You Come First: The Hippocratic Oath Matters To Students, Too

The Hippocratic Oath, an oath historically taken by physicians to uphold certain ethical standards, states, “I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required“. A pretty straightforward statement, something that pre-med and medical students typically understand – we have to do everything in our power to help our patients.

We spend countless hours in libraries, labs, and hospitals trying to better ourselves so one day we can help others. The stress is very apparent, medicine is obnoxiously competitive and it takes a toll on everyone involved, students included, whether we like to admit it or not. We’re always so engrossed in our studies and endeavors that we forget one simple, but significant detail: we’re human too!

Throughout history, healthcare (especially mental health) of healthcare professionals has been stigmatized. It is often viewed that since we take care of others, it is a sign of weakness on our part when we have those same problems, those that we encounter and treat on a daily basis. A lot of the times, the stress faced by students and practitioners of medicine leads to a hypocrisy, in the sense that we cope with our stress in the very ways that we advise our patients not to. Whether it is excessive, poor eating habits, lack of exercise, smoking or drinking, etc, all of it is detrimental to our physical health in the long run.

What interests me more is the stigma on mental health in healthcare. Studies have shown that rates of depression are about 15-30% higher in medical students and residents when compared to the general population, and this is only in a medical population that is willing to participate in a study. More specifically, another study showed that 20% of 123 pediatric residents in 3 different children’s hospitals were clinically depressed. Those who were depressed made 6.2% more errors in medical decision making. So as we can see, not only does this stress hurt us, but if prolonged, can hurt those we are caring for as well. Comparison of suicide contemplation and attempt rates in first responders is also higher than the CDC national averages, sitting at 37% vs 3.7% and 6.6% vs 0.5% respectively.

In recent years, there has been an increase in stress management programs, especially in hospital and for first responders. One particular program, coined the Code Green Campaign, was created to increase awareness about first responder mental health, as well as to educate the public. EMS always look at scene safety in the following way: you come first, then your partner, then your patient. It may seem selfish but your safety is of paramount interest, and without it there is no patient care.

So as recognition of health issues in healthcare increases, I believe it is equally as important for us to realize and make a cognizant effort to improve. Realize that you’re not alone and there are people to talk to. Remember, you’re not much help to your patient if you’re a patient, too.

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Adrusht Madapoosi

Is a contributor to The Almost Doctor’s Channel.