Aurora Occa, PhD

Social Scientist

About me

Welcome to my official website! Here you can find the latest updates about my profile, my work, and my philosophy. You can click on the sections that are of most interest to you, or write me a message.


Communication, Research, Consulting

Individuals’ decisions to participate in medical research and follow health guidelines are influenced by their own beliefs, fears, and experiences, the opinions and vicissitudes of their beloved ones, and the media. Encouraging them to engage in medical research, adopt healthy behaviors, and follow experts’ recommendations can be a challenge. As a social scientist, I find this challenge particularly intriguing.

I am a researcher in the field of communication.  I am interested in the processes and strategies used to communicate about medical research and other forms of complex medical information. I create persuasive messages using multimedia technologies to help people prevent diseases, maintain their health, search for treatments, and understand science. This also includes studying how health professionals and patients interact to develop guidelines and training programs for physicians, nurses, and clinical staff. To do this, I conduct qualitative and quantitative research projects, while being guided by theories and insights from several fields.

I am Italian but I have lived, studied, worked in Switzerland and United States, where I am currently Assistant Professor within the Department of Communication at the University of Kentucky. For my research, I collaborate with teams located all over the world.




My resume

Here you can find details about my education and work experience. Before joining the University of Kentucky, I completed a PhD in Communication at the University of Miami, a Master of Science in Communication, Management & Health at the Universita’ della Svizzera italiana (Lugano, Switzerland), and one in Business Administration with concentration in Marketing at Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA, USA). I completed my undergraduate degree in Public Relations and Corporate Communication at IULM (Milan, Italy).

Education experience

2014 - 2018

PhD (Dottorato)

from Aug 2014 to May 2018

PhD in Communication (Dottorato in Comunicazione) Department of Communication Studies, School of Communication, University of Miami (Florida, USA) Link to the program page: Dissertation Title: "Animated Messages For Clinical Trial Education: The Mediating Role of Cognitive Absorption On The Effect Of Multimedia Communication Strategies."

2011 - 2013

Masters of Science (Lauree Magistrali)

2011 - 2013

Master of Science in Communication, Management and Health

Universita' della Svizzera italiana (USI), Lugano (Switzerland)
Thesis: The secret of winning communication tools: effectiveness of videos in relation to other informational materials in the creation of health promotion interventions Supervisor: Prof. L. Suzanne Suggs. PhD, MS, CHES

Master of Science in Business Administration  - concentration in marketing

Virginia Tech Polytechnic Institute and State University (VT), Pampling college of Business, Blacksburg (USA)    

2008 - 2011

Undergraduate (Laurea Triennale)

2008 - 2011

Bachelor degree in Public Relations and Corporate Communication

Libera Università di Lingue e Comunicazione IULM, Milan (Italy)

2003 - 2006

High School

from Sept 2003 to July 2008

Scientific High School Diploma Collegio Arcivescovile Castelli, Saronno (Italy)

work experience

2018 - Now

University of Kentucky

Assistant Professor within the Department of Communication at the University of Kentucky

2014 - 2018

University of Miami

2014 - 2018

20012 - 2014

BeCHANGE Research Group

from 2012 to 2014

Research Assistant for the Health4U project: "Going beyond awareness raising: a mobile Phone SMS-based intervention to encourage uptake of HIV testing amongst African communities in Nottingham". The focus of this project was the development of a community-based social marketing campaign to determine whether a mobile phone based SMS text-messaging social marketing initiative could increase uptake of HIV testing among African communities in Nottingham, United Kingdom. The project was done in collaboration with the School of Health Sciences of the University of Nottingham (UK).

Research Project Manager for the evaluation of the program Ever:Fresh, a Social Marketing Peer-to-Peer program in Ticino (Switzerland) to prevent teenagers from using tobacco. 

Research Assistant for the project MyTAMINO, a qualitative study aimed to understand patient needs and preferences about chemotherapy administration for cancer treatment in Ticino, Switzerland. In collaboration with EOC (Ente Ospedaliero Cantonale). 

Research Assistant for the project SOPHYA: The Swiss National Objective Study of Physical Activity in Youth, done in collaboration with the University of Basel and the University of Lausanne (Switzerland). The aim of this project was to collect objective measurement of the physical activity levels of children and parents in Switzerland. The project included a representative sample of Swiss school children aged 6-14 years and living in the German-, French- and Italian speaking Switzerland.

Other collaborations: FAN, Games for Health. Here the link to discover more about the works of BeCHANGE Research Group

→ View website

2013 - 2013

Biblioteca Universitaria Luganese

Library Assistant @ BUL, Lugano (Switzerland)

2012 - 2012

Marketing Specialist @ 3Diemme

from May 2012 to July 2012

Market research based on the participation to the congress “Amici di Brugg”, Rimini; Coaching with the marketing manager of the company to meet the Italian clients and better understand the industry dynamics; rebranding of the company’s logo; corporate marketing (newsletter, social networking and blogging).



I believe it is important to communicate the results of my research to both the scientific community and the public, and I welcome the opportunities to engage in discussions with colleagues, the lay public, and journalists. To this end, I publish the results from my research in peer-reviewed journals and I participate in round tables, debates with the public, and scientific conferences in USA and abroad. You can find an updated list of articles published or presented by clicking on the links below.



Carcioppolo, N., Occa, A., & Chudnovskaya, E (in press). When is it OK to joke? Adding Humor to Fear-based Colonoscopy Screening Messages May Increase Compliance. HUMOR: The International Journal of Humor Research.

Evans, C., Suggs, L.S., Turner, K., Occa, A., Juma, A., & Blake, H. