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Speakers » Antonia Novello

  • U.S. Surgeon General 1990-1993

Dr. Antonia Coello Novello was born in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. She graduated from the University of Puerto Rico with a B.S. degree in 1965 and an M.D. degree in 1970. She served her pediatric internship and residency in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan. She completed her subspecialty training in pediatric nephrology at University of Michigan and Georgetown University. Dr. Novello received a master’s in Public Health from the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in 1982 and a Doctor of Public health in May 2000. She holds countless awards, including the Legion of Merit, The James Smithson Bicentennial Medal, and the National Governor’s Association Distinguished Service to State Government Award, as well as a membership in the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Society and Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences to name a few, and over 53 honoris causa. In 2011, Dr. Novello received the Don Quijote Lifetime Achievement Award.

Dr. Novello entered the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) in 1978 after working in the private practice of pediatrics and nephrology. Her entire USPHS career was spent at the National Institutes of Health, rising to deputy director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. While at NICHD, she chaired HHS Task Force on Pediatric HIV/AIDS, co-chaired the NIH Advisory Committee on Women’s Health Issues, and chaired the USPHS revitalization of the Commissioned Corps.

While at NIH, Dr. Novello gained experience on Capitol Hill as she was detailed to the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources. During this time, she made major contributions to the drafting and enactment of the Organ Procurement Transplantation Act of 1984 (P.L.98-507) and was successful in drafting warning labels concerning the health risks of cigarette smoking.

On March 9, 1990 Dr. Antonia Novello was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to serve as the 14th Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service. Her appointment marked two firsts: Dr. Novello became the first woman and the first Hispanic ever to hold this position. As Surgeon General, Dr. Novello advised the public on health matters such as smoking, AIDS, diet and nutrition, environmental health hazards, and the importance of immunization and disease prevention.

After her Surgeon General tenureship, she served as United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Special Representative for Health and Nutrition where she advised the Executive Director on issues pertaining to women, children and youth. In particular, Dr. Novello provided leadership toward the global efforts to eliminate iodine and vitamin A deficiency disorders, immunizing the world’s children, and preventing smoking and substance abuse in youth.

On June 3, 1999, Governor George E. Pataki nominated Dr. Novello to be the 13th New York State Health Commissioner. In this capacity, she headed one of the leading health agencies in the nation with a $49 Billion budget – one-third of the whole NY state budget. Some of her responsibilities included: improving Medicaid and Medicare, regulation of hospitals and nursing homes, bio-terrorism preparedness, and September 11th disaster management.

Most recently, Dr. Novello served as the Executive Director of Public Health Policy at Florida Hospital, where she was in charge of advocating, translating and implementing public health issues across the board, as well as directing and organizing a lecture series involving the top medical professionals in the nation, known as The Distinguished Lecture Series at Florida Hospital. Currently, she serves as a liaison between the U.S. Embassy and the government of Dominican Republic on raising the awareness of domestic violence and spearheading efforts for national legislation.