Alpha Omega Alpha

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Alpha Omega Alpha
The crest of Alpha Omega Alpha.png
Founded1902; 120 years ago (1902)
University of Illinois College of Medicine
TypeHonor society
AffiliationIndependent, ACHS (former)
Colors  Green and   Gold
PublicationMedical Professionalism Best Practices (series)
   The Pharos
Members4,000 collegiate
200,000 lifetime
Headquarters12635 E. Montview Blvd.
Suite 270

Aurora, CO 80045
WebsiteOfficial website

Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society (ΑΩΑ) is an honor society in the field of medicine.

Alpha Omega Alpha currently has active Chapters in 132 LCME accredited medical schools in the United States and Lebanon. It annually elects over 4,000 new members. The majority of new members are elected in their final year of medical school, but distinguished teachers, faculty members, residents, and alumni can also be inducted into the society. All elections are held at local Chapters. No elections are held nationally.


ΑΩΑ was founded in 1902 by William Webster Root and five other medical students at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, which later became the University of Illinois College of Medicine. The impetus for its formation was the generally poor quality of American medical schools and students at the time; Root and his colleagues wished to promote excellence in these groups. They decided that membership in ΑΩΑ was to be based on both scholarly achievement and professional conduct.

Root pitched his idea to nearby schools, and soon the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Medicine and Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine had set up chapters. By 1912, there were seventeen chapters. As more medical schools became interested, the national organization was able to become more selective in the standards a school had to meet to be eligible.

Root stated in the original constitution of ΑΩΑ: "The mission of ΑΩΑ is to encourage high ideals of thought and action in schools of medicine and to promote that which is the highest in professional practice." The ΑΩΑ motto is, "Be Worthy to Serve the Suffering." Root defined the duties of ΑΩΑ members, "to foster the scientific and philosophical features of the medical profession, to look beyond self to the welfare of the profession and of the public, to cultivate social mindedness, as well as an individualistic attitude toward responsibilities, to show respect for colleagues, especially for elders and teachers, to foster research and in all ways to ennoble the profession of medicine and advance it in public opinion. It is equally a duty to avoid that which is unworthy, including the commercial spirit and all practices injurious to the welfare of patients, the public, or the profession."[1]

Collections of the society's papers were donated to the National Library of Medicine in 1973 by John Z. Bowers, and in 2000 by Gladys Brill Brampton.[2]


The current constitution states that, "Alpha Omega Alpha is organized for educational purposes exclusively and not for profit, and its aims shall be the promotion of scholarship and research in medical schools, the encouragement of a high standard of character and conduct among medical students and graduates, and the recognition of high attainment in medical science, practice, and related fields."

To this end, only those who are considered the top medical students are elected. After securing the students permission, a first cut is made and the top academic quartile is evaluated. Of that group, one-sixth of a medical school's graduating class can be elected members of ΑΩΑ. Most are elected as fourth-year students ("senior ΑΩΑ") although a smaller amount of third-year students ("junior ΑΩΑ") are eligible for election.


ΑΩΑ elections at some institutions have been plagued by internal political and racial bias. A 2017 publication in JAMA Internal Medicine found that "Black and Asian medical students were less likely than their white counterparts to be members of ΑΩΑ, which may reflect bias in selection. In turn, ΑΩΑ membership selection may affect future opportunities for minority medical students."[3] This pattern persisted despite controlling for other co-variates such as extracurricular activities. Because "the Constitution of ΑΩΑ gives many degrees of freedom to each chapter for the process of election of student members",[4] election to ΑΩΑ remains variable between medical schools and may reflect the local chapter's internal politics rather than academic achievement. Many of the most elite American medical schools have done away with student chapters of ΑΩΑ, e.g., Mt. Sinai Icahn School of Medicine decided to completely forgo medical student elections to ΑΩΑ in September 2018.[5]

13 National Programs and Awards[edit]

Medical students, faculty, and active ΑΩΑ members associated with ΑΩΑ Chapters are eligible to participate in the 12 national programs and awards that ΑΩΑ confers annually, which are funded from member dues.

