Research Summary

Dean Schillinger MD is an internationally recognized health communication scientist and expert in chronic disease prevention and control. At UCSF, he is the Andrew B Bindman Professor in Primary Care and Health Policy and directs the UCSF Health Communications Research Program, serves as co-director for an NIDDK Center for Diabetes Translational Research (DREAMS-CDTR), and is Principal Investigator for CDC and NIH funded projects in diabetes-related policy, as well as a NIH project to develop measures of health literacy using computational linguistics and machine learning. He is most widely recognized for: (1) helping establish the field of health literacy; (2) his pioneering research to validate the construct and the value of ‘precision communication’ for reducing health disparities; and (3) developing scalable, innovative health communications to increase public health literacy around the socio-ecologic model to support policy action and promote health equity.

A public health and primary care physician, he served as Chief of the UCSF Division of General Internal Medicine at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) from 2009-2020. In 2006, he co-founded the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations, whose mission is to promote the health of vulnerable populations through discovery, collaboration, advocacy and policy change. Dr. Schillinger served as Chief Medical Officer for the Diabetes Prevention and Control Program for California from 2008-13. He previously directed the ambulatory care clinics at SFGH. He co-directs a national course on Medical Care of Vulnerable and Underserved Patients and edits a textbook of the same name. Author of over 300 peer-reviewed scientific articles, he has focused his research on health communication for vulnerable populations, carrying out a number of studies exploring the impact of limited health literacy on prevention and control of diabetes and heart disease, and related interventions to improve both communication and health outcomes. He has been awarded grants from NIDDK, AHRQ, CDC, NLM, NEA, and private foundations in the field of health communication science. Dr. Schillinger contributed to the 2004 IOM Report on Health Literacy and authored a 2012 IOM Publication defining the attributes of Health Literate Healthcare Organizations. As part of the UCSF Global Health Sciences Institute, he collaborates with colleagues at INSP and UNAM in Mexico to co-direct the UC-Mexico Diabetes Public Health Research Initiative. He also directs the UCSF Global Health Sciences Masters course on NCDs.

He was honored with the 2003 Institute for Healthcare Advancement Research Award, the 2008 Research Award in Safety and Quality from the National Patient Safety Foundation, the 2009 George Engel Award in Health Communication Research from the American Association of Communication in Healthcare, the Bay Area Research Mentor of the Year Award in 2010 and the 2016 Institute for Health Policy Career Mentoring Award. In 2013, he received the Everett M Rogers Award from APHA in recognition of his lifelong contributions to advancing the study and practice of public health communication. In 2017, he was honored with the San Francisco Heroes and Hearts Award and in 2021 he received the inaugural Noncommunicable Disease Innovation Award by the World Health Organization.

Dr. Schillinger has been instrumental in local public health regulation of sugary drinks, and served as the scientific expert for the City and County of San Francisco in defense of a lawsuit filed in Federal Court by the American Beverage Association for an injunction against the City’s ordinance to mandate health warning labels on billboards advertising sugary drinks. From 2018-21, Dr. Schillinger served as co-chair for a federal diabetes commission; his efforts led to a report that contains transformative recommendations for an all-government, trans-sector response to the epidemic. He also co-created a youth-led diabetes prevention social media campaign, The Bigger Picture Campaign,, supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, NIMHD, and The California Endowment. The Bigger Picture has received numerous film and media awards, and received the 2014 Latino Coalition for a Health California Award for Youth Leadership and the Spirit of 1848 Social Justice Award from the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the 2015 UC-Community Partnership Award. In 2016, Dr. Schillinger was honored with a James L Irvine California Leadership Award for his innovative work in to improve public health literacy and address the epidemic of Type 2 diabetes. This led to the scaling of The Bigger Picture campaign with 8 spoken word programs across California; youth poets of color and their poems were recently highlighted in a 2018 JAMA publication and an associated New York Times feature story. He was recently featured in a PBS documentary, "Blood Sugar Rising," and an Arte documentary aired in Europe, "Un Monde Obèse," which together have been viewed by over 12 million people.

