Antonia Coello Novello, MD, MPH, DrPH, the 14th Surgeon General of the United States, will be the featured speaker at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice’s 2023 Class Day Ceremony, which will be held on Friday, June 9 at Dartmouth’s Class of 1978 Life Sciences Center.
“We are very excited that Dr. Novello will be joining us as the keynote speaker for Class Day to help honor and celebrate our graduates—her many important contributions to public health serve as an inspiration to us all,” says Craig Westling, DrPH, MPH, MS, executive director of Education at The Dartmouth Institute, who credits Lisa McBride, PhD, associate dean for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging at the Geisel School of Medicine, for arranging Novello’s participation in this year’s event.
“Dr. Novello often shares with me: ‘You have one life to live, do your work with passion and give your best,’” says McBride. “It has always been her desire to be able to look back someday and say, ‘I did make a difference.’ She has demonstrated herself to be a strong leader, one with extreme dedication and service for the improvement of public health.”
The Puerto Rico-born Novello began her career as a practicing pediatrician in Virginia. She then transitioned to public health administration, joining the U.S. Public Health Service in 1979. She held a number of key positions at the National Institutes of Health in 1980s, and served as a vice admiral in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.
Novello’s work on pediatric AIDS in particular caught the attention of the White House. In 1990, she was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as the first woman and first Hispanic to serve as U.S. Surgeon General. In that post, she focused on the health of women, children, and minorities, working to address underage drinking and smoking, as well as AIDS.
Novello’s other prominent leadership positions included serving as Special Representative for Health and Nutrition for UNICEF, becoming the 13th Health Commissioner for New York State in 1999, one of the leading health agencies in the nation, and Executive Director of Public Health Policy at Florida Hospital.
Over her long and distinguished career, she has played pivotal roles in a number of public health emergencies—such as helping to lead hurricane and earthquake relief efforts in the Dominican Republic, as well as COVID-19 prevention and vaccination initiatives in her home country.
Novello has received many awards for her work, including being elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2000 and being named one of the 100 Women of the Century in Science and Medicine in 2020. Earlier this year, she was awarded the Puerto Rico National Guard Merit Cross Medal for her services during disaster response efforts in Puerto Rico.
Novello graduated from the University of Puerto Rico with a BS degree in 1965 and an MD degree in 1970. She completed her subspecialty training in pediatric nephrology at the University of Michigan and Georgetown University. Novello received a Master of Public Health from the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in 1982, and a Doctor of Public Health in 2000.