The Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV recently was granted permission to establish a campus chapter of a national honor society that began more than a century ago.
It was not preordained that a school graduating its first class would have a chapter of Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA), the nation’s only national honor medical society.
“The application for an AOA chapter was somewhat involved,” said Gary Shen, the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine assistant dean for clinical education and associate professor of surgery who serves as councilor for the AOA chapter. The process of being granted a chapter, he said, has similarities to site visits by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the accrediting body for educational programs at schools of allopathic medicine in the United States and Canada.
“The AOA leadership spent a whole day (virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic) at the school with several different sessions,” said Shen, noting that a slide presentation was created highlighting the strengths of the school. “First of all, we had to be fully accredited, which we were in February, just to be considered...What they looked at included our curriculum, our support for students, our admission policies, our efforts for diversity and inclusion, and how the school was funded. They also met with students to get their honest feelings about the school.”
Dr. Neil Haycocks, the Kerkorian School’s vice dean for academic affairs and education, calls AOA’s fast approval of a chapter in April “affirming of what we’re doing at the medical school.”
Ten students in the first graduating class of the medical school were inducted into AOA on May 6 during the school’s first Medical Students Awards Ceremony, which took place at the Red Rock Resort Casino & Spa.
The students, Anita Albanese, Monica Arebalos, Kristina Cordes, Shilpa Daulat, Toyokazu Endo, William Gravley, Emily Guyaux, Sierra Mastrantonio, Jordan Miller, and Colby Shreve, received their recognition the day before the medical school’s first graduation.
Forming the original society
In 1902, it was medical students at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Chicago who were fed up with a lack of professionalism on the part of fellow medical students who, along with some faculty, began AOA. Led by 35-year-old William Webster Root, they modeled the honor society after Phi Beta Kappa, the honor society founded in 1776 which celebrates excellence in the liberal arts and sciences. Root and his colleagues defined the AOA motto as, “Be Worthy to Serve the Suffering.”
Shen said what started out as an honor society focusing mainly on scholastic achievement now includes leadership, community service, research, professionalism, and identifying physician leaders and servants to their communities.
AOA awarded the Kerkorian School a chapter just a month before the May 7 graduation of the school’s charter class. While membership in AOA may be attained by medical students, residents, fellows, faculty members, alumni, clinicians, or distinguished leaders in medicine, Shen said that this year, because of the short amount of time between the granting of a chapter and the awards ceremony, only nominations of students were made. Shen became a member of AOA when he was a faculty member at the UNR School of Medicine.
For medical students, deans of medical schools or their designees identify a pool of candidates from the graduating class who have excelled in the criteria for AOA membership. Each school may elect up to 20 percent of the graduating class of students.
AOA membership is meaningful to those who receive it.
“When I received a call as a medical student that I had been elected, it was a life highlight,” said Dr. Marc Khan, dean of the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine.
AOA supports 13 fellowships, grants, programs, and awards for medical students at its more than 130 chapters. It also publishes a quarterly peer-reviewed, medical humanities journal, The Pharos, which contains articles on nontechnical medical subjects, including history, ethics, national issues, personal essays, and poetry.