Racial Disparities in Medical Student Membership in the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society

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Previous studies have found racial and ethnic inequities in the receipt of academic awards, such as promotions and National Institutes of Health research funding, among academic medical center faculty. Few data exist about similar racial/ethnic disparities at the level of undergraduate medical education.


To examine the association between medical student race/ethnicity and induction into the Alpha Omega Alpha (AΩA) honor society.

Design, Setting, and Participants

This study analyzed data from the Electronic Residency Application Service, the official service used by US medical students to apply to residency programs. A total of 4655 US medical students from 123 allopathic US medical schools who applied to 12 distinct residency programs associated with one academic health center in the 2014 to 2015 academic year were studied.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Membership in the AΩA society among black, white, Hispanic, and Asian medical students.


A total of 4655 unique applications were analyzed in the study (median age, 26 years; 2133 women [45.8%]). Overall, self-reported race/ethnicity in our sample was 2605 (56.0%) white (691 [71.5%] of AΩA applicants were white), 276 (5.9%) black (7 [0.7%] AΩA), 186 (4.0%) Hispanic (27 [2.8%] AΩA), and 1170 (25.1%) Asian (168 [17.4%] AΩA). After controlling for US Medical Licensing Examination Step 1 scores, research productivity, community service, leadership activity, and Gold Humanism membership, the study found that black (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 0.16; 95% CI, 0.07-0.37) and Asian (aOR, 0.52; 95% CI, 0.42-0.65) medical students remained less likely to be AΩA members than white medical students. No statistically significant difference was found in AΩA membership between white and Hispanic medical students (aOR, 0.79; 99% CI, 0.45-1.37) in the adjusted model.

Conclusions and Relevance

Black and Asian medical students were less likely than their white counterparts to be members of AΩA, which may reflect bias in selection. In turn, AΩA membership selection may affect future opportunities for minority medical students.

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