Ellen Storm

Writing the White and Purple Coats

The Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine – Commendation


I am pleased to have been informed that my poem, Artificial Rupture of Membranes, has been commended in the 2013 Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine. My brief comment on this poem is listed on the competition website, here.

The awards will be announced by the judges, Jo Shapcott, Roger Highfield and Theodore Dalrymple at the 4th International Symposium on Poetry and Medicine at the Wellcome Collection in London on the 18th of May.

According to the website (1), the Hippocrates Initiative began in 2009 as the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine for an unpublished poem on a medical subject. The Hippocrates Initiative now also includes annual international symposia at which the Hippocrates awards are presented, an international research forum for poetry and medicine and The Hippocrates Press.

Since its launch in 2009, the annual Hippocrates Prize has attracted over 4000 entries from 44 countries, from the Americas to Fiji and from Finland to Australasia.

With a 1st prize for the winning poem in each category of £5,000, the Hippocrates prize is one of the highest value poetry awards in the world for a single poem.

These annual awards are in an Open category, which anyone in the world may enter, and an NHS category which is open to UK National Health Service employees, health students and those working in professional organisations involved in education and training of NHS students and staff.

It occurred to me that I know only four facts about Hippocrates, the great man after whom these awards are named:

  1. He was Greek
  2. I took a version of his oath at my graduation ceremony
  3. He is credited with the phrase “do no harm”
  4. He is often-quoted on food and natural health blogs: “Let food be thy medicine”

I wondered if Hippocrates also wrote poetry, but it doesn’t appear to be the case. He is entered on the poemhunter website (2) alongside a number of famous quotes, but no poems. Here is what it says about him:

Hippocrates of Cos or Hippokrates of Kos (c. 460 BC – c. 370 BC) was an ancient Greek physician of the Age of Pericles (Classical Greece), and is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine. He is referred to as the father of Western medicine in recognition of his lasting contributions to the field as the founder of the Hippocratic School of Medicine. This intellectual school revolutionized medicine in ancient Greece, establishing it as a discipline distinct from other fields that it had traditionally been associated with (notably theurgy and philosophy), thus establishing medicine as a profession. 

However, the achievements of the writers of the Corpus, the practitioners of Hippocratic medicine, and the actions of Hippocrates himself are often commingled; thus very little is known about what Hippocrates actually thought, wrote, and did. Hippocrates is commonly portrayed as the paragon of the ancient physician, credited with coining the Hippocratic Oath, still relevant and in use today. He is also credited with greatly advancing the systematic study of clinical medicine, summing up the medical knowledge of previous schools, and prescribing practices for physicians through the Hippocratic Corpus and other works.


1. The Hippocrates Initiative for Poetry and Medicine: http://www.hippocrates-poetry.org/ Accessed on 1st April 2013.

2. Poemhunter – Hippocrates: www.poemhunter.com/ Accessed on 1st April 2013.

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