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AΩA's founders, clockwise from left: William Webster Root, Milton Weston Hall, John Eddy Haskell, George Herbert Howard, Ernest Sisson Moore, Wenzel Matthias Wochos, Charles Lafayette Williams, Benjamin Thomas, and William H. Moore.
AΩA's story begins at the opening of the twentieth century with a small group of medical students at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Chicago led by thirty-five-year-old William Webster Root.
At that time, the practice of medicine relied on tradition and was mostly empirical. Medical education was poorly structured and medical students were poorly prepared academically. Most faculty were unqualified to teach a scientifically oriented medical curriculum. Many physicians, faculty, and students questioned the value of research to the practice of medicine. Root was different than most medical students of that era, many of whom had neither graduated from high school nor attended a college or university. He had earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1890 from Cornell University, had completed two years of graduate work in chemistry, and taught chemistry, physics, and biology. He then taught at the Chicago Manual Training School and was enrolled as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. He was more mature, had more academic experience, and was married when he started medical school in 1899. Galled by the absence of professional values and the immaturity and poor conduct they saw in their fellow medical students (and in some cases the school's faculty), Root and some like-minded friends started AΩA in 1902. They decided to model the new honor medical society after Phi Beta Kappa. They wrote in the constitution of AΩA: "The mission of AΩA is to encourage high ideals of thought and action in schools of medicine and to promote that which is the highest in professional practice." They defined the AΩA motto, "Be Worthy to Serve the Suffering." Most importantly, they decreed that membership in AΩA was to be based on both scholarly achievement and professional conduct. Root defined the duties of AΩA 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."
Plans developed rapidly to develop new AΩA chapters in the Midwest and then the East. Root transferred to Rush Medical College and graduated in 1904. He and his colleagues provided the leadership and recruited exceptional leaders in academic medicine to join them in making AΩA a national organization.
Today, AΩA has 120 chapters in the United States and has elected more than 150,000 members since its founding.
Read an account of the founding of AΩA by William Webster Root: History of the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Scholarship Society and Its Relation to Medical Education
Read Ernest S. Moore's account of the the state of medical schools and the founding of AΩA: The Early Days of Alpha Omega Alpha
© 2013 Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society