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2023 Cecilia and Leonard Doak Health Literacy Champion award

Dr. Steve Pu, D.O.

Health Literacy Media is pleased to announce that health literacy innovator, Dr. Steve Pu, D.O., is the posthumous recipient of the 2023 Cecilia and Leonard Doak Health Literacy Champion award. Dr. Pu, a general surgeon and wound care specialist who helped create the organization that would become Health Literacy Media, passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2019.

Dr. Pu’s advocacy for health literacy and patient-centered health care were the central focus of his career in medicine. He championed improved communication between clinicians and patients as an international speaker, consultant, and through his many state and national appointments.

A longtime advocate for improving access to care in community health, particularly in rural areas, Dr. Pu led a coalition of physicians who worked to fill the gap left by the closing of a local hospital in Kennett, Missouri. He and his colleagues worked to ensure that community needs could be met, such as maternal and emergency care.

Dr. Pu served on the board of directors for Health Literacy Missouri, and during that time he guided the organization through its expansion into Health Literacy Media and its clinical trials communication spin-off, C3T. He was HLM’s founding board president and remained in that position until his passing.

In Dr. Pu’s own words: “We began to see health literacy as a key component in positively impacting population health, particularly in the wake of 2004’s landmark Institute of Medicine report on health literacy. In fact, a vision was taking shape at the Missouri Foundation for Health. We believed that health literacy activities in Missouri could serve as a blueprint for efforts nationwide, and in 2007 MFH funded a series of demonstration projects around the state.”

Through practical experience and research, Dr. Pu saw a chance to create a “sacred moment” with patients, establishing a real, human-to-human connection prior to any clinical procedures taking place. The Sacred Moments program promoted by Dr. Pu focuses on what matters most to patients, discovering any fears they may have about their hospital stay, and working together to alleviate their anxiety.

Dr. Pu shared: “It is also about creating a culture of support and purpose. This program is so powerful because it is low cost and cost effective; the return on investment is tremendous. The simple act of empathy and reconnecting with patients has reminded caregivers why they became a healthcare professional: to care for people and make a difference in the lives of others. Their attitudes about the workplace have improved, which in turn created a more nurturing environment for both patients and employees.”

Dr. Pu was active in his community serving on boards for his local church, Chamber of Commerce, local booster club, local home health agency, local hospital board, and the Board of Public Works. From 2003 to 2008 he served on the board for the Missouri Foundation for Health, he chaired the Health Policy Comm for 4 years, and served as Chair of the Board in 2008. He served on the Institute of Medicine's Roundtable on Health Disparities and was asked to lead a new organization called Health Literacy Missouri, now Health Literacy Media, recognized today as one of the leading health literacy organizations in the world.

Dr. Pu held clinical appointments at three medical schools, the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, A.T. Still University, College of Osteopathic Medicine, and the University of Missouri School of Medicine. In 2008 he was awarded the President's Volunteer Service Award for the many hours of volunteer work in educating medical students, PA students, and APN students. At the time of his passing, he had been named Director of Physician Relations at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University.


Health Literacy Media established the Cecilia and Leonard Doak Health Literacy Champion Award to honor individuals and organizations who make outstanding contributions in health literacy and whose work focuses on bridging the gap between the skills of people and the demands of the health care system.

The award, named after two other founders of the health literacy movement, is presented to a single individual or organization each year and recognizes those who exhibit the highest standards of excellence, dedication and accomplishment over a sustained period of time, and who are creative and highly skilled pioneers in the health literacy field. The award recognizes rigorous work and celebrates collaborative efforts to shape a path to good health.

Previous Health Literacy Media Doak awardees include: Dr. Richard Carmona, former Surgeon General of the United States; Michael Villaire, CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Advancement, the late Dr. Andrew Pleasant; Dr. Cynthia Baur; Dr. Ruth Murphey Parker; Dr. James Kimmey, past president of the Missouri Foundation for Health and a key founder of Health Literacy Missouri; and Dr. Rima Rudd.


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