The first woman and the first Hispanic to become the Surgeon General of the United States (1990-1993), Antonia Novello brought to her work a strong empathy for people without power in society and used her position to alleviate suffering, especially for women and children.
Trained as a pediatric nephrologist and in public health, Novello became a clinical professor of pediatrics at Georgetown University Hospital in 1986, after working in private practice and later in the U.S. Public Health Service. In 1987 she was named coordinator for AIDS research at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and then Deputy Director.
As Surgeon General, Dr. Novello was among the first to recognize the need to focus on women with AIDS and on neonatal transmission of HIV. She found new opportunities for Hispanic/Latino Americans to participate in health issues, convening national and regional meetings to discuss community health needs. She raised national awareness in the medical profession about the domestic violence epidemic in America, and worked to elevate public consciousness about underage drinking and alcohol abuse.