The Leadership in Medicine Program hosts Dr. Alla Shapiro MD, PhD as the Annual Speaker for 2021

Sydney Lewis, co- News Editor

On Sunday January 31, Alla Shapiro MD, PhD joined Union’s Leadership in Medicine Program as their Annual Speaker. The event was open to all Union College students and faculty, and was hosted by students Devneet Singh ’21 and Ameri Patel ’22. 

Dr. Shapiro is currently a Medical Officer at the Office of Counter-Terrorism and Emergency Coordination at the US Food and Drug Administration where she is working in the area of facilitating the development and availability of medical countermeasures against radiation exposure by providing early advice to drug developers. She also reviews applications submitted by pharmaceutical companies, private investigators and representatives from academia on the development of safe and effective drugs against radiological and nuclear threats.

The Leadership in Medicine Council invited Dr. Shapiro to speak on behalf of her experience as a first-responder to the explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station in Ukraine on April 26, 1986. 

She recalled hearing the news of the explosion through her father who was listening to news stations from outside of Ukraine. As radioactive particles filled the air she says children were still outdoors playing since the government at the time was not advising residents to remain indoors. Her presentation also included insight on details associated with specific types of bombs and the radioactive material they emit. 

Within her closing remarks, Dr. Shapiro says. “A nuclear accident anywhere is a nuclear accident everywhere.” Students had asked previously if she has seen any similarities in how the world has been reacting to the COVID-19 outbreak, and she continually referred back to the importance of first-responders being informed and safely-protected. The severity of the crisis also needs to be accurately reported to the citizens affected, and not downplayed just because of the fear of causing mass panic. 

Dr. Shapiro says there are both mental and physical wounds that need to be addressed when one is battling these nuclear accidents, and for most the effects appear later on in life. Sources such as the World Health Organization (WHO) have found that increased chances of alcoholism, depression, anxiety and suicide can be traced back to the trauma of these horrific explosions.

A question was also asked about the reliability and accuracy of the historical drama television miniseries Chernobyl which premiered on television network HBO. She says there are many inaccuracies such as the portrayal of what exposure to radiation looks like. Many patients who died from radiation could not see the physical effects until several weeks or even months later. 

Dr. Shapiro’s insight and experience with this catastrophic event in world history gave the Union community a chance to hear a first hand account of the detrimental effects this explosion had on Ukrainians lives even after some like Dr. Shapiro migrated to the United States. 

Dr. Shapiro also informed students that they can learn more about her story in her memoir titled, Doctor on Call: Chernobyl Responder, Jewish Refugee, Radiation Expert: Chernobyl Responder, Jewish Refugee, Radiation Expert which will be available on Amazon April 27.