Dorie Apollonio, PhD


While I was growing up, we had a family friend who worked as a nurse with people incarcerated in the local jail. When I was in high school, she began talking about the appearance of AIDS in the patients she was treating—this was before the introduction of effective therapies, so the diagnosis was essentially a death sentence. I had been told that infectious disease had been largely eliminated in the US and was surprised and dismayed. She gave me an article in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) to read, and that interest led me to both a high school research project and a college thesis on HIV and AIDS in vulnerable populations. My interest in HIV transmission resulted in work for the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health’s needle exchange program, including a project where I visited multiple sites to conduct interviews with people who injected drugs about how they used the program (which ended up being the basis of my master’s thesis). My dissertation expanded on that work, reviewing how the industries that create and market drugs lobby government for policies that increase the use of their products. Since then my research has focused on both substance use issues and the use of evidence in making health policy.  


  • In 2014, the UCSF School of Pharmacy piloted a curriculum tool based on Wikipedia articles, which is now part of the core curriculum. Between 2017 and 2019, UCSF pharmacy students edited 221 health-related articles on Wikipedia—mostly relating to medications—, which have been viewed over 14 million times. Helping students realize their own subject expertise allows them to build their autonomous voice, encourages them to see themselves as health professionals, and leads them to add their perspective to public discourse.
  • In 2016, the UCSF School of Pharmacy transitioned from a lecture-based health policy curriculum to experiential learning. Pharmacy students identify a health-related issue that is important to them and advocate for change by speaking to state and local legislators and attending local government meetings and protests. In 2019, pharmacy students also began serving as poll workers. These experiences help students generate the confidence to improve patient care using the democratic process as well as their clinical skills. 


  • Publish in professional journals to identify how evidence affects policy making
  • Identify and analyze challenges to evidence-informed policy generated by front groups, advertising, and industries whose products threaten public health
  • Join committees, boards, and panels to develop consensus, disseminate research findings, and drive political engagement by health experts
  • Work with government entities to encourage the use of peer reviewed evidence and systematic reviews
  • Serve as an expert witness for legislative bodies
  • Contribute to public discourse by educating health experts to raise their collective voice

The Journey

I received my BA in Political Science and History from Macalester College in 1992, completed an MPP in Health Policy at Harvard University in 1994, and then a PhD in Political Science at UC-Berkeley in 2003. From 2003-2006 I worked as a postdoctoral scholar in the UCSF Schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Pharmacy, and in 2006 I joined the faculty of UCSF School of Pharmacy. I now serve as an instructor and research mentor in the Schools of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, and Pharmacy. I have been publishing in peer-reviewed journals on the interface of political participation, and public discourse since 1998. Beginning work at UCSF just as the Truth Tobacco Industry Documents Library opened has been an amazing opportunity to explore how changes in the ways that information is shared can lead to different outcomes. Exploring the translation of discourse into policy, and taking an evidence-based approach to that aspect of the continuum, has been fascinating and productive. Perhaps the most satisfying part of my work is training health professionals to find their own voices by becoming directly involved in policymaking and sharing their expertise through updating Wikipedia (the second most visited website in the US and the 10th most visited website in the world).

Recent additions to the UCSF documents library relating to the chemical, food, fossil fuel, and pharmaceutical industries another view into the role of evidence and public discourse in creating health policy.

Resources and Links