Hippocrates is the father of modern medicine and author of the Hippocratic oath which all newly qualified doctors in the west have been required to swear since the 4th century and it is in fact the most widely known Greek medical text.
Hippocrates was a Greek physician born around 460bc on the island of Cos, and comes from a long line of physicians. His father was a priest-physician and so was his grandfather. He practiced and taught medicine on Cos at a time when Greek culture dominated the western hemispheres and was in fact a contemporary of both Pluto and Aristotle, both of giants of their day.
Hippocrates believed that diseases were caused naturally and came from neither spirit nor Gods. His thinking was well ahead of its time and these notions were rejected in what was then a deeply superstitious world. He was even imprisoned at one time during his life for twenty years because of his deeply held convictions. However, the years of incarceration were not wasted because it was during that time that he wrote his best know work ‘The complicated body‘.
Prior to Hippocrates arrival on the medical scene there were no clear or distinct lines separating the magician from physician, they were usually one and the same person. For the first time a new framework was introduced based on reason and scientific knowledge. He taught his students that it was essential when treating patients to get a clear idea of the disease they were treating, he taught that they should consider what remedy would help to cure the disease and during the healing process, in cases where the treatment work they should try to understand the reason it was effective. He instructed that to achieve this insight it is necessary to closely observe the patient and scrupulously document their findings, whilst monitoring the progression of the illness. Failures he taught must also be fully documented to avoid repeating old mistakes.
He felt that to arrive at the best outcomes for the patient, the physician should work collaboratively with both man and nature to avoid disease and help maintain the best possible health. Hippocrates would often follow-up on his patients, sometimes months after they had been discharged and the disease had run its course. He was careful not to discriminate against individuals and would treat all who came to him for medical care, regardless of social status or their ability to pay. He would seek to preserve the dignity of all and encouraged his students to do the same. The bedrock of his professional principles was to to help the individual or at least do him no harm.
Hippocrates it could be said single-handedly changed the concept of medicine from magic, superstition and the supernatural by teaching his student to have a scientific approach to their chosen profession. His legacy to medicine down the ages has been the personification of wisdom, the concept of treating patients with dignity and compassion and most importantly setting high ethical standards of medical practice.