Hippocrates: The Father of Medicine

by Barath Raj from San Diego, California in United States

Civil rights leader and political activist, Martin Luther King Jr. once remarked, “Life's most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?" Here, King provides one definition of a hero, but it begs the question: What specific actions make someone a hero? Is it saving lives? Is it acting in the moment? Is it speaking out? Or is it sacrificing one’s life to fight for others? True heroism comes from three attributes: courage, charitability, and empathy. Courage is having the moral and mental strength to persevere through difficult tasks. Generosity arises from someone's ability to think of others before themselves. Empathy is the willingness to listen and understand other people’s values, actions, and words. Individuals like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. used these attributes to make their vision a reality and thought independently and creatively to solve problems that significantly impacted society. Gandhi and King’s actions revealed that a hero is someone who can take their ideas and values and transform them into his or her vision of greatness.

121759Hippocrates teaching future Like Gandhi and MLK, one man, Hippocrates, often called "The Father of Medicine," embodied heroism and took his ideas and values on medicine and transformed them into a source of knowledge for all future medical practitioners to come. Hippocrates was a Greek physician whose contributions left a lasting legacy to this day. His moral and ethical standards were the foundation of his teachings, along with his meticulous writings concerning the study of the human body. He firmly believed that poor health and disease were the results of natural processes that could be discovered and cured through careful clinical reasoning and observations. These ideas, to this day, bring him respect from doctors and medical professionals around the world. By modeling Hippocrates’ methods, one can picture that a hero must possess the characteristics of courage when challenging irrationality with fact, charitability when giving back knowledge to society, and empathy to create a system of morals and ethics for people to follow. Altogether, Hippocrates establishes his heroic legacy through his many invaluable contributions to medicine: revolutionizing the importance of fact and observation and emphasizing morality in the medical practice.

By making medicine a more intellectual and rational discipline, Hippocrates was able to challenge myth and theory through the stressing of fact and observation. Hippocrates accomplishes this by teaching rational medicine, the art of deconstructing facts: "... conclusions which are merely verbal cannot bear fruit; only those do which are based on demonstrated fact. For affirmation and talk are deceptive and treacherous. Wherefore one must hold fast to facts in generalizations also, and occupy oneself with facts persistently if one is to acquire that ready and infallible habit which we call `the art of medicine'" (Fabre). Hippocrates claimed that medicine is only valid when constant fact and information, never affirmation and talk, meet its practitioners. To challenge this concept of affirmation, Hippocrates uses the word "fact" to emphasize the idea that medicine relies solely on truth, never blind theory. This utilization not only allows Hippocrates to create a more rational form of medicine but evolve the `the art of medicine.’ Creating a new system that medical practitioners could follow allowed Hippocrates to establish a new form of art and or practice that would not only undermine the original mythological point of view of society but stress that fact and observation were key to reforming medicine. In addition, Hippocrates reformed fact not only by breaking down information but also by analyzing it. Hippocrates’ analysis of medicine, as a scientific field, emphasized that healing would arise from time and opportunity: “Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity. However, knowing this, one must attend in medical practice not primarily to plausible theories, but to experience combined with reason" (Fabre). Hippocrates recognized that healing and care is a means of “opportunity,” asserting that one cannot enter the field with false pretenses, but only with experience and supported reasoning. By defining the key point of using reason with experience rather than follow theory Hippocrates was able to apply fact and knowledge to undermine myth and tradition successfully. This analysis of medicine as a way to heal allows Hippocrates to emphasize that fact and observation can enable whomever to create a system that not only undermines myth and theory but create a balanced discipline that upholds intellectuality and rationality. By using this discipline, Hippocrates was able to use his expertise and reasoning to communicate the importance of truth and observation, against lore and irrationality.

By using his detailed medical works as an example of ethics and morals for future medical practitioners to follow Hippocrates’ emphasizes the precedent of ethics that is needed in medical practice. An example of his writings is the Hippocratic Oath which highlighted the characteristics needed for a physician to meet the qualities of a future doctor:

The dignity of a physician requires that he should look healthy, and as plump as nature intended him to be; for the common crowd consider those who are not of this excellent bodily condition to be unable to take care of others... In matters of the mind, let him be prudent… he must be a gentleman in character, and being this he must be grave and kind to all... and vulgarity especially must be avoided (Fabre).  

121763Hippocrates looking towards the futureSaatchi ArtHippocrates describes the invaluable characteristics that a physician must follow to practice medicine successfully. By defining "dignity”, not only in the physical appearance of a doctor but in their mental state, Hippocrates indicates the proper qualities a doctor must maintain to practice successfully. These views on what a doctor should act, look, and become set the foundation for practitioners to employ in their own code of ethics, and thus allowing future doctors to make their own system moral system by basing it off those who came before them. Hippocrates not only emphasizes righteousness with the Hippocratic Oath but also with a collection of wise, pithy sayings known as the First Aphorism. These precepts advise on practical matters of diet, prognosis, and therapeutics, to infuse the moral code needed for a physician to succeed: “Life is short, and the Art is long; the occasion fleeting; experience fallacious, and judgment difficult. The physician must not only be prepared to do what is right himself, but also to make the patient, the attendants, and the externals, cooperate” (Nuland). Hippocrates employs the idea that during critical and challenging moments a physician must be able to decide what is right and wrong in a way that appeases all parties. With an understanding of mutual cooperation, these future practitioners would be able to exemplify the morality required in medical practice and use their judgment of right and wrong to set a precedent of ethics to guide each other. By advising one another on what is right, doctors alike could not only advance each other's way of thinking but also create their own system of ethics and morals to guide future practitioners. Hippocrates system of morals and ethics urge doctors to not only understand their boundaries as individuals but to realize that practicing medicine successfully requires the upholding of a strict code of ethics.

In learning Hippocratic Medicine, one finds that to become a practitioner of medicine one must be able to separate fact and knowledge from myth and superstition and be able to follow a strict code of ethics and morals. As a result of this mindset, Hippocrates is credited to be the “Father of Medicine.” Hippocrates’ dedication to the medical world has inspired practitioners to continue developing medicine by embracing his beliefs. As a pioneer, he set the basis for all future medical practitioners to go along and understand medicine as a whole. His views on what a doctor should represent as a whole has set the tone for medicine over the past 2000 years and continue to live on through his oath: “The Hippocratic oath pledges a physician to serve only the benefit of the patient, and to keep confidential anything he or she sees or hears in the course of treatment. Many medical students today still take a form of the Hippocratic Oath when they receive their medical degrees (World of Anatomy and Physiology).¨ Hippocrates’ illustrated that each person deserves to get the proper care and respect no matter status or look. This approach is what has inspired so many people to look at the field of medicine as a scientific approach to life rather than another field of expertise. Hippocrates has set the foundation for the development of new ideas and new forms of medicine that people everywhere can use to better themselves. He has empowered young kids, like me, to better doctors of our own, and change society by using his own techniques as our basis for reform. Martin Luther King once asked, " Life's most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?" Like Martin Luther King spending his life revolutionizing the course of civil rights, Hippocrates spent his life revolutionizing the course of medical society to make doctors do what they do best: save lives.

Fabre, John. "Hip, hip, Hippocrates: extracts from The Hippocratic Doctor." British Medical Journal, 20 Dec. 1997, p. 1669+. Student Resources in Context, Accessed 9 Jan. 2018.

"Hippocrates of Cos." Scientists: Their Lives and Works, UXL, 2006. Student Resources in Context, Accessed 9 Jan. 2018.

"Hippocrates." World of Anatomy and Physiology, Gale, 2006. Biography in Context, Accessed 9 Jan. 2018.

King, Martin Luther. “30 Inspiring Quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King.” Google, Google,      

Nuland, Sherwin B. "The whole law of medicine." The American Scholar, vol. 67, no. 3, 1998, p. 125+. Biography in Context, Accessed 9 Jan. 2018.



Page created on 2/25/2018 7:36:44 PM

Last edited 5/1/2018 12:10:24 AM

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Related Links

Hippocrates Greek Legacy - A few facts and general information on who Hippocrates was.
Hippocrates Past, Present, and Inspiration - A key source of knowledge for anyone interested in learning more about Hippocrates accomplishments.