AOA: Abbreviation for Alpha Omega Alpha, the medical honor society, the medical school equivalent of Phi Beta Kappa, in the United States and Canada. Membership is by election for distinguished academic achievement. Medical students, house officers, and medical school alumni and faculty are eligible for election.
History of Alpha Omega Alpha: "When William Webster Root and 5 other medical students at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Chicago organized AOA in 1902, excellence was hardly the word that would describe American medical education. Indeed, the founder viewed the society as a protest against "a condition which associated the name medical student with rowdyism, boorishness, immorality, and low educational ideals." Of the approximately 25,000 medical students in the United States at the turn of the century, no more than 15 percent were college graduates. The only requirement in most schools was a high school diploma or its equivalent; the latter often meaning the ability to pay the fee. The schools themselves-there were about 150-were by and large of dubious quality. In his landmark study of medical education in the United States and Canada, published in 1910, Abraham Flexner found so-called medical schools located in storefronts, tenements, and warehouses, their laboratory equipment consisting of a couple of microscopes, some moldy slides, and a lonely skeleton. With a few exceptions, notably the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, founded in 1893, the medical school curriculum consisted of a series of lectures, sometimes supplemented by demonstrations at the bedside or in the laboratory, if such existed. These, then, were the circumstances under which Root and his fellow medical students met to form a society that would foster honesty and formulate higher ideals of scholastic achievement."