Research Summary

Dean Schillinger MD is an internationally recognized health communication scientist and expert in chronic disease prevention and control. He directs the UCSF Health Communications Research Program, serves as site director for an NIDDK Center for Diabetes Translational Research, 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. 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. Dr. Schillinger currently co-chairs a subcommittee of a federal advisory commission related to harmonizing diabetes policy across federal agencies ( 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. 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. 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. 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 called 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 30, 2020 - September 29, 2025 - Evaluation of Natural Experiments of Nutrition Assistance to Prevent and Control Diabetes among Low-Income Communities, Principal Investigator. Sponsor: CDC/NCCDPHP, Sponsor Award ID: U18DP006526
  • June 20, 2018 - March 31, 2023 - Testing combinations of population interventions to encourage healthy eating, Co-Principal Investigator. Sponsor: NIH/NIDDK, Sponsor Award ID: R01DK116852
  • September 1, 2011 - July 30, 2021 - Health Delivery Systems Center for Diabetes Translational Research, Co-Investigator. Sponsor: NIH, Sponsor Award ID: P30DK092924
  • April 1, 2018 - June 30, 2019 - The Next Frontier in Diabetes Communication: Promoting Health Literacy in the Era of Secure Messaging, Principal Investigator. Sponsor: NIH/NLM, 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. Machado SS, Schillinger D, Avina L, Cortez G, Daniels R, Thompson HR. Seeing "The Bigger Picture:" Impact of an Arts-Focused Type 2 Diabetes Education Program in High Schools. J Health Commun. 2021 Nov 15; 1-12.  View on PubMed
  2. Semere W, Cemballi AG, Schillinger D, Casillas A, Lemberg M, Lyles CR. "We need to bring them out from the shadows:" A qualitative study of safety net physician leaders' perspectives on caregivers. Patient Educ Couns. 2021 Oct 23.  View on PubMed
  3. Schillinger D. Social Determinants, Health Literacy, and Disparities: Intersections and Controversies. Health Lit Res Pract. 2021 Jul; 5(3):e234-e243.  View on PubMed
  4. Cemballi AG, Karter AJ, Schillinger D, Liu JY, McNamara DS, Brown W, Crossley S, Semere W, Reed M, Allen J, Lyles CR. Descriptive examination of secure messaging in a longitudinal cohort of diabetes patients in the ECLIPPSE study. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2021 06 12; 28(6):1252-1258.  View on PubMed
  5. Garcia ME, Goldman EL, Thomas M, Chan S, Mitsuishi F, Schillinger D, Mangurian C. Accuracy of Primary Care Medical Home Designation in a Specialty Mental Health Clinic. Psychiatr Q. 2021 06; 92(2):601-607.  View on PubMed
  6. Abbs E, Daniels R, Schillinger D. Type 2 Diabetes as a Socioecological Disease: Can Youth Poets of Color Become Messengers of Truth and Catalysts for Change? Health Promot Pract. 2021 May 14; 15248399211007818.  View on PubMed
  7. Schinckus L, Van den Broucke S, van der Zanden G, Levin-Zamir D, Mueller G, Riemenschneider H, Hayter V, Yardley L, Schillinger D, Doyle G, Ganahl K, Pelikan J, Chang P. To Adapt or Not to Adapt: The Association between Implementation Fidelity and the Effectiveness of Diabetes Self-Management Education. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 04 13; 18(8).  View on PubMed
  8. Basu S, Akers M, Berkowitz SA, Josey K, Schillinger D, Seligman H. Comparison of Fruit and Vegetable Intake Among Urban Low-Income US Adults Receiving a Produce Voucher in 2 Cities. JAMA Netw Open. 2021 03 01; 4(3):e211757.  View on PubMed
  9. Schillinger D, Ramírez AS. Schillinger and Ramírez Respond. Am J Public Health. 2021 02; 111(2):e4-e5.  View on PubMed
  10. Brown W, Balyan R, Karter AJ, Crossley S, Semere W, Duran ND, Lyles C, Liu J, Moffet HH, Daniels R, McNamara DS, Schillinger D. Challenges and solutions to employing natural language processing and machine learning to measure patients' health literacy and physician writing complexity: The ECLIPPSE study. J Biomed Inform. 2021 01; 113:103658.  View on PubMed
  11. Khoong EC, Schillinger D. A Direction for the Next Decade of NIH-Funded Health Literacy Research. Health Lit Res Pract. 2020 11 06; 4(4):e208-e211.  View on PubMed
  12. Hwong AR, Schmittdiel J, Schillinger D, Newcomer JW, Essock S, Zhu Z, Dyer W, Young-Wolff KC, Mangurian C. Smoking cessation treatment for individuals with comorbid diabetes and serious mental illness in an integrated health care delivery system. Addict Behav. 2021 03; 114:106697.  View on PubMed
  13. Crossley SA, Balyan R, Liu J, Karter AJ, McNamara D, Schillinger D. Predicting the readability of physicians' secure messages to improve health communication using novel linguistic features: Findings from the ECLIPPSE study. J Commun Healthc. 2020; 13(4):1-13.  View on PubMed
  14. Schillinger D, Balyan R, Crossley SA, McNamara DS, Liu JY, Karter AJ. Employing computational linguistics techniques to identify limited patient health literacy: Findings from the ECLIPPSE study. Health Serv Res. 2021 02; 56(1):132-144.  View on PubMed
  15. Chittamuru D, Daniels R, Sarkar U, Schillinger D. Evaluating values-based message frames for type 2 diabetes prevention among Facebook audiences: Divergent values or common ground? Patient Educ Couns. 2020 Sep 02.  View on PubMed
  16. Palmer NR, Shim JK, Kaplan CP, Schillinger D, Blaschko SD, Breyer BN, Pasick RJ. Ethnographic investigation of patient-provider communication among African American men newly diagnosed with prostate cancer: a study protocol. BMJ Open. 2020 08 05; 10(8):e035032.  View on PubMed
  17. Basu S, Jacobs LM, Epel E, Schillinger D, Schmidt L. Cost-Effectiveness Of A Workplace Ban On Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Sales: A Microsimulation Model. Health Aff (Millwood). 2020 07; 39(7):1140-1148.  View on PubMed
  18. Schillinger D. The Intersections Between Social Determinants of Health, Health Literacy, and Health Disparities. Stud Health Technol Inform. 2020 Jun 25; 269:22-41.  View on PubMed
  19. Rodríguez LA, Barquera S, Aguilar-Salinas CA, Sepúlveda-Amor J, Sánchez-Romero LM, Denova-Gutiérrez E, Balderas N, Moreno-Loaeza L, Handley MA, Basu S, López-Arellano O, Gallardo-Hernández A, Schillinger D. Design of a cluster-randomized trial of the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of metformin on prevention of type 2 diabetes among prediabetic Mexican adults (the PRuDENTE initiative of Mexico City). Contemp Clin Trials. 2020 08; 95:106067.  View on PubMed
  20. Schillinger D, Chittamuru D, Ramírez AS. From "Infodemics" to Health Promotion: A Novel Framework for the Role of Social Media in Public Health. Am J Public Health. 2020 09; 110(9):1393-1396.  View on PubMed

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