ΑΩΑ Award for Excellence in Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity in Medical Education and Patient Care—Recognizing exemplary leadership, innovation, and engagement in fostering a culture of inclusion, diversity, and equity

Carolyn L. Kuckein Student Research Fellowships—More than 50 Fellowships of $5,000 each with a $1,000 travel stipend to present findings at a national or international conference

ΑΩΑ Fellow in Leadership Award—Three $25,000 awards for active ΑΩΑ mid-career physicians development into future leaders in medicine

Robert J. Glaser Distinguished Teacher Awards—In partnership with the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) four Distinguished Teachers received $10,000 each year, their medical school receives $2,500, and their Chapter receives $1,000

Postgraduate Awards—Ten awards of $2,000 to support residents or fellows with a project in the spirit of the ΑΩΑ mission

Medical Student Service Leadership Project Awards—$9,000 over three years to support service leadership projects that benefit the medical school and/or its local community

Helen H. Glaser Student Essay Awards—Monetary first, second and third place prizes and publication in The Pharos for medical student essays about medicine or health

The Pharos Poetry Competition—Monetary first, second and third place prizes and publication in The Pharos for medical student poems about medicine or health

Edward D. Harris Professionalism Award—A $10,000 award for institutions that represent best practices in medical professionalism

Moser Award—A $4,500 writing prize for an essay, written by a physician, that celebrates the life of a physician, like Dr. Moser, who has enriched the world

Administrative Recognition Award—Councilors can recognize the invaluable work performed by administrative personnel to keep the Chapter running smoothly with a framed certificate of recognition and $500 award

Visiting Professorships—Each of the 130 medical school Chapters may host one visiting professor each year to conduct grand rounds and hold various special presentation during a one-day visit

Volunteer Clinical Faculty Awards—Available to all 130 medical school Chapters to recognize clinical faculty in community practices devoted to teaching medical students and residents

The Pharos[edit]

Alpha Omega Alpha first published its medical humanities journal in January 1938, The Pharos. The Pharos[6] is named after the Pharos lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Produced quarterly, with a print run of 50,000, and online readership of 35,000, The Pharos is sent quarterly to all active ΑΩΑ members, select medical libraries, institutions and associations, and contains articles, essays, and poetry.

"In an age of rapidly evolving technology and forced efficiency, The Pharos continues to emphasize the artistic, the literary, and the place of music, language, and culture in medicine. Although themes may shift—now touching upon the economics or the ethics of times—humanism is the enduring content of our ΑΩΑ journal."

—Faith T. Fitzgerald, MD[7]

Notable members[edit]

Similar societies[edit]


  1. ^ "Alpha Omega Alpha - ΑΩΑ's History".
  2. ^ "Alpha Omega Alpha Archives 1894–1992". National Library of Medicine.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ Boatright, Dowin; Ross, David; O'Connor, Patrick; Moore, Edward; Nunez-Smith, Maricella (1 May 2017). "Racial Disparities in Medical Student Membership in the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society". JAMA Intern Med. 177 (5): 659–665. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.9623. PMC 5818775. PMID 28264091.
  4. ^ "Alpha Omega Alpha - How Members Are Chosen".
  5. ^ Gordon, Mara (5 September 2018). "A Medical School Tradition Comes Under Fire For Racism". NPR. Retrieved 26 May 2019.
  6. ^ "Alpha Omega Alpha - Latest Issue".
  7. ^ "Alpha Omega Alpha - Pharos Article".
  8. ^ Daily News—"Jaw-Droppin' Op a Success" Retrieved April 30, 2008
  9. ^ Joe Holley. "D.C. Physician Illuminated The Ailments of Young Eyes." Washington Post. Sunday, August 21, 2005; Page C11.
  10. ^ "Surgeons General". Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  11. ^ "Walter Reed doctors perform Guyana's first kidney transplant". US Army. 2008-08-22. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  12. ^ "History in the making… Guyana's first kidney transplant". Kaieteur News. 2008-07-13. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  13. ^ "Sigma Sigma Phi National". Sigma Sigma Phi. Retrieved June 20, 2012.
  14. ^ [1] Archived July 11, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "Political Affairs". July 22, 2011. Retrieved 2011-09-17.

External links[edit]