New Hippocratic Oath Asks Doctors To Fight Racial Injustice And More

The University of Pittsburgh is taking action against bias in medicine.

Students at the University of Pittsburgh have taken matters into their own hands when making the medical a more inclusive and understanding place.

According to NPR, a group of students enrolled at the university’s school of medicine are coming together and creating a Hippocratic oath that includes language that prohibits discrimination or bias in the practice of medicine.

First-year medical student Sean Sweat told the outlet that she "didn't want to tiptoe around" issues of race when she sat down with 11 of her classmates to write a new version of the medical profession's venerable oath.

"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," begins their alternate version of the oath, which has been rewritten for the class of 2024 at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. 

It continues: "We honor the 700,000+ lives lost to COVID-19, despite the sacrifices of health care workers."

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It isn’t uncommon for medical schools to have a Hippocratic oath, however, NPR reports that it is rare for an oath to specifically highlight racial bias and pledge that it doesn't interfere with the students' work. The rewrite was a part of the students’ orientation activities during their first week of medical school this fall.

"Our oath can be both timely and timeless," Sweat says. "This pandemic has wreaked havoc on minority populations. It has revealed the many gaps within the medical field. ... A lot of those gaps that this pandemic has revealed, those are things we need to go after to fix."

The medical field in general has increasingly been joining in protests for racial justice, knowing that there is a sizeable racial bias in the field that study-after-study has revealed.

The new Hippocratic oath the Pitt medical students swore to asks physicians to eliminate their personal biases, combat disinformation to improve health literacy, and be an ally to minorities and other underserved groups. It also calls on doctors to learn about the social determinants of health "to use my voice as a physician to advocate for a more equitable health care system from the local to the global level."

Sweat says that the oath she helped write has meaning to her, and it will continue to guide her as her career launches. "Patients entrust us to take care of their health," she said to NPR. "In my opinion we're more than just physicians. We're leaders in this society. With that comes a responsibility."

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