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Reciting the Hippocratic Oath: A Family-Centered Tradition 


Hippocratic Oath IMG_2647.JPG“It has been a long tradition at the College to ask members of an OSU College of Medicine family with multiple generations of graduates to lead the recitation of the Oath of Hippocrates,” read Dr. Joanne Lynne, Associate Dean for Student Life at the College of Medicine, addressing the audience at the Hooding Ceremony in June.

Steeped in tradition at the very heart of the medical profession, the Hippocratic Oath is always read immediately after the graduates have received their doctoral hoods. The recitation is a rite of passage penetrating to the values of honesty and integrity that characterize the call to medicine. Inherited by each new generation of physicians for centuries, ever since Socrates first gave it to his own students, the tradition endures, despite the changes in medical practice over the years.  And, thus, it is fitting that a student entering medical practice for the first time stand before the ceremony with his or her parent and lead the oath in tribute to this long-standing tradition.

Earlier this year, the Williams family received an invitation on behalf of Dr. Lynne to participate in the ceremony. “I felt a little nervous and at first thought, ‘Oh, they should pick someone else,’” says Margaret E. Williams (Peggy), a member of the Class of 2012. “But I knew that my dad and I fit the criteria used to choose the readers -- a long history of OSU COM in the family.”

Peggy’s father, Thomas E. Williams, Jr., MD, PhD, graduated from the College of Medicine in 1963. He completed both general and thoracic surgery residencies at OSU and was on faculty until 1983. He then went into private practice for 14 years until he was recruited as the Interim Chair of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery in 1997. He has been at OSU ever since. While a faculty member, Dr. Williams won the Department of Surgery teaching award in 2004 and the OSU Medical Alumni Achievement Award in 2006.

One of his proudest accomplishments, Thomas says, is being Peggy’s father. During her time at medical school, Peggy was involved in global health efforts, served with the AIDS Task Force doing HIV counseling, and was a leader in MED-PAWS, a student organization that takes dogs and cats to visit with nursing home residents. Peggy was also active in the Gold Humanism Honor Society and, because of her consistent commitment to service, she was chosen by her peers to receive the Arnold P. Gold Foundation Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award.

“I was in private practice at Grant for several years,” Thomas recalled, “and I remember taking Peggy with me on rounds on Sundays. She was probably about nine or ten years old, with the frilly white socks and the patent leather shoes young girls wore then. I remember that vividly.  I took her on rounds several times, and I was hoping to foster that interest in her, and I think it worked.”

Peggy shares her father’s sense of the significance of reading the Oath together.  “Both my father and I were afraid that we would cry or that our voices would falter with emotion during the oath. We are both kind of sappy,” Peggy says.

Looking out over the graduates, with his daughter by his side, Thomas was flooded with memories of his own graduation from medical school and his first years as an intern and resident. He especially remembered working with Robert Zollinger, MD, one of the most renowned professors to teach at Ohio State’s College of Medicine, who later went on to serve as president of the American College of Surgeons.

Peggy thought of the classmates who stood before her.  “Looking out at my classmates,” she notes, “who are such smart and such good people, and knowing how much we had accomplished together as a class and what amazing, challenging, and exciting things lay ahead of us, I felt so happy to be a part of this class.”


Posted on 21-Aug-12 by Geier, Eric
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