Research Funding

  • September 1, 2011 - June 30, 2026 - the Diabetes Research for Equity through Advanced Multilevel Science Center for Diabetes Translational Research (DREAMS-CDTR) , Co-Investigator . Sponsor: NIH, Sponsor Award ID: P30DK092924
  • September 30, 2020 - September 29, 2025 - Evaluation of Natural Experiments of Nutrition Assistance to Prevent and Control Diabetes among Low-Income Communities , Principal Investigator . Sponsor: NIH, Sponsor Award ID: U18DP006526
  • June 20, 2018 - March 31, 2023 - Testing combinations of population interventions to encourage healthy eating , Co-Principal Investigator . Sponsor: NIH, Sponsor Award ID: R01DK116852
  • September 20, 2015 - June 30, 2020 - The Next Frontier in Diabetes Communication: Promoting Health Literacy in the Era of Secure Messaging , Principal Investigator . Sponsor: NIH, Sponsor Award ID: R01LM012355


Brown University, BA, 1986, Russian Language and Literature
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, MD, 1991, Medicine
UC San Francisco, SF General Hospital, SF, CA, Resident, 1991-94, Internal Medicine
UC San Francisco, SF General Hospital, SF, CA, Chief Resident, 1994-95, Internal Medicine
UCSF Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, 2002-3, Advanced Clinical Research Scholar

Honors & Awards

  • 2001
    Reviewer, Institute of Medicine Report on Insurance, Access, and Health
  • 2003
    Outstanding Researcher of the Year Award, Institute for Health Care Advancement
  • 2004
    Contributing Author, Institute of Medicine Report on Health Literacy
  • 2005
    Outstanding Research Paper of the Year Award, Society Teachers of Family Medicine
  • 2005-2006
    JCAHO Policy Roundtable on Literacy and Patient Safety
  • 2006
    Contributor, Surgeon General Workshop on Improving Health Literacy
  • 2008
    Advancing Patient Safety Research Award in Health Literacy, Nat Patient Safety Foundation
  • 2009
    George Engel Career Research Award, Am. Assn Communication in Healthcare
  • 2017
    2017 Heroes & Hearts Award, San Francisco General Hospital Foundation

