Woman of the Day: Dr. Antonia Novello

Growing up, I remember learning of the accomplishments of many people in US and world history and more often than not, those people were men. Women received much less coverage. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that the accomplishments of women have long been minimized, dismissed, or ignored.  This is another way that sexism has played out in society. Denying the accomplishments of women is an insult. It treats them as if they’re unimportant…as if they haven’t contributed significantly to events throughout human history. In this ongoing series, I’ll be highlighting notable women, historically important women, and those women who ought to be acknowledged.  My intent is to show that women have contributed to the course of human history and ought to be recognized, rather than ignored or overlooked. Today’s woman of the day achieved two historical firsts: the first female and first Hispanic Surgeon General of the United States. Dr. Antonia Novello is today’s woman of the day.

Dr. Novello being sworn in as Surgeon General.

Antonia Novello (b. Antonia Coello) was born in Farjado, Puerto Rico in 1944.  From early childhood, she developed a chronic medical condition which required surgery that her family could not afford. She underwent ongoing treatment at a local hospital, and after two surgeries at the age of 18 and 20, her condition was corrected. Possibly as a result of her condition, Novello resolved at a young age to become a doctor so that she could help sick children. During her first year of medical school at the University of Puerto Rico, her favorite aunt died of kidney failure. She decided to learn more about the disease and the factors involved in deciding who gets a kidney transplant.  At the University of Michigan, she completed her medical study of kidneys (nephrology).  While there, she was the first woman named Intern of the Year.

After gaining experience in pediatrics in Michigan, Dr. Novello pursued postgraduate work at Georgetown University, followed by several years in private practice.  In 1979, she joined the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and also became a project officer at the National Institutes of Health. In 1986, she was appointed Deputy Director of National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), where she focused on pediatric AIDS.  It was in this role that Dr. Novello caught the attention of the White House.

In 1990, Dr. Novello was appointed the 14th Surgeon General by President George H. W. Bush.  During her tenure (which ran from March 9, 1990 through June 30, 1993), she led highly visible campaigns against the tobacco industry.  She also spoke out against under-age drinking, smoking, drug abuse, and HIV. She also advocated for childhood immunization and injury prevention.

Following her tenure as Surgeon General, Dr. Novello became the special representative to the United Nations Children’s Fund from 1993-1996. While there, she expanded her advocacy for the health and nutritional needs of women and children to a global scale. Dr. Novello has served as vice-president of Women and Children Health and Policy Affairs at Disney Children’s Hospital in Orlando, FL.

Sources:

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/physicians/biography_239.html

 

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Woman of the Day: Dr. Antonia Novello
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