In a new Hippocratic oath written by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Class of 2024, incoming students pledged to fight the spread of misinformation and racial injustice. The oath names Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery.
The class started a new tradition at the school this year by writing their own class oath, creating a modern-day version of the traditional Hippocratic oath that physicians recite to underscore their commitment to upholding professional ethical standards. The University of Pittsburgh is not the first to have its incoming medical students write a class oath – but their oath makes a distinctive call to address systemic racism and medical misinformation.
“As the entering class of 2020, 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. We honor the 700,000+ lives lost to COVID-19, despite the sacrifices of health care workers,” the oath begins.
The students pledge to be allies to underserved communities “in order to dismantle the systemic racism and prejudice that medical professionals and society have perpetuated” and the students pledge to combat misinformation “in order to improve health literacy.”
The students created the oath in August, following high-profile police shooting incidents in the United States and protests against racial injustice. But if the students were creating their oath now – amid a growing coronavirus pandemic and close presidential election race – their message would be amplified, Dr. Chenits Pettigrew Jr., the associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, told CNN on Thursday.
“They would have spoken to this moment. We don’t want the divisions in the country to impact our ability to take care of people and to heal communities,” Pettigrew said.
“So even if we didn’t have the same events, they would have probably come up with something that reflected their commitment to make a difference, their commitment to engage their patients in the worlds in which they live and try to make those worlds better – not only healing the patient, but healing their communities, as well,” Pettigrew said. “I think that is an attitude that these young people came in with.”
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While the oath highlights concerns around Covid-19, health care disparities and racial injustice, it is not merely about current events, according to a university news release.
“We believe that our oath acknowledges the context of U.S. history and medicine, and uses it to explain our current state,” first-year medical student Tito Onyekweli said in the release.
“We used the past and present to clarify our future goals as physicians,” Onyekweli said.
“We worked collaboratively but disagreed at times,” Onyekweli said. “We brought up topics that were triggering for some but did not push the status quo enough for others. We were diverse in the most collective sense. More than anything, this oath-writing process was human.”