"I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous." From the original Hippocratic Oath comes a principle that all modern doctors swear to uphold: to use one's skills to heal and never harm a patient. It is impossible to deny the impact of Hippocrates and his followers on hundreds of generations of healers who followed, but even in his own lifetime, Hippocrates dramatically changed even the basic concepts of medicine.
Born on Cos, a Greek island, in 460 B.C., Hippocrates studied, practiced and taught medicine on Cos and travelled throughout Greece. Contemporaries Plato and Aristotle wrote of his fame as a physician, and his many students followed in his footsteps, essentially creating a Hippocratic style of practicing medicine that upheld the principles and techniques Hippocrates taught. Approximately 60 writings make up the Corpus Hippocratium, his body of work, but it's believed that many of these writings can be attributed to Hippocrates' sons and other followers.
At the time Hippocrates was practicing medicine, illness and medical treatment were entwined with religious belief and superstition. Healers often attributed illness to the whims of the gods and prescribed offerings and prayer as cures. Hippocrates rejected this approach, basing his medical diagnoses on observation and using the scientific method to determine the best treatment. He kept meticulous records and used his collection of past experiences to develop a framework for medical practice.
Hippocratic medicine was based on the concept of the four humors contained within the body: blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. These substances needed to be in balance for a person to maintain good health. When the humors were out of balance, disease and illness resulted. Hippocrates had concrete suggestions about what actions would maintain the necessary balance. He wrote extensively about the importance of diet, exercise and lifestyle for maintaining health and preventing disease.
Hippocrates' ideas about medical ethics have guided physicians for thousands of years. His code of professional ethics guided the actions of Hippocratic physicians in his own society, where unscrupulous and predatory individuals could easily pass themselves off as legitimate physicians. The Hippocratic Oath guides the actions of physicians in teaching medical students, treating patients and maintaining professionalism and confidentiality.
Amy Wilde has worked as a grant developer, copy editor, writing tutor and writer. Based in Portland, Ore., she covers topics related to society, religion and culture. Wilde holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and classical civilization from the University of Toronto.