The Leadership of an Advocate and Physician: Antonia Novello

Written by Theertha, Teen Volunteer
Halifax Public Libraries' Teen Blog is written by and for teens. Discover more posts here.

“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.

You have probably noticed that doctors, nurses, surgeons, and EMTs are pretty important to society. Leaders such as advocates, politicians, and influencers are also pretty important for keeping our society in order. But what happens when the traits of a Physician and leader are combined? The result is a super-strong, super capable, and super inspirational individual.

You might be thinking, "It's pretty rare to have an individual today with these amazing characteristics." Well, there is such an individual with ALL of these characteristics, and more. Her name is Antonia Novello, and she works to bring hope to those who need it.

Early life and education

Antonia Novello is a Physician of Puerto Rican heritage. She was born on August 23, 1944, and is the oldest of four children. After her dad died—when she was only 8 years old—she and her siblings relied heavily on their mom for support. As a child, Antonia suffered from an extremely painful colon condition, which she later had corrected when she was 18 years old. This childhood disorder is what inspired her to pursue medicine, where she could help civilians by joining the medical field. To this day, she continues to have goals of minimizing people's suffering by making sure they lead healthy and successful lifestyles.

After completing her undergraduate degree in 1965—plus her medical training in 1970—she moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan. She then completed her internship and residency in the field of Paediatrics. After this, she finished her fellowship and earned a well-deserved Master's degree in Public Health from John Hopkins University, in 1982.


Antonia Novello excelled at working in Public Health. In 1986, she rose up the ranks rather quickly to Deputy Directorship of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Around this time, she continued to serve as a Congressional Fellow on the staff of the Labour and Human Resources Committee. This role mainly focused on giving advice to legislators on bills regarding health issues, like cigarette warning labels.

In 1990—a super important year for Novello—President George Bush appointed her Surgeon General of the United States of America, as well as the head of Public Health Services. During her time in office, she advocated for an anti-smoking campaign and voiced to the public the need for an improved AIDS education program. She was deeply involved in striving for better healthcare for minority groups, such as persons with disabilities, people experiencing poverty, and women and children. She knew just how tough it was for minority groups to receive above-average healthcare, which compelled her to spend a good chunk of her time as head of Public Health Services helping those experiencing hardships in the community.


After her time as Surgeon General, she became a representative for UNICEF, in 1993. Here, she continued to advocate for women's health, children and people experiencing poverty. She mainly focused on working to remove nutritional issues—like iodine deficiency—and made sure to steer smoking away from these minority groups. 

During most of her career, Antonia Novello received numerous awards such as the Don Quijote Lifetime Achievement Award, in 2011. Today, she continues to advocate for health issues, look after the general public, and be a consistent role model. She is someone you should definitely appreciate and respect. Her work has shown that she cares for the well-being of everyone, from all walks of life, making sure that they lead equal, healthy, and positive lives.

Learn more

Interested in learning more?

Check out the websites I used to source information:

Changing the Face of Medicine, opens a new window

Britannica, opens a new window

National Women's Hall of Fame, opens a new window

About the writer

Hi! My name is Theertha and I’m a grade 12 student with future goals of becoming a Paediatrician. I enjoy spending time with friends and family and love volunteering.