Antonia Novello

Antonia Novello Quotes And Biography

Inside: Learn about the life and career of Antonia Novello, along with her most famous quotes.

Antonia Novello is the first female and first Latin-American to serve as Surgeon General of the United States.  She worked to improve AIDS education, educated against smoking, and to help vulnerable women and children.

“I want to be able to look back someday and say, “I did make a difference.” Whether is was to open the minds of people to think that a woman can do a good job, or whether it’s the fact that so many kids out there think that they could be like me.”

– Antonia Novello

Here’s an index of what’s included in the post. You can click on any link to jump straight to that section:

Related: Famous Latinos & Hispanic Americans Home Page

Image Source

AntoniA Novello Biography

Fast Facts About: Antonio Novello

Birth: August 23, 1944, in Puerto Rico
Education: University of Puerto Rico (B.S. M.D.), University of Michigan, Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins,
Career: Doctor, U.S. Surgeon General

Antonia Couello Novello was born August 23, 1944 in Puerto Rico. She was born with a condition called megacolon (an enlarged large intestine) that her family planned to get treated. However, her father died when she was eight years old and she ended up not receiving any treatment until the age of eighteen.

Novello studied medicine at the University of Puerto Rico, and then moved to the U.S. She did two fellowships (first at the University of Michigan and then Georgetown University), before studying public health at Johns Hopkins and graduating in 1982. 

Though she was initially interested in direct care by being a pediatrician, she found the emotional toll too heavy. “When the pediatrician cries as much as the parents do, then you know it’s time to get out,” she once joked. Instead, Novello began serving in different public roles, feeling that such work could make a lasting difference.

Novello served as the deputy director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for several years, before President George Bush nominated her to be Surgeon General in 1990.

As Surgeon General, Novello focused on children’s health and underserved communities, anti-smoking campaigns, and AIDS education and awareness. She was a popular Surgeon General and known for her empathy and advocacy.

Novello was later part of UNICEF for the United Nations and commissioner for the New York Dept. of Health, among other positions. She traveled extensively to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. She was quoted as saying,

“Someone asked me: ‘What are you doing here? Which group called you?’ I said, ‘Are you out of your mind? I’m Puerto Rican, my island needs me, I have knowledge, and I’m putting it exactly where I think it can be used.'”

Spectrum News in Orlando


  • National Women’s Hall of Fame
  • Surgeon General Badge
  • Public Health Service Distinguished Service Medal

Interesting facts:

Novello graduated from high school at only 15 years old. She took it upon herself to obtain surgery at the age of 18. Due to complications, she had to have another surgery two years later at the Mayo Clinic.

These years of unnecessary pain she endured as a child helped her make the decision to pursue a medical career. She said of her experience, ” I thought, when I grow up, no other person is going to wait 18 years.”

Free Resources:

Hispanic Heritage Month Game

You also might be interested in my sets of biography slides and project templates for learning about Latinx and Spanish-Speaking leaders. The guessing gameis free!

Videos About Antonia Novello

This is a very quick but solid bio of Antonia Novello (1min 24s) to give an overview of her career:

An into to Antonia Novello through narration and interviews (1min 59s):

Another look at the life Antonia Novello, in Spanish (2min 4s):

10 Antonia Novello Quotes

1. 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

2. “My motto is “good science and good sense.”


3. “I survived many times in my life by learning to laugh at myself. That’s the best medicine. But I also became very self-assured and capable of saying that if I could do that, I can do anything.”

– Antonia Novello

4. “To play a role in addressing these issues, you must enter the realm of public health policy.”

– Antonia Novello, AMA Journal of Ethics

5. “How I vote is not relevant . . . I think that as a woman, as a Hispanic, as a member of a minority,” as the first surgeon general who is all these, “I bring a lot of sensitivity to the job.”

– Antonia Novello

6. “Service is the rent you pay for living, and that service is what sets you apart.”

Antonia Novello

7. “I wanted to be able to do something about the major health issues facing people in this country, such as the need to increase access to health care for the uninsured, the need to ensure that the health care in this country is high-quality care, and the need to improve the health status of Americans through greater emphasis on prevention and healthy lifestyles.”


8. “Once a dream, it is now my pledge to be a good doctor for all who live in this great country.”

– Antonia Novello

9. “I want to be able to look back someday and say, ‘I did make a difference.’ Whether is was to open the minds of people to think that a woman can do a good job, or whether it’s the fact that so many kids out there think that they could be like me.”

-Antonia Novello

10. “In years past, R.J. Reynolds would have us ‘walk a mile for Camel.’ Today, it’s time we invite old Joe Camel himself to take a hike.”

– Antonia Novello, The New York Times

I hope these ideas and resources were helpful to you! If you have more ideas for resources or lessons, let me know in the comments below!

Image Credits:

Antonia Novello, Audrey Manley, and Joyc” (Public Domain) by History of Medicine Division – NLM – NIH

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *