A New Oath: Caring for Our Patients—and Ourselves

News & Events


Medical students in their fourth year at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine (UNR Med) recite the Physician's Oath as a public declaration of their continued dedication to the field of medicine at their commencement on May 13 at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts in Reno. UNR Med, Photo By Brin Reynolds

Each May, the hooding ceremony marks the completion of four years of medical education for students at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine (UNR Med), and institutions across the country. As they cross the threshold to becoming physicians, graduating medical students take an oath and join generations of doctors who have recited these words upon their graduation.

Based on the Oath of Hippocrates, written more than 2,500 years ago, the physician's oath encompasses a personal pledge to ethical practices, a commitment to care for all patients, and a promise to honor the traditions of medical education. The long history of the physician's oath makes it a comfortable part of the hooding ceremony. Its words and rhythms are familiar, with well-traveled phrases of honor, respect, and duty. The oath sets high standards that challenge us to put others' interests first and avoid personal biases in patient care.

So, imagine my interest when Kyler Smith, a second-year UNR Med student researching clinical ethics, reached out to me with a proposal: Change the physician's oath that UNR Med uses at hooding.

Or, more specifically, update the oath to the newest version of the Declaration of Geneva from the World Medical Association.

At first, I asked: "Why? What is different about this new oath?"

Kyler responded: "Because of what they added."

All physician's oaths include an essential statement: "The health and well-being of my patient will be my first consideration."

The updated oath, which the UNR Med Class of 2022 recited at their hooding ceremony on May 13, includes new language:

"I will attend to my own health, well-being, and abilities in order to provide care of the highest standard."

Oaths have the power to influence. They can guide our ethical decision-making and behaviors. They make us accountable to ourselves and each other. If we change an oath, we can change what we do and how we do it.

We've seen a societal shift toward burnout. Reported burnout in medicine is high, and we need to pay attention to this new language on well-being. As a profession, we take wonderful care of our patients, yet it's common for physicians to struggle to prioritize self-care. There is abundant evidence that links patient care and self-care. The language in this oath matters because bringing our best abilities to patient care requires self-care. That is the key that unlocks our least biased, most complete, best selves.

The hopes that I shared with the Class of 2022 are those that I carry for my fellow physicians and healthcare professionals-don't get so lost in caring for others that you lose care of yourself. Form bonds with one another and lean on each other when needed. Maintain humility and grace around human biases and mistakes. Know that when you care for yourself, you are a good steward of the most precious medical resource you have. I hope that as a profession, we can provide patient care of the highest standard by taking care of ourselves and our patients. I hope this oath can guide us all. Melissa Piasecki, M.D., is the Acting Dean of UNR Med and Chief Academic Officer of Renown Health.

See the Class of 2022 Doctor of Medicine Academic Hooding Ceremony and learn about the residency programs and specialties of the Class of 2022.

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The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, Nevada's first public medical school, is a community-based, research-intensive medical school with a statewide vision for a healthy Nevada. Established in 1969, UNR Med is improving the health and well-being of all Nevadans and their communities through excellence in student education, postgraduate training and clinical care, research with local, national and global impact and a culture of diversity and inclusion.

Released: Tuesday May 17, 2022 @ 8:00 AM