Winter 2024

Alumni on the Power of the Oath

How has the oath you took during your first days in medical school influenced your practice of medicine?

January 2024

In this 2019 photo, members of the MD Class of 2023 read their oath to the profession.

Benjamin Chaska, MD ’83

The oath underpinned the ethical thinking I used in the many complex decisions that confronted me throughout my career. It focused me on doing what was right for my patients and community, first and always. It reminded me that technical capability is not always ethical. Such decisions are more nuanced and require deeper thinking.  

Stephen Smith, MD ’63

The care of individual patients is understood to be a sacred trust and responsibility, totally apart from any expectation of financial remuneration. The physician’s reward is in achieving a degree of success for the patient, coupled with the acknowledgment that help has been rendered.  

Linda Leum, MD ’87

I now work with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and search for ways to serve the underserved. I view every human as a precious child of God.  

Elizabeth Kaufman, MD ’85

It reminds me that taking care of patients is a sacred privilege.  

Charles Epstein, MD ’73

I don’t actually remember which version of it we used back then. But I remember the gist, minus the various anachronisms, and still try to follow it.  

Jose Morales, MD ’94

The oath we took has been a guiding principle in my career. Always place the patient first, either in a leadership role or sitting at a bedside. Sadly, I have noticed our profession’s commitment hasn’t always been followed by all players in the industry. The oath has influenced me to work hard for my patients my entire career. However, the hill is getting steeper.  Preservation of our trade and mission feels like the next direction we all must take. 

Esteban Mezey, MD ’62

The principles of the oath were an ingrained guideline in my practice of medicine. Most important, however, was the influence of the clinical HMS faculty. Listening to patients and involving them in decisions about their care is most fruitful. The new practice of looking at a screen and typing into the medical record and not interacting directly with the patient is not consistent with the oath and good care. I do all the typing and dictating once I am done with my job as a physician.

Petros Giannikopoulos, MD ’06

It influences the choices I make with respect to the types of problems that I work on.

Ken Franklin, MD ’78

It has not influenced. Proper ethics of how to behave as a physician are straightforward.

Samuel Gerber, MD ’80

I take my responsibility to patients and their welfare seriously.  

Lise Johnson, MD ’88

Medicine is a calling as much as it is a job. It is part of who I am, not just what I do.  

Morris Fisher, MD ’68

Recognizing medicine as a calling, where the primary concern should be the needs of the patient. Effective medicine is based on honesty and integrity.  

Gordon Cutler, MD ’73

I remember only vague details of this oath, but I never forget that being a physician is a unique calling that carries with it many duties and responsibilities. Whatever one’s belief or faith systems, the good one can do should be the principal reward of being a physician.  

Nneka Holder, MD ’97

First of all, “do no harm” — I take this literally.  

Karen Singer, MD ’77

It is always in the background of my mind. I feel I am living that oath every day and am always glad to do so. I practice to always do the best I can for all my patients and to listen to their concerns, and certainly do no harm.  

Martin Prince, MD ’85

It is always in the back of my mind that the patients come first, and we must always strive to keep their interests at the forefront of our decision-making. Often I imagine myself in the patient’s shoes and I frequently work harder and longer hours to stay faithful to this oath.  

Daniel Weingrad, MD ’73

We had a choice at the time of graduation of which oath to take. Sorry, Hippocrates, I took the Oath of Maimonides, which was part of my personal religious tradition. For me, the Hippocratic Oath was redundant as it was already a personal ethic to which I was committed.  

It keeps me humble, and it reminds me what a privilege it is to take care of patients.

Edmund Lee, MD ’96

“Do no harm” has become, “How can I help you prevent chronic disease?”  

Bruce Parker, MD ’63

My sense of professional ethics is intrinsic, not stimulated by outside factors.  

Gregory Juarez, MD ’92

My commitment and oath are stronger now today than before. Financial, mental, and physical stresses have increased significantly. The mission for access and caring has become the anchor that gets me through these obstacles.  

Scott Wasserman, MD ’97

Not really — that oath was there from childhood. Going to medical school and working toward health solutions was part of me from an early age. The only thing that changed over time was a greater appreciation for the power of empathy and a large worldview.  

Marguerite Barnett, MD ’79

It didn’t. I was all in already!  

Jorge Casas-Ganem, MD ’98

Whether I realize it or not, it is the factor that gets me out of bed every morning, and it is what helps me navigate some extremely complex cases. It keeps me humble, and it reminds me what a privilege it is to take care of patients, even if they never thank me for anything that I have done for them.  

Sylvester Sviokla, MD ’72

Placing my patient’s care foremost in my mind has never led me astray.  

Martin-Jose Sepulveda, MD ’78

It is the foundation of my medical behavior and practice.  

Howard Kirshner, MD ’72

First, do no harm. This has always influenced my medical decision-making. I have tried to abide by it.  

Stephen Grund, MD ’91

I don’t know if I remember this correctly, but I recall Dean Federman [MD ’53] beginning the first day of orientation with primum non nocere, “first, do no harm.” For some reason, it informed everything I did, or at least tried to do, my entire career, from medical school through residency fellowship and as an attending physician. Corporate medicine and the profit motive make a mockery of primum non nocere.  

Mary Flowers, MD ’78

The Hippocratic Oath encouraged us to avoid seeing patients as a “fever chart,” but time limitations have forced us to violate that oath and discard our stethoscopes and clinical skills in assessing patients and to deal more with inputting diagnoses.  

Susan Haas, MD ’79

I always put patient welfare — individually or collectively — as the top priority. I resisted the siren call of cashing in on my talents and education.  

Richard Schwartzstein, MD ’79

It reinforced my obligation to the next generation of doctors.  

I always try to measure what I can or plan to do against the harm it might do to patients, not only physically and medically, but emotionally, financially, and personally.  

Donald Brief, MD ’57

The “do no harm” portion stands out. Also, the desire to pass on one’s skills and knowledge to students and residents. The need to be a good role model in caring for our patients.  

George Lewinnek, MD ’67

The Hippocratic Oath was only a small part of forming a concept of the good doctor. I would urge students today to think about that oath, but also to consider the Oath of Maimonides, and if they can, to consider what philosophers and religions have had to say about the good and the ethical. My most important influences were role models, including my father. Some of those I met in training taught by negative example — I knew that I did not want to be like them. I had several role models that were more important to me than the oath — and more demanding.  They gave me a concept of the good physician, and it was a very idealistic concept.  

Ethan Taub, MD ’88

It hasn’t. I admit the noble words of Hippocrates once hung on my wall. But the Jewish tradition — others, too — dislikes oaths. The Almighty already requires me to do good. Inviting His punishment if I don’t seems superfluous, or even risky. Meanwhile, the elements of medical ethics — help, don’t harm; be honest; respect your patients’ autonomy — flow from the injunction to love thy neighbor as thyself.  

Robin Yuan, MD ’78

I always try to measure what I can or plan to do against the harm it might do to patients, not only physically and medically, but emotionally, financially, and personally.  

Steven Jonas, MD ’62

First, do no harm. See the politicization of the COVID pandemic.  

Craig Comiter, MD ’92

It keeps me honest and keeps me focused.  

Michael Quinones, MD ’86

The patient always comes first!  

Christopher Baker, MD ’74

I have always striven to follow the Hippocratic precepts.  

Jan Polissar, MD ’61

I do not remember it but assume it was the Hippocratic Oath. My college zoology course convinced me of the truth of evolution and of the brotherhood of mankind.  

Robert Colvin, MD ’68

Every day, when confronted with challenging choices.