Published on 06 March 2022

I solemnly pledge…

Professor Joseph Sung
Dean, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine

I attended the Singapore Medical Council Physician’s Pledge Affirmation Ceremony last Saturday. It was my second time attending and I found it to be a good ceremony. The ceremony started with an opening address by the President of Singapore Medical Council Professor Chee Yam Cheng, followed by a speech from the Second Minister for Health Mr Masagos Zulkifli. The highlight of the ceremony, obviously, was the Physician’s Pledge, sworn by over 200 doctors-to-be. 
I solemnly pledge to: 
dedicate my life to the service of humanity; 
give due respect and gratitude to my teachers; 
practise my profession with conscience and dignity; 
make the health of my patient my first consideration; 
respect the secrets which are confided in me; 
uphold the honour and noble traditions of the medical profession; 
respect my colleagues as my professional brothers and sisters; 
not allow the consideration of race, religion, nationality or social standing
to intervene between my duty and my patient; 
maintain due respect for human life; 
use my medical knowledge in accordance with the laws of humanity; 
comply with the provisions of the Ethical Code; 
and constantly strive to add to my knowledge and skill. 
I make these promises solemnly, freely and upon my honour.

If you read the pledge carefully, you will see a few words pops up frequently. 

Respect: The word “Respect” comes up four times in the oath. You vow to respect your teacher, your colleagues (as your brothers and sisters) and respect your patients (and their secrets) and most importantly maintain respect for human life. Doctors often feel that we, in our white coat and stethoscope hanging around our neck, should be the one being respected by patients, family, nurses and, basically everyone. I have seen young doctors raising their voice to elderly patients and/or their family for they could not explain well their health situation or follow the prescription that was given. I have seen “heroes” coming out from the operating theatre, cath lab, or endoscopy suite as if they have the hands of God and wisdom from Heaven. In the pledge, we are reminded that healthcare is a service, a humble job. We are entrusted with the life-and-death of our patients; we are told their secrets and their inner thoughts. We should be humble because we know so very little about the miracles of life and there are still so much that we do not know. “There is a universal respect and even admiration for those who are humble and simple by nature, and who have absolute confidence in all human beings irrespective of their social status,” says Nelson Mandela.

Humanity: Human and humanity appear three times in the oath to remind us that human life is above everything when we perform our duty, irrespective of race, religion, nationality and social standing. When I was a house officer working in the custodial ward of an orthopaedic department, I had to attend to the wounds of gangsters after their fight. Looking at the tattoos on their body and tobacco staining their fingers, I felt disgusted but I could not let my “moral judgement” override my responsibility. A surgeon working in a battlefield has to treat all injuries and save the lives of their wounded enemies as if they are their own comrades. I found this quote by Hippocrates very poignant: “Wherever the art of Medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity”. If you do not value humanity, if you can only make decisions through science and experience, and make the cut merely with sharp eyes and skilful hands, you may not be practising medicine that is appreciated by your patients. 

Profession: In the dictionary, the word “Profession” describes any type of work that needs special training or a particular skill, often one that is respected because it involves a high level of education. But in the medical profession, it has further implications. In this oath, we are reminded that the medical profession entails conscience and dignity, and it comes with honour and noble traditions. You realise that there are things more important than fame and money. You are to be guided by your conscience and not succumb to selfishness or seek advantage. You will strive to be honest and sincere to your patients, their family and your colleagues. You will remember rule number one: DO NO HARM to anyone, including yourself. 

Saying the pledge of 129 words takes no more than two minutes. But to follow every single word of this oath and not infringe upon them will take a lifetime. To the young doctors, remember especially these three words “Profession”, “Respect” and “Humanity”. Internalise them,  carry them in your heart. They will make you a good doctor, one with honour and dignity.