Selected Publications

  1. Garcia K, Mejia P, Perez-Sanz S, Dorfman L, Madsen K, Schillinger D. Pro- and Anti-Tax Framing in News Articles About California Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax Campaigns from 2014-2018. J Health Commun. 2023 Sep 08; 1-11.  View on PubMed
  2. Nouri S, Lyles CR, Sherwin EB, Kuznia M, Rubinsky AD, Kemper KE, Nguyen OK, Sarkar U, Schillinger D, Khoong EC. Visit and Between-Visit Interaction Frequency Before and After COVID-19 Telehealth Implementation. JAMA Netw Open. 2023 Sep 05; 6(9):e2333944.  View on PubMed
  3. Schillinger D, Baron RJ. Health Communication Science in the Balance. JAMA. 2023 Jul 31.  View on PubMed
  4. Schillinger D, Cortez G, Lee M. The "Survival Pending Revolution" COVID-19 vaccination campaign: an example of critical communication theory in action. Front Public Health. 2023; 11:1134104.  View on PubMed
  5. Herman WH, Schillinger D. Rethinking diabetes in the United States. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2023; 14:1185719.  View on PubMed
  6. Roscoe RD, Balyan R, McNamara DS, Banawan M, Schillinger D. Automated Strategy Feedback Can Improve the Readability of Physicians' Electronic Communications to Simulated Patients. Int J Hum Comput Stud. 2023 Aug; 176.  View on PubMed
  7. White JS, Basu S, Kaplan S, Madsen KA, Villas-Boas SB, Schillinger D. Evaluation of the sugar-sweetened beverage tax in Oakland, United States, 2015-2019: A quasi-experimental and cost-effectiveness study. PLoS Med. 2023 04; 20(4):e1004212.  View on PubMed
  8. Zhou M, Ramírez AS, Chittamuru D, Schillinger D, Ha S. Testing the effectiveness of narrative messages using critical health communication. J Commun Healthc. 2023 07; 16(2):139-146.  View on PubMed
  9. Herman WH, Bullock A, Boltri JM, Conlin PR, Greenlee MC, Lopata AM, Powell C, Tracer H, Schillinger D. The National Clinical Care Commission Report to Congress: Background, Methods, and Foundational Recommendations. Diabetes Care. 2023 02 01; 46(2):e14-e23.  View on PubMed
  10. Schillinger D, Bullock A, Powell C, Fukagawa NK, Greenlee MC, Towne J, Gonzalvo JD, Lopata AM, Cook JW, Herman WH. The National Clinical Care Commission Report to Congress: Leveraging Federal Policies and Programs for Population-Level Diabetes Prevention and Control: Recommendations From the National Clinical Care Commission. Diabetes Care. 2023 02 01; 46(2):e24-e38.  View on PubMed
  11. Herman WH, Schillinger D, Bolen S, Boltri JM, Bullock A, Chong W, Conlin PR, Cook JW, Dokun A, Fukagawa N, Gonzalvo J, Greenlee MC, Hawkins M, Idzik S, Leake E, Linder B, Lopata AM, Schumacher P, Shell D, Strogatz D, Towne J, Tracer H, Wu S. The National Clinical Care Commission Report to Congress: Recommendations to Better Leverage Federal Policies and Programs to Prevent and Control Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2023 02 01; 46(2):255-261.  View on PubMed
  12. Conlin PR, Boltri JM, Bullock A, Greenlee MC, Lopata AM, Powell C, Schillinger D, Tracer H, Herman WH. The National Clinical Care Commission Report to Congress: Summary and Next Steps. Diabetes Care. 2023 02 01; 46(2):e60-e63.  View on PubMed
  13. Hwong AR, Chagwedera DN, Thomas M, Niu G, Quan J, Vittinghoff E, Schillinger D, Newcomer JW, Gonzalez A, Essock S, Mangurian C. CRANIUM: a quasi-experimental study to improve metabolic screening and HIV testing in community mental health clinics compared to usual care. BMC Psychiatry. 2022 11 09; 22(1):687.  View on PubMed
  14. Siegel KR, Ali MK, Ackermann RT, Black B, Huguet N, Kho A, Mangione CM, Nauman E, Ross-Degnan D, Schillinger D, Shi L, Wharam JF, Duru OK. Evaluating Natural Experiments that Impact the Diabetes Epidemic: an Introduction to the NEXT-D3 Network. Curr Diab Rep. 2022 08; 22(8):393-403.  View on PubMed
  15. Thompson HR, Mendelson J, Zamek M, Cortez G, Schillinger D. Impact of an Arts-based Public Health Literacy Program Delivered Online to High School Students during the COVID-19 Pandemic. J Health Commun. 2022 07 03; 27(7):520-534.  View on PubMed
  16. Khoong EC, Rivadeneira NA, Pacca L, Schillinger D, Lown D, Babaria P, Gupta N, Pramanik R, Tran H, Whitezell T, Somsouk M, Sarkar U. Extent of Follow-Up on Abnormal Cancer Screening in Multiple California Public Hospital Systems: A Retrospective Review. J Gen Intern Med. 2023 01; 38(1):21-29.  View on PubMed
  17. Semere W, Makaroun LK, Beach S, Schillinger D, Rosland AM. Family caregivers navigating the health care system: Evolving roles during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fam Syst Health. 2022 06; 40(2):268-273.  View on PubMed
  18. Schmittdiel JA, Adams AS, Haire-Joshu D, Heisler M, Piatt GA, Ackermann R, Chin MH, Gonzalez JS, Manson SM, Narayan KMV, Schillinger D, Brega AG. Comment on Dunne et al. The Women's Leadership Gap in Diabetes: A Call for Equity and Excellence. Diabetes Care 2021;44:1734-1743. Diabetes Care. 2022 05 01; 45(5):e97-e98.  View on PubMed
  19. Pulvera R, Altman E, Avina L, Thompson H, Schillinger D, Madsen K. Pandemic-related financial hardship and disparities in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and purchasing among San Francisco Bay Area residents during COVID-19. Prev Med Rep. 2022 Apr; 26:101759.  View on PubMed
  20. Zhou M, Chittamuru D, Ha S, Schillinger D, Ramírez AS. Protocol: Effectiveness of message content and format on individual and collective efficacy in reducing the intention to consume sugar-sweetened beverages. Contemp Clin Trials. 2022 04; 115:106711.  View on PubMed

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