News » Tara O’Toole, M.D. to Receive the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award

Tara O’Toole, M.D. to Receive the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award

WASHINGTON (July 31, 2013) – Tara O’Toole, M.D., M.P.H., who received her medical degree at the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), is a recipient of the 2013 Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award. The award is the highest form of recognition that the University and the GW Alumni Association bestow upon alumni each year. O’Toole will receive the award on September 26, 2013, during Alumni Weekend.

Since graduating from GW SMHS in 1981, O’Toole has become internationally known for her work on biosecurity and on health and safety issues related to the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. O’Toole has served as the Under Secretary for Science and Technology at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security since November 2009, raising awareness of how the U.S. would combat a bioterrorism attack and helping to understand the many challenges to our nation’s biosecurity.

 “Dr. O'Toole is an internationally recognized physician-leader whose contributions to our nation's security and public health, especially as it relates to biodefense, is a source of great pride for the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences,” said Jeffrey S. Akman, M.D., dean of GW SMHS and vice president for health affairs. “Dr. O’Toole embodies the most important values of our school, as well as those of the medical profession, and I couldn’t be more pleased she will be receiving this award.”

From 2003 to November 2009, O’Toole was the CEO and director of the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), and professor of medicine and of public health at the University of Pittsburgh. She has served on numerous government and expert advisory committees dealing with biodefense, including panels of the Defense Science Board; the National Academy of Engineering Committee on Combating Terrorism; and the National Academy of Sciences Working Group on Biological Weapons. She served as chair of the Board of the Federation of American Scientists from 2006 to 2007, and in 2006 she was appointed to the board of Google Foundation’s International Networked System for Total Early Disease Detection.

Her publications in the biodefense field include articles on the response to anthrax, smallpox, and plague biological attacks; containment of contagious disease epidemics; biodefense research and development strategies; and hospital preparedness. She is the founding editor of the journal Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science. She was a principal author and producer of Dark Winter, an influential exercise conducted in June 2001 to alert national leaders to the dangers of bioterrorist attacks. She was also a principal writer and producer of Atlantic Storm, an international ministerial-level biosecurity exercise held in January 2005. Prior to founding the UPMC in 2003, O’Toole was one of the original members of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies and served as its director from 2001 to 2003.

From 1993 to 1997, O’Toole served as assistant secretary of energy for Environment Safety and Health. In this position, she was the principal advisor to the secretary of energy on environmental protection and on the health and safety of the approximately 100,000 workers in the U.S. nuclear weapons complex and Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories. She developed the first overall management and safety plan for dealing with the highly enriched uranium, plutonium, spent fuel, and radioactive waste left in place when nuclear weapons production was stopped in the early 1990s. She ran the multi-agency, multimillion-dollar task force that oversaw the government’s investigations into human radiation experiments conducted during the Cold War and led the U.S. delegation to Russia to establish the U.S./Russia cooperative effort to study radiation exposure and environmental hazards of the Russian nuclear weapons complex.

Prior to her work at DOE, O’Toole was a senior analyst at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, where she directed several projects and studies, including the health impact of pollution resulting from nuclear weapons production. She also served as a consultant to industry and government in matters related to occupational and environmental health; worker participation in workplace safety protection; and organizational change. O’Toole practiced general internal medicine in community health centers in Baltimore from 1984 to 1988. She is board certified in internal medicine and occupational and environmental health.

In addition to receiving her M.D. at GW SMHS, O’Toole has a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College and a master’s in public health from Johns Hopkins University. She completed her internal medicine residency training at Yale University and a fellowship in occupational and environmental medicine at Johns Hopkins University.

About the Alumni Achievement Award:

Alumni Achievement Award recipients are recognized for the lasting impact they have made on society though outstanding professional, voluntary, or philanthropic accomplishments. In 2007, the GW Alumni Association split the awards into two categories, Distinguished Alumni Achievement Awards and the Recent Alumni Achievement Award, which recognizes graduates of the past 10 years.

Prior Alumni Achievement Award recipients include: Paul Antony, M.D. ’96, M.P.H. ’96, executive director of Global Health Progress and the chief medical officer for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America; Arnold “Red” Auerbach, B.S. ’40, M.A. ’41, 16-time NBA champion and coach, president, and general manager of the Boston Celtics; Julius Axelrod, Ph.D. ’55, winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine; Abby Joseph Cohen, M.A. ’76, president of Goldman Sachs Global Markets Institute; Diana B. Henriques, B.A. ’69, The New York Times senior financial writer; Allyn E. Kilsheimer, B.S. ’63, CEO of KCE Structural Engineers, who managed reconstruction of the Pentagon after 9/11; Colin Powell, M.B.A. ’71, former U.S. Secretary of State and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon; Syngman Rhee, B.A. ’07, first president of South Korea; and Kerry Washington, B.A. ’98, award-winning actress and performing arts professional.

The George Washington Alumni Association (GWAA) is a nonprofit organization founded to represent the interests of the more than 225,000 living graduates of university. The association’s three main goals are enabling lifetime engagement of alumni with fellow graduates, current students, and the University; providing a voice for alumni by institutionalizing a two-way dialog between GW graduates and the University; and building a culture of philanthropy to support current and future generations of GW students and alumni.