Students at the Ben-Gurion University medical school take the physician's oath at the beginning of their studies. Student attitudes towards the content, timing and relevance of the oath were examined before the ceremony, 3 months later and in the fourth and sixth years. Eight-seven percent of the students were positive about taking the oath, most commonly because the oath represented being part of a medical team that is bound by behavioural norms. Forty-three percent supported giving the oath legal force. There was a progressive decline between the first and final years in positive attitudes towards the oath. The timing most favoured for the oath was the beginning of clinical studies. Three months after the oath ceremony only 18% of the students were able to cite three obligations from the oath. Three percent of the students felt that the oath would affect their behaviour. In students, eyes the oath seems to be an emotionally important ritual, whose value probably transcends its actual content.