Words Of Wisdon From Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Antonia Novello

By Sarah Peters
The Palm Beach Post, Fla.


Dr. Antonia Novello learned the world isn’t going to be kind to you just because you’re a woman or because you’re the country’s top doctor.

With wit and insight, the first female and first Hispanic U.S. surgeon general shared with dozens of women and a few men how women can overcome the obstacles to their success at Palm Beach State College Friday morning.

Novello mixed statistics with quotes from the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Eleanor Roosevelt and other notables while giving advice on reaching the top of their careers without sacrificing relationships.

Her own marriage collapsed while her career took off, she said.

“When you get to the top, you have to balance your life better,” Novello said.

Success isn’t easy. It requires thinking like a man, acting like a woman, looking like a younger version of yourself and working like a horse, she said. Bold statistics — such as women in Florida earning $0.84 to every $1 earned by men — don’t prove outright discrimination, but should raise eyebrows, Novello said.

Like men, women are supposed to be married to their jobs. But they’re also expected to be wives and mothers, often forced to choose between career and family, she said. Women earning the lowest pay see a 7 percent decrease in wages per child.

“Motherhood has economic penalties,” Novello said.

Novello’s talk, a celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, was the third in a women’s empowerment forum series spearheaded by the college’s Corporate and Continuing Education division.

The former U.S. surgeon general was born and educated in Puerto Rico before getting her medical training in nephrology at the University of Michigan, according to her National Institutes of Health biography. George H.W. Bush appointed her surgeon general from 1990 to 1993.

Women have come a long way from having little power and rights, but they can’t stop pushing for their own destinies and the destinies of those who will follow, she said. They need networking and mentoring to succeed, she said.

After she became surgeon general, she received a letter from a 5-year-old girl saying she wanted the role and was angry Novello jumped ahead. They met years later when the girl — also named Antonia — was an 18 year old studying medicine.

Novello described the next generation as “unafraid” and “educated,” adding she hopes the leadership positions that are available to them are what they deserve.

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