West Virginia Alpha Chapter - Established 1962
Speech by Franklin Milam, MD
Second President of WV Alpha Chapter of AOA Home
Delivered: May 24, 1963 at the first Induction Banquet
In the early years of the 20th century more progress has been made in advancing the standards of medical education in America than in all the preceding years put together. OF all the influences that worked during this marvelous period, one organized effort has arisen within the student's body and future history of medicine can be complete without some reference to such influence. This is the Alpha Omega Alpha Society. Its organization marks a transitional period in medical education and in its betterment this order claims a modest share of credit. It was started as a protest against a condition, which associated the named medical student with rowdyism, boorishness, immorality, and low educational ideals and be it noted such protests, arose entirely from students, not one member of the faculty having been consulted.
At 5:00 in the afternoon of the 25th day of August, in the year 1902, six seniors meet in the bacteriological laboratory of the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Chicago to give definite expression to their positive stand for better things in the medical school and to ban themselves together to do what they could to remedy a condition which seemed intolerable to them.
On October 29th this new departure numbered 21 students, all of whom were present on the evening of that date in the Blue room of the Bismarck Hotel in Chicago, where a detailed explanation was given by the found3r and a severe indictment of conditions found in medical schools made by the man chosen to membership, Mr. E.S. Moore, in the course of which he stated that among the virtues conspicuous by their absence was honesty and to the extent that articles of any value would be sure to remain were placed in the medical building only by mailing them securely. A lack of scholarly attainment on the part of a large majority quite in keeping with the low moral town was felt as keenly. At this time but three medical schools in the country required college work for entrance and in fact many students had only the preparation furnished by our grammar schools, such standards as did obtain being very loosely enforced. The necessity that the students themselves combine to remedy such a situation was emphasized. The members before formal organization were William W. Root, Charles L. Williams, Ernest S. Moore, Benjamin Thomas, George H. Howard, John E. Haskell, Will H Moore, Wenzel M. Woches, and Milton W. Hall, Of the Howard, Haskell, and Hall were absent from the August meeting. All graduated from the college of Physician and Surgeons of Chicago except Root, who took MD degree from Rush. Formal notices of such an organization appeared in the Chicago papers and in the Journal of the American Medical Association, September 27, 1902.
As intimated, this society is an honorary fraternity and membership is based exclusively upon scholarship, moral qualifications being satisfactory. It may at first seem strange that an organization avowedly for a specific moral purpose should not welcome all to assist in so good a cause, but should be on the contrary so exclusive. It was felt however, by the organizers that this very exclusiveness would help to carry out the original purpose and that hence the idea of an honorary fraternity should be rigidly adhered to, that the order might have the added prestige the better to effect the moral purpose for which it was established. To this end the qualifications of each candidate are most rigidly examined. Chapters are limited to medical college of the highest standing and in the election of undergraduates, students only can vote except those members of the faculty who are also members of the fraternity have a negative vote. The election of students is conducted as follow: an official list of those standing highest in scholarship is obtained from the college records and no other names can be considered. This list is sent to each faculty member of the Society and if no adverse criticism be submitted, the elections are made by the student members from this list in the order of scholarship rank. The power of election is left with the students for the reason that they alone know of dishonesty in examination or immorality on the part of candidates, either of which would preclude membership.
The Society has a charter dated January 31, 1903 and granted by the state of Illinois.
Such an organization forms a powerful stimulus to scholarship, for the student upon entrance to his medical course, soon learns that only rank honestly attained can secure this most honor in medical school, membership in Alpha Omega Alpha. In the words of the late Dean Quine of the parent chapter, "It is for the man who has made good" and it is likely that the man who has made good in medical school possesses those qualities of mind and character which shall make him imminently helpful to his fellows. Not only this but our young brothers have inaugurated among the student body movements for its betterment or have conducted their chapter meetings into training schools for the arduous duties ahead.
The Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society to date has 86 chapters in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Beirut, Lebanon. The 86th chapter was established on May 23, 1962 here at our own West Virginia University School of Medicine. Many of you undoubtedly were present at that installation ceremony.
During the year July 1, 1961 to June 30, 1962, a total of 1292 new embers were elected. Total membership of Alpha Omega Alpha through October 20, 1962 number 30, 002 living and 3,967 deceased for a total of 33,969.
Election to membership. Third and Fourth year students in a medical school where a chapter of the society is located shall be eligible for election as active members subject to the following conditions: A. scholarship, B. strength of character, individuality and originality, C. moral character in the broadest sense including unselfishness, respect for oneself and for others with high ideals. Scholarship must always be considered the most important qualification for election, but no man however brilliant in scholarship shall be eligible if he does not conform to the several requirements set forth in the last two subdivisions. The total number of members in the fourth year shall never be greater proportion of the class than on fifth. One half of this number may be elected from the third year class but no before the last half of that year. A list of the candidates is in every case, to be sent to each faculty member of the fraternity with request for criticism, and no candidate receiving an adverse criticism from a faculty member shall be balloted upon; such criticism shall however, be accompanied by an explanation. Each candidate shall be balloted upon separately and one negative vote shall be sufficient to exclude, but in every such case the member so voting shall state his reasons in full before the members. Unpopularity of a student shall not be bar to his selection. No student shall be eligible to membership unless he shall have been in attendance at the college for one school year. For the academic year 1962 and 1963, the Alpha Omega Alpha honor Medical Society announces with great pleasure the names of the following third and fourth year medical students who have been invited to membership in the organization:
Jack Pushkin, Charles E. Turner, David E. Wallace, Donald R. Swartz, Alfred N. Karickhoff, David N. Bear, and Thomas O. Dotson.
Each chapter may nominate to the Board of Directors for honorary membership physicians, or investigators in subjects allied to medicine, who have gained wide recognition through original research or in administration and who conform to the requirements demanded of undergraduates. For this academic year 1962 to 1963 Alpha Omega Alpha has selected to honorary membership Dr. Herbert E. Warden Professor of Surgery.
An annual Alpha Omega Alpha address by a distinguished member of the medical profession or other appropriate speaker is sponsored by each chapter. For this occasion, we are gathered here today. The second annual address sponsored by the West Virginia Alpha Chapter of Alpha Omega Alpha will be delivered this afternoon by Dr. Kenneth Penrod, Vice President of the University in charge of the Medical Center. At the request of the government of Brazil directed toward the Untied States Association of the American Medical colleges, Dr. Penrod spent several weeks in that country serving the current medical education system there. His subject toady will be "Some Overdeveloped Problems in a Underdeveloped Country."
All in all, we hope now at our 2nd anniversary of West Virginia Alpha Chapter of Alpha Omega Alpha to have but entered upon a unique field of usefulness and trust, as stated by a distinguished educator "that this fraternity will have a great deal to do with the improvement of the general tone and solidarity of the medical profession". " To be worthy to serve the suffering" such is our motto and may this watchword, together with the lofty ideals set before us by Hippocrates "the patron preceptor of our order" be kept as a guiding star that the distinct purposes for which the society was instituted may never be relinquished.