About the Public Health Oath

It’s hard not to be a cynic when it comes to American health care: the fragmentation and competition, our counterproductive payment systems, rampant disparities, the gutting of public health, the politicizing of women’s health. . .   The list goes on and on.

But anyone remember Elvis Costello’s song, “What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?” It’s a defense of those “soft” values that are frequently derided or at best, dismissed.   It came to mind after reading the public health oath to which our class will be pledging at graduation.  There is something so completely un-cynical about being a public health student in these times and then reciting that oath.  Especially as we will be ascribing to the tenet that health is a human right and a “defining element of a civil society.”

By the same token, it’s also why Don Berwick makes an ideal keynote speaker for the Class of 2012.  Despite the realities, he convincingly conveys a just and optimistic vision of better health, better care, and lower costs for all.  I think he does this by combining evidence-based science with a moral imperative.  At IHI he shared information and data to make health care safer and more effective, all the while reminding us that when we are sick, or when a loved one is sick, there is a basic human need for trust, respect, and dignity that must be honored.  Dr. Berwick continually promotes the voice and needs of the patient.  Ultimately, he says, health care is about a “relationship between human beings where one is trying to relieve the suffering of the other.”  I have to believe that is why we are here each month. Fundamentally, each of us in our own way is trying to change health care so it works better and more humanely for more people.

In the absence of cynicism – and in the spirit of hope – here’s our Oath (thanks, Ana, for sending it):

Health is a human right. The public health community exists to safeguard that right. I believe it is a defining element of a civil society. Public health represents the collective actions necessary to protect the health of all people. Through prevention science and practice we can accomplish this goal. As a public health professional, guided by these principles, I declare the following:

I will work to ensure that people have the chance to live full and   productive lives, free from avoidable disease and disability and supported in   their pursuit of physical, mental, and social well-being.I will hold myself to the highest ethics, standards, values, and   responsibilities as I move forward the science and practice of public health.

I will respect the rights, values, beliefs, and cultures of those individuals and communities with whom I work.

I will rely on evidence to support my decisions and actions, and   translate that evidence into policies and programs that improve health for all.

I will add to the body of research and knowledge and share my   discoveries freely.

I will continuously seek new information and be open to ideas that can   better protect and promote the health of populations.

I will advance health literacy for all and seek equity and justice for   vulnerable populations.

With this oath, I commit to the ideals and mission of public health.”

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One Response to About the Public Health Oath

  1. Dan Fulwiler says:

    What an inspiring oath. I don’t think we did this at my graduation. I’ve hung it above my desk.

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