Alpha Omega Alpha
The Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society, called Alpha Omega Alpha (ΑΩΑ or AOA), is a national honor society for medical students, residents, scientists, and physicians in the United States and Canada. Membership into AOA is one of the highest honors a student is eligible for during his or her four years of medical school, as only a small fraction of a class is even eligible for this distinction.
AOA 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.
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 too. Ten years later, 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. Soon, it became a mark of prestige to have an ΑΩΑ chapter at one's school.
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.
According to its constitution, "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."
Furthermore, according to Root himself the duties of AOA members are "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 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."
To this end, only the top medical students were elected, based on criteria such as grades, leadership, ethics, and so on. No more than one-sixth of a medical school's graduating class can be members of ΑΩΑ; most of these are elected as fourth-year students ("senior ΑΩΑ") although up to one-half of them may be elected as third-year students ("junior ΑΩΑ").
As the years have gone by, membership in ΑΩΑ has become highly sought after, especially for those applying to competitive residencies (such as Radiation Oncology, Dermatology, Plastic Surgery, Ophthalmology, and Orthopaedics). In many schools, students are ranked based on course grades and USMLE Step 1 scores. At most, the top one-sixth can be inducted into the society, although this is in conflict with the national guidelines of AOA. The actual number is usually much less. Many schools will allow the top 25% of a class to apply during the spring semester of the student's junior year. The school's committee will then select a fraction of students from this group for membership. Schools will evaluate the following criteria: USMLE Step 1, CV (resume), a personal statement specific for AOA, and class ranking. A second application period occurs during fall semester of senior year in which more students are selected following the same criteria.
The importance of ΑΩΑ membership to residency applications varies among specialties and programs. For highly competitive specialties, it can offer a significant advantage. In some of the top residency programs for the most competitive fields, membership may be a de facto requirement in order to obtain a spot. A common view is suggested by Dr. Iserson: "Because it is found in most schools, AOA is the best-recognized medical school award. Students elected to the honorary are generally assured of serious consideration by residency programs. This means that many will get most of the interviews they desire. After that it will, of course, be up to them to do well in these interviews," (Iserson 205). Along with information such as name, telephone number, and e-mail address, membership in ΑΩΑ is one of the items on the first page of the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS), the combined electronic application used by most residency programs in the United States. Membership into AOA is one of the highest honors a student is eligible for during his or her four years of medical school. The long term implications of this membership can be noted by most members later displaying their AOA certificate alongside diplomas from undergrad, medical school and residency in their office.
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- Gold Humanism Honor Society, abbreviated "GHHS"
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- "Alpha Omega Alpha Archives 1894–1992". National Library of Medicine.
- Daily News—"Jaw-Droppin' Op a Success" Retrieved April 30, 2008
- Joe Holley. "D.C. Physician Illuminated The Ailments of Young Eyes." Washington Post. Sunday, August 21, 2005; Page C11.
- "Sigma Sigma Phi National". Sigma Sigma Phi. Retrieved June 20, 2012.
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- "Political Affairs". Studentdo.com. July 22, 2011. Retrieved 2011-09-17.
- Iserson, Kenneth V. (2003). Iserson's Getting into a Residency (6th ed). Tucson: Galen Press.