What Is the Nursing Oath?

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Just as doctors take a Hippocratic Oath, nurses take a pledge to do their best for their patients. Often called the Florence Nightengale Pledge, the nursing oath is often administered at graduation ceremonies. Adapted from the Hippocratic Oath, the pledge follows the mantra of “do no harm.” It also swears loyalty in aiding the physician and freedom from the influence of personal matters. The words have been updated through the years, but the sentiment remains the same.

1 The Original Pledge

Nursing instructor Lystra Gretter, R.N., wrote the original pledge in 1893. Recited during the graduation ceremony at Harper Hospital in Detroit, it read: "I solemnly pledge myself before God and in the presence of this assembly: To pass my life in purity and to practice my profession faithfully. I will abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous and will not take or knowingly administer any harmful drug. I will do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession and will hold in confidence all personal matters committed to my keeping and all family affairs coming to my knowledge in the practice of my calling. With loyalty will I endeavor to aid the physician in his work and devote myself to the welfare of those committed to my care."

2 Modern Updates

Today, the pledge may differ according to location. In most places, references to God and purity have been removed. “Aiding the physician” is also commonly substituted with “collaborating with the healthcare team.” Most modern medical institutions promote working in a team of physicians and allied health professionals. All members of the team are important in providing comprehensive care. Finally, the pledge may make more reference to social justice and community welfare.

3 The Importance of the Oath

The taking of an oath has been an important part of the medical community since B.C. eras. It is commonly believed that Greek physician Hippocrates, sometimes called the “father of medicine,” had a part in penning it. However, as the oath originated around 5 B.C., the time makes the authorship dubious. The oath represents a sacred bind between caregiver and patient. The oath and the pledge are reminders to doctors and nurses of their responsibility to their patients.

4 Lystra Gretter

Noted for her efforts in advancing the field of nursing, Lystra Gretter is hailed the “Dean of Michigan Nurses.” Born in 1858, Gretter was the daughter of a Civil War surgeon. She pursued her own career in medicine at Buffalo General Hospital Training School for Nurses. After she graduated in 1888, she became superintendent of the nursing school at Harper Hospital. Within her first five years, Gretter reduced student workdays from 15 to eight hours, created a formal curriculum and wrote instructor lectures. She created alumnae organizations that later became the Michigan State Nurses Association, and she lobbied for states to require licensure for registered nurses. She was also active in providing care for impoverished immigrants.

Quinn Chin has been writing professionally since 2008. She has worked in the Department of Public Affairs at Mayo Clinic Rochester and at General Learning Communications. Chin has also written for "Chicago Parent" magazine, Education.com, and iNeTours.com. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Northwestern University.