A group of students at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine started a new tradition by creating a more inclusive Hippocratic oath to acknowledge racism, the coronavirus pandemic and the killing of Breonna Taylor.
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.
“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 oath begins. “We honor the 700,000+ lives lost to COVID-19, despite the sacrifices of health care workers.”
The oath continues to highlight health care disparities and racial injustice, but it doesn’t just focus on current events alone.
“We recognize the fundamental failings of our health care and political systems in serving vulnerable communities,” the oath says. “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.”
Tito Onyekweli, one of twelve students on the oath writing committee, told CNN he and his peers ultimately hope to create a safe space for exploration and to continue to push the boundaries of medicine.
“We 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,” he said.
“You have doctors who don’t really prioritize communities of color. 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?”
The first Hippocratic Oath 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, Los Angeles.
And the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Class of 2024 isn’t the only program that allows its students to revise the oath.
About 20 years ago schools started allowing students to create their own promises, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. In 2000, students at Yale felt the oath was “impersonal, cold and too pat” so they opted to write their own.