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Salute To Iconic Women: Antonia Novello

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Mar. 19 2013, Published 3:00 a.m. ET

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“I believe that fortitude is key. More than anything, be consistent. Go at it. Go at it. Go at it. When you succeed, don’t forget the responsibility of making somebody else succeed with you.” –Antonia Novello

Occupation: Surgeon, Political leader

How she made her mark: On March 9, 1990, Antonia Novello began her appointment as the first woman and first Hispanic to hold the position of Surgeon General. President George H. W. Bush appointed her to the position which she held until June 30, 1993.  During Novello’s tenure she focused her attention on the health of women, children, minorities, underage drinking, smoking and AIDS.  Under her leadership and a workshop she put on, the National Hispanic/Latino Health Initiative was born. Dr. Novello served as the UNICEF Special Representative for Health and Nutrition from 1993 to 1996 then returned to Johns Hopkins as a visiting professor. She became the Commissioner of Health for the State of New York in 1999.

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Antonia Coello Novello was born on August 24, 1944 in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. Novello was unfortunately born with a colon condition that was not fixed until she was eighteen, but it brought her to seek a career in medicine.  She earned both her MS and MD from the University of Puerto Rico. In 1978, Novello joined the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, her first assignment being as a project officer at the National Institute of Arthritis, Metabolism and Digestive Diseases of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). After finishing her degree she interned, did her residency, and completed a fellowship at the University of Michigan Medical Center, specializing in pediatric nephrology. Next, the couple relocated to Washington, DC where Novello held a variety of positions before becoming the deputy director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Dr. Novello earned her MPH from Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in 1982.

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