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Antonia Novello

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Antonia Novello
Commissioner of the New York State Department of Health
In office
June 1999 – December 31, 2006
GovernorGeorge Pataki
Preceded byDennis P. Whalen (Acting)
Succeeded byRichard F. Daines
14th Surgeon General of the United States
In office
March 9, 1990 – June 30, 1993
PresidentGeorge H. W. Bush
Bill Clinton
Preceded byJames Mason (Acting)
Succeeded byRobert Whitney (Acting)
Personal details
Born (1944-08-23) August 23, 1944 (age 79)
Fajardo, Puerto Rico
Political partyRepublican
EducationUniversity of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras (BS)
University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine (MD)
Johns Hopkins University (MPH)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Rank Vice admiral
Unit USPHS Commissioned Corps

Antonia Coello Novello (born August 23, 1944) is a Puerto Rican physician and public health administrator. She was a vice admiral in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and served as 14th Surgeon General of the United States from 1990 to 1993. Novello was the first woman and first Hispanic to serve as Surgeon General. Novello also served as Commissioner of Health for the State of New York from 1999 to 2006. Novello has received numerous awards including more than fifty honorary degrees, was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2000, and has been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.[1] Her memoir, Duty Calls: Lessons Learned from an Unexpected Life of Service, was published in 2024.[2]


Pediatric nephrologist[edit]

In 1976, Novello opened her own private practice in Springfield, Virginia, where she worked as a pediatrician. However, she soon realized that she lacked adequate emotional detachment for her work so she terminated her practice. Novello stated in an interview, "When the pediatrician cries as much as the parents do, then you know it's time to get out."[3]

Public Health Service[edit]

In 1979, Novello joined the Public Health Service and received a commission in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHSCC). Her first assignment was as a project officer at the National Institute of Arthritis, Metabolism and Digestive Diseases of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).[4] From 1976, she also held a clinical appointment in pediatrics at Georgetown University School of Medicine. During her years at NIH, Novello worked on an MPH degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, receiving the degree in 1982.[5]

Novello held various positions at NIH before being appointed to Assistant Surgeon General grade in the PHSCC[citation needed] and assignment as the deputy director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) in 1986. She also served as Coordinator for AIDS Research for NICHD from September 1987.[5] In this role, she developed a particular interest in pediatric AIDS, which caught the attention of the White House.[4]

Novello made major contributions to the drafting and enactment of the Organ Transplantation Procurement Act of 1984 while assigned to the United States Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, working with the staff of committee chairman Orrin Hatch.[5]

Surgeon General[edit]

Novello was appointed Surgeon General by President George H. W. Bush, beginning her tenure on March 9, 1990, and was appointed to the temporary rank of vice admiral in the regular corps while the Surgeon General. She was the first woman and the first Hispanic to hold the position.

During her tenure as Surgeon General, Novello focused her attention on the health of women, children and minorities, as well as on underage drinking, smoking, and AIDS. She played an important role in launching the Healthy Children Ready to Learn Initiative.[4] She was actively involved in working with other organizations to promote immunization of children and childhood injury prevention efforts. She spoke out often and forcefully about illegal underage drinking, and called upon the United States Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General to issue a series of reports on the subject.

Novello also worked to discourage illegal tobacco use by young people, and repeatedly criticized the tobacco industry for appealing to the youth market through the use of cartoon characters such as Joe Camel.[5] A workshop that she convened led to the emergence of a National Hispanic/Latino Health Initiative.

Novello was controversial among abortion rights advocates due to her support of a policy prohibiting family planning program workers who received federal financing from discussing abortion with their patients.[6]

Novello left the post of Surgeon General on June 30, 1993, with the administration of President Bill Clinton praising her for her "vigor and talent."[6]

Later years[edit]

After leaving the position of Surgeon General, Novello remained in the regular corps of the Public Health Service. She was assigned to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) as Special Representative for Health and Nutrition from 1993 to 1996 reverting to her permanent two-star rank of rear admiral. In 1996, she became visiting professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. She retired from the Public Health Service and the PHSCC shortly after with the grade of vice admiral.

In 1999, Governor of New York George Pataki appointed Novello as the Commissioner of Health for the State of New York. She served until 2006.

From 2008 to 2014, Novello was vice president of Women and Children Health and Policy Affairs at Disney Children's Hospital at Florida Hospital in Orlando, Florida.[7]

As of December 31, 2014, Novello retired from her position as an executive director of public health policy at Florida Hospital - Orlando.[8]


Selected awards and honors include:

Novello has been awarded more than 50 honorary doctorates.

