Αξιον Ωφελειν τους Αλγουντας.” --Be Worthy to Serve the Suffering.

History

College of Physicians and Surgeons

College of Physicians and Surgeons, UIUC Photo

The Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society 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. At the beginning of the twentieth century, medical education was in a period of transition. Medicine had been based more on tradition than on science, some medical schools did not require high school diplomas, faculty were often unqualified to teach a scientifically-oriented curriculum, and many questioned the value of research. The Flexner Report would soon condemn the medical education system as a whole and described Chicago's 14 medical schools as "a disgrace to the State whose laws permit its existence... indescribably foul... the plague spot of the nation."


College of Medicine

Current College of Medicine building in 1936. UIC LHS Photo

 

In an effort to improve the standards of medical education, Root and his colleagues created AΩA. Root wrote that the organization was started to: "protest against a condition which associated the name medical student with rowdyism, boorishness, immorality and low educational ideals." The founders defined the motto of this new organization as "Be Worthy to Serve the Suffering." The key initials of the phrase in Greek spell out: AΩA. Membership in AΩA was to be based on both scholarly achievement and professional conduct. Per Root, the duties of members include:

"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."

Founders' Plaque

Plaque outside the AΩA Founder' Room in the College of Medicine West Building commemorating the creation of AΩA.

AΩA quickly spread to nearby schools with seventeen chapters within ten years and 120 chapters today with over 150,000 members since its founding. In the 1970s, the University of Illinois College of Medicine expanded from Chicago to three other sites: Peoria, Rockford, and Urbana-Champaign. The original Alpha Chapter of Illinois now includes members from all four of these campuses. We are proud to be members of the founding chapter of Alpha Omega Alpha.

Additional information about the history of AΩA can be found on the AΩA National Website.