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Incoming medical students create a professional class oath

Physicians-in-training pledge patient devotion

by Kristina SauerweinAugust 11, 2016

Robert Boston

The first big assignment arrived on the second day of orientation for this year’s incoming students at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis: Create a class oath, similar in style to the medical profession’s revered Hippocratic Oath, but one tailored specifically to the ethics, values and goals of the 124 physicians-in-training.

As students prepared to break into small groups last week, Lisa M. Moscoso, MD, PhD, associate dean for student affairs and an associate professor of pediatrics, said: “You are now entering the profession of medicine. With it comes great responsibility and privilege. It’s important for us to reflect on what this means as individuals and as a professional community.”

The School of Medicine’s entering class of 2016 will recite their oath today as part of the White Coat Ceremony, a rite of passage before the semester begins in which new medical students receive their white coats in front of family and friends.

Started more than a decade ago, the class-oath tradition quickly became one of the most popular activities during the two-week orientation program. “The oath is the first tangible product that our med school class put out that is entirely our own,” Madeline Scannell of Menlo Park, Calif., said. “I was honestly surprised at how much I enjoyed the oath-building session, but in retrospect, it makes complete sense. It was the first opportunity to engage with my peers on an intellectual level, and it is always exciting to experience the ways that other people’s minds work.

wcc-oath-building-3Robert Boston
From left: Divya Natarajan, Anand Upadhyaya and Louisa Bai

“It felt like the first taste of what is to come, a glimpse into the kind of intelligence, thoughtfulness and honesty that I can expect from my classmates,” she said.

Students took the oath assignment seriously. At times last week’s small group sessions inside the university’s Farrell Learning and Teacher Center resembled a high-stakes editorial meeting at a big-city media company: Brows furrowed in concentration and fingers tapped on desks as students respectfully debated the most impactful words.

Indeed, no detail was too small. “The oath expresses the values we wish to adhere to and lays out the path we will now begin to walk,” said Brian Brady of Northborough, Mass. “I was glad to see that included language reflecting the value of bonding with a patient.”

Creating an oath also pinpoints the passions of each medical class, said Colleen M. Wallace, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics who led the final-oath writing session. She also is the School of Medicine’s Director of the Program for Humanities in Medicine.

“There is always a focus that emerges,” Wallace said. “Last year, it was on disparities in medicine. This year, the particular passion is the individual patient relationship. The students did an excellent job.”

wcc-oath-building-2Robert Boston
From left: Anna Trier, William Tompkins and Caitlyn Dingwall

Student Oath 2016

As I begin the study of medicine at Washington University, I commit myself to the responsibilities of the medical profession while recognizing its challenges and privileges.

I pledge that my patient will always be my foremost consideration as I strive to promote health and quality of life through education, prevention, and care. I acknowledge my debt of gratitude to patients, from whom I will learn. I will endeavor to be worthy of their trust through competence, compassion, and honesty. I will respect, seek to understand, and value each patient’s individuality.  I will communicate openly and effectively to empower my patients to make informed choices that honor their values and beliefs. 

I will advocate for equitable, sustainable, and quality health care.  I will be cognizant of my biases and will hold myself accountable to society for the trust placed in me. 

I dedicate myself to a lifetime of learning, practicing, and advancing the art and science of medicine. I will preserve the sanctity of the patient-physician relationship and approach my profession with integrity and humility.  I will support my peers and respect the contributions of all members of the inter-professional healthcare team.

I pledge to care for myself so that I may best care for others. I will recognize my limitations, act within my capabilities, and pursue excellence. I am humbled by the opportunity to become a physician, appreciative of those who support me, and look forward to mentoring future generations. 

May this class hold fast to the ideals and passion with which we take this pledge.

This oath I make freely and upon my honor.

Washington University School of Medicine‘s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient-care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

Kristina covers pediatrics, surgery, medical education and student life. In 2020, she received a gold Robert G. Fenley Writing Award for general staff writing from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), and in 2019, she received the silver award. Kristina is an author and former reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Los Angeles Times, where she was part of a team of journalists that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for breaking news. Additionally, she covered the 2014 Ferguson unrest for TIME magazine and, for eight years, wrote a popular parenting column for