Early life[edit]

Antonia Novello, born on August 23, 1944, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, was the oldest of two children; she also had a half-brother. After her divorce, her mother, Ana Delia Flores, remarried. Novello did not know her father. At birth, Novello was diagnosed with congenital megacolon, a condition that required Novello to spend two weeks every summer in the hospital. Although Novello was told at eight years old that she should have surgery to correct her problem, it would take another ten years before such an operation would happen. Nevertheless, Novello managed to excel in her study to become a doctor. Her experience with that disease, left such an impact on her that she vowed to become a doctor so that "no other person is going to wait 18 years for surgery."[10]


At an early age, Novello's mother, a school teacher and later high school principal, stressed the importance of an education. Novello excelled in her education and graduated from high school at the age of 15.[11] She attended the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in 1965. She went on to the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine in San Juan [11] where she received her Doctor of Medicine degree in 1970. That same year, she married Joseph R. Novello and they both moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan where she continued her medical studies. Novello began a pediatric internship at University of Michigan Medical School. She became the first woman to receive the "University of Michigan Pediatrics Department Intern of the Year" award.[3] In 1973, Novello and her husband moved to Washington D.C. to begin her residency in pediatric nephrology at Georgetown University School of Medicine Hospital until 1976.[3] She earned her Masters in Public Health from Johns Hopkins University in 1982 and her Doctorate in Public Health also from Johns Hopkins in 2000.

Personal life[edit]

Novello was married to former US Navy flight surgeon and psychiatrist, Joseph R. Novello.[12] She was the sister-in-law of Saturday Night Live alumnus Don Novello, creator of the character persona Father Guido Sarducci.

Felony conviction - Now Sealed[edit]

On June 26, 2009, in a plea deal with prosecutors, Novello pleaded guilty to one felony count of filing a false instrument involving a worker's duties.[13] Her guilty plea was accepted by the court on August 13, 2009.[14] She was sentenced to pay $22,500 in restitution, a $5,000 fine, and spend 250 hours doing community service at a medical clinic for uninsured patients. Outside the court immediately after the sentencing, her lawyer called the crime an "administrative processing offense – nothing else."[15] On March 31, 2022, by order of the Albany County Court, Judge Roger D. McDonough, the records were sealed.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Antonia Novello". National Academy of Medicine.
  2. ^ Duty Calls: Lessons Learned from an Unexpected Life of Service. Fulcrum Publishing. 2024. ISBN 9781682754474. (with Jill S. Tietjen)
  3. ^ a b c "Antonia C. Novello Facts, information, pictures | Encyclopedia.com articles about Antonia C. Novello". www.encyclopedia.com. Archived from the original on 2016-04-05. Retrieved 2016-04-01.
  4. ^ a b c "Antonia Novello Biography Academy of Achievement". Academy of Achievement. Archived from the original on 31 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-27.
  5. ^ a b c d "Changing the Face of Medicine | AntoniaNovello". cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov. Archived from the original on 2020-07-26. Retrieved 2020-06-15.
  6. ^ a b Hakim, Danny (January 26, 2009). "New York Says Health Chief Abused Power". New York Times. p. A1. Archived from the original on 26 September 2018. Retrieved 26 January 2009.
  7. ^ "Florida Hospital Unveils New Details, Name for Disney Children's Hospital". Disney. August 27, 2008. Archived from the original on October 3, 2011. Retrieved 2009-05-12.
  8. ^ Sentinel, El. "Doctora Antonia Novello se retira del Florida Hospital". Archived from the original on 26 September 2018. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  9. ^ "Novello, Antonia". National Women's Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 2018-11-22. Retrieved 2018-11-22.
  10. ^ Krucoff, Carol (May 1991). "Antonia Novello: A Dream Come True". The Saturday Evening Post. Archived from the original on 2020-01-11.
  11. ^ a b "Antonia Novello Biography -- Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. Archived from the original on 2009-01-31. Retrieved 2016-04-01.
  12. ^ "Biography: Joseph R. Novello, M.D." NovelloMD.com. 2009. Archived from the original on 13 December 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-15.
  13. ^ "State Official Under Pataki Pleads Guilty". New York Times. Associated Press. June 26, 2009. p. A16. Archived from the original on 29 September 2017. Retrieved 4 December 2016.
  14. ^ ""NY Judge Lectures Former Surgeon General Novello."". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  15. ^ Gavin, Robert (August 15, 2009). "Novello Gets Earful From Judge — But After Sentencing, Ex-Health Chief Has Words for Co-Workers". Albany Times-Union. Archived from the original on 20 December 2016. Retrieved 4 December 2016.
  16. ^ Decision and Order - Motion to Seal Pursuant to CPL 160.59, Index #DA 338-09, NYSID 67611521H, Ordered March 31, 2022.

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by Surgeon General of the United States
Succeeded by