Oaths given by U.S. and Canadian medical schools, 1977: profession of medical values

Soc Sci Med. 1982;16(1):115-20. doi: 10.1016/0277-9536(82)90432-4.


Ninety-four percent of U.S. and 63% of Canadian medical schools administered an oath to their graduating students in 1977. This making a 'profession' of the values of the medical profession has undergone a continuous and striking increase since at least 1928. The only factors which may be related to a U.S. school not giving an oath are its being located in a North Central State and its having a large number of basic science doctoral students (perhaps a reflection of the school's commitment to basic science research). It is argued that it may be legitimate to consider that those values which are more frequently noted in the oaths are those which are held to be more important than those which are less frequently mentioned. Based on this assumption, a comparison of the oaths given in 1958 with those given in 1977 suggests that there has been a decline in the importance that medical schools and/or graduating students hold certain values which have been traditionally ascribed to physicians-in-service-to-others (e.g. confidentiality, welfare of patient, and avoidance of injury) while at the same time there has been no change in the importance of values associated with physicians-in-relation-to-the-medical--profession (e.g. concern with the status of the physician and respect for teachers). This, then, raises the possibility of there existing the interesting paradox that, although at this level of the medical profession, the profession is talking more, they are promising less.

KIE: A 1977 survey revealed that 94% of U.S. and 63% of Canadian medical schools administer an oath to graduating seniors, a considerable increase over figures available for 1928 and 1958. Analysis of the current oaths in comparison with those given in 1958 suggests a decline in emphasis on service-oriented values such as confidentiality and the welfare of patients. There was no apparent change in references to values associated with the relationship of the physician to the medical profession.

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Codes of Ethics*
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Hippocratic Oath*
  • Humans
  • Schools, Medical*
  • Social Values
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States