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J Clin Ethics. 2010 Winter;21(4):335-45.

Medical school oath-taking: the moral controversy.

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  • 1Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA.


Professions typically formulate codes of ethics. Medical students are exposed to various codes and often are expected to recite some code or oath at their graduation. This article reports the findings of a study of one large medical class, asked upon entry to medical school and again at the beginning of their fourth term, which of 13 specified professional, religious, and secular codes of ethics they would turn to for moral guidance in their practice of medicine. The study finds great diversity in the students' choices and no clear pattern of change by their fourth term. Very few students chose the oath they would be asked to recite at their graduation. The article probes the problems this creates for school administrators and professors as well as students. It asks the implications for professional oath-taking at graduation and in the practice of the profession.

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