Antonio Coello Novello was born in Fajardo, Puerto Rico in 1944. She matriculated at the University of Puerto Rico from 1961–1965, earning a B.S. degree, and from 1965—1970, earning an MD degree. While in medical school she met and married Joseph Novello, a US. Navy doctor. Dr. Novello trained for her subspecialty in pediatric nephrology at the University of Michigan, where she was the first woman to be named Intern of the Year. She later attended Johns Hopkins University, graduating with a Master’s degree in Public Health and a Doctor of Public Health degree, in 1982 and 2000, respectively.
In 1990, Dr. Antonia Novello was appointed the 14th Surgeon General of the United States, making her the first woman and the first Hispanic in the role. Sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner, Dr. Novello served for three years.