). Their contents, however, are often lost in the midst of our veneration. Few Americans can answer the simplest questions about the contents of the U.S. Constitution, for example.5

Scheinman and colleagues refer to the Hippocratic Oath as “attributed to Hippocrates.” They refer to the Oath of Maimonides, or a variant, without the modifier “attributed.”1 Moses Ben Maimon (1135–1204; in Greek, Maimonides) wrote neither the Physician’s Prayer of Maimonides nor the derived Oath of Maimonides.6 This prayer appeared in print in 1783 and was probably written by the Berlin physician Marcus Hertz (1747–1803).6 Attributing the prayer and the oath to Maimonides is a long-standing benign medical history hoax.6 Medical oaths deserve to be the subjects of continuing education and reaffirmation. This might help convert them from wall plaques to living documents.

Edward C. Halperin, MD, MA

Chancellor and chief executive officer, New York Medical College, Valhalla, New York, and provost, Biomedical Affairs, Touro College, Valhalla, New York; edward_halperin@nymc.edu.

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References

1. Scheinman SJ, Fleming P, Niotis K. Oath taking at U.S. and Canadian medical school ceremonies: Historical perspectives, current practices, and future considerations. Acad Med. 2018;93:1301–1306.
2. Yakir A, Glick SM. Medical students’ attitudes to the physician’s oath. Med Educ. 1998;32:133–137.
3. Halperin EC. Physician awareness of the contents of the Hippocratic Oath. J Med Humanit. 1989;10:107–114.
4. Sacred [definition]. Webster’s New College Dictionary. 2008:3rd ed. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 996.
5. Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Americans are poorly informed about basic constitutional provisions. https://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/americans-are-poorly-informed-about-basic-constitutional-provisions. Published September12, 2017. Accessed January 14, 2019.
6. Rosner F. The physician’s prayer attributed to Moses Maimonides. In: Medicine in the Bible and the Talmud: Selections From Classical Jewish Sources. 1977:New York, NY: Ktav; 125–140.
© 2019 by the Association of American Medical Colleges