by Wendy Jewell

First, do no harm.
Bust of Hippocrates  (Wikipedia Commons)
Bust of Hippocrates (Wikipedia Commons)

HIPPOCRATES, (hih POK ruh teez) who some call the Father of Medicine was born in Greece on the Island of Cos and lived from 460 B.C. until 377 B.C. . Hippocrates is famous for the Hippocratic oath, which is usually interpreted as one of the first statements of a moral code of conduct to be used by physicians, one that espouses respect for all human life. He is known as the father of medicine because many of the things he discovered are still practiced today. Hippocrates is thought to have changed the course of medicine by rejecting the role that superstition and the supernatural played in causing illness. His father was a physician and Hippocrates followed in his footsteps, later teaching his own two sons at his Hippocrates School of Medicine.

Hippocrates told his students to carefully observe their patients and to learn from what they saw. He said the human body could heal itself and could return itself to good health. Though Hippocrates had very few of the tools the modern doctor takes for granted, he wasn't averse to prescribing pain-killers. When it came to diet, he told his patients they should eat a moderate amount of food; not too much and not too little. He prescribed much the same when it came to exercise. Patients were encouraged to walk; a low-impact, moderately aerobic workout recommended by many of today's physicians.

An image of Hippocrates at the Asclepieion of Kos. (Wikipedia Commons)
An image of Hippocrates at the Asclepieion of Kos. (Wikipedia Commons)

Though there are conflicting ideas of what we can directly attribute to Hippocrates, here are some of the more important things we do credit him with:

* He pioneered the art of prognosis, carefully noting changes in a patient along the way: taking the pulse of a patient, making a note if a fever was present, one’s complexion, excretions, mood, as well as observing one’s family history and environment.

* The healing power of nature and the importance of rest and staying quiet were stressed.

* Hippocrates believed that it was essential to be gentle with the patient and keep them clean and the tools of medicine sterile.

* He paved the way for doctors themselves to be clean. Washing hands after each patient was important, as well as having a pleasing appearance and making sure that surgical rooms were sterile… which up until that time was not necessarily the case.

* Hippocrates categorized illnesses, for example, acute, chronic, relapse, epidemic, etc.

Clubbing Fingers (Wikipedia Commons)
Clubbing Fingers (Wikipedia Commons)

* Hippocrates “is given credit for the first description of clubbing of fingers, (see picture) an important diagnostic sign in chronic lung disease, lung cancer and cyanotic heart disease. For this reason clubbed fingers are sometimes referred to as “Hippocratic fingers”. His teachings remain relevant to present-day students of pulmonary medicine and surgery, with his findings still valid today.”

If you ask the general public the question, "Who is Hippocrates and why do we know him?" most people will answer something about an oath and doctors and doing no harm… that is, if they’ve heard of him at all. But certainly, medical students and doctors know Hippocrates. I asked a few current and retired doctors about their relationship with Hippocrates and this is what they had to say.

Hippocratic Oath in the form of a cross (Wikipedia)
Hippocratic Oath in the form of a cross (Wikipedia)

Dr. Susan Kemker, Psychiatrist, New York, USA. "What is eternal for me and, I believe, everyone, is Hippocrates' rule, "Do no harm." There are times when I go into situations that seem crazy or hopeless and that statement gives me both comfort and a "break" to just put on the "brakes". That little statement ranks up there with the "Serenity Prayer".

Dr. Arnold Noyek, Otolaryngologist,(Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon) Toronto, Canada. " If you can practice the oath individually with patients you can do it together as physicians mutually. Why can't doctors from opposite sides of the fault lines or borders work together? (Dr. Noyak is referring to doctors from Palestine and Israel that work together to benefit children who are deaf.)

Dr. Bernard Kemker, Retired General Surgeon, Indiana, USA. " It means that you have to be honest and you can't do anything that would hurt anyone. First do no harm. It means a lot to every doctor, if they went into medicine for the right reason. Doctors don't recite it anymore but I know I got a plaque with it when I graduated and it hung in my office."

Dr. Kalen Carty, Doctor of Family Medicine, Indiana, USA. "The Hippocratic oath has two key points that my father Charles, (a doctor), would always quote to me. One, of course, do no harm. The other was that he would bring up his children in the profession and the art of medicine- he would educate his children. I didn't realize that this was true until I read about Hippocrates and realized that my father had made that commitment and stuck to it."

One wonders how this reportedly wise and friendly doctor would respond to the legend and longevity of the work of his life but one thing is for sure… anyone who has ever been in need of a doctor is surely grateful for the words, “first do no harm.”

Page created on 8/16/2014 6:13:10 PM

Last edited 4/22/2019 11:38:33 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

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Hippocratic Registry...integrity matters. - Hippocratic Registry is an international leader in Hippocratic, Medicine, Conscience, and Integrity.

Extra Info

The Oath of Hippocrates

4th Century BC

I swear by Apollo, Physician and Aesclepius, Hygeia and Panacea and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witness, that I will fulfill according to my ability and judgement, this oath and this covenant:

To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to live in partnership to him, and if he is in need of money to give him a share of mine, and to regard his offspring as equal to my brother in male lineage and to teach them this art - if they deserve to learn it - without fee and covenant; to give a share of precepts and oral instruction and all the other learning to my sons and to the sons of him who has instructed me and to pupils who have signed the covenant and taken an oath according to the medical law, but to no one else.

I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgement; I will keep them from harm and injustice.

I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly, I will not give a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.

I will not use the knife, not even from sufferers from stone, but will withdraw in favour of such men as are engaged in this work.

Whatever house I visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice, of all mischief and in particular of sexual relations with both female and male persons, be they free or slaves.

Whatever I may see or hear in the course of the treatment or even outside the treatment in regard to the life of men, which on no account one must spread abroad, I will keep to myself holding such things shameful to be spoken about.

If I fulfill this oath and do not violate it, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and art, being honoured with fame among all men for all time to come. If I transgress it and swear falsely, may the opposite of all this be my lot.