Doctor on Call by Alla Shapiro, MD

Doctor on Call: Chernobyl Responder, Jewish Refugee, Radiation Expert by Alla Shapiro, MD
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Non-Fiction, Historical, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Dr. Alla Shapiro was a first physician-responder to the worst nuclear disaster in history: the explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station in Ukraine on April 26, 1986. Information about the explosion was withheld from first responders, who were not given basic supplies, detailed instructions, or protective clothing. Amid an eerie and pervasive silence, Dr. Shapiro treated traumatized children as she tried to protect her family. No protocols were in place because no one had anticipated the consequences of a nuclear accident. From the outset of the disaster, the Soviet government worsened matters by spreading misinformation; and first responders, including Alla, were ordered to partake in the deception of the public.

After years of persistent professional hostility and personal discrimination that she and her family experienced as Jewish citizens of the USSR, four generations of the Shapiro family fled the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. As émigrés, they were each allowed to take no more than 40 pounds of possessions and $90 in cash. Their escape route took them first to Vienna and then to Italy, where they were stranded as stateless persons for six months. Eventually the family received permission to enter the United States.

Motivated by her Chernobyl experiences, Alla Shapiro ultimately became one of the world’s leading experts in the development of medical countermeasures against radiation exposure. From 2003 to 2019, she worked for the FDA on disaster readiness and preparation. Dr. Shapiro issues stern warnings regarding the preparedness―or lack thereof―of America for the current Covid-19 pandemic. Doctor on Call exposes the horrifying truths of Chernobyl and alerts us to the deceptions that undermine our ability to respond to global disasters.

Dr. Alla Shapiro has written a poignant story about being a first responder during the Chernobyl crisis. She has also described her experiences as a Jewish refugee and immigrant to the United States. Readers are treated to an inside look at what really happened, and the writing draws one into the account.

One may be shocked at times to discover the bare facts. It is quite enlightening; though, Dr. Shapiro’s personal comments add depth to this story. Her struggles and the struggles of those she witnessed will tug at hearts.

When the doctor and her family move to the United States, they must get used to a new culture and language. Readers will get a good sense of what this is like. Dr. Shapiro does not let the tragedy at the Chernobyl plant and its aftermath keep her from continuing forth bravely. Her continued work in her field and cooperation with other experts is explained and is sure to bring hope to others. She brings such a personal touch to technical ideas that readers will be made to truly understand. She also makes a connection to the Covid-19 Coronavirus, linking it to modern events.

One will not only learn much from this book but will also probably enjoy doing so.


  1. Beth Carino says

    This is a captivating debut from a physician scientist who expresses herself so naturally, sometimes vividly comic, but oftentimes emotionally astute. This is not a book about science, though the plot revolves around the scientific experiences. This is about a woman’s life, an extremely powerful story of an extraordinary woman, Dr. Alla Shapiro. Her early training and experience prepared her for a life of humility before women were given notable positions, but through injustices, she came to realize that the only way to survive is to believe in herself and trust her instincts. Her accounts and the incidents of her story are wholly absorbing! She was like a protagonist in a dystopian novel! “Inspirational” may seem overdone and cheesy, but I have to admit – Alla is an inspiration! She mentions no role models in her book, because unknowingly, she is to become the one.
    Thank you, Alla, for taking me to your physical and emotional journey. I appreciate the experience fully. More importantly, I appreciate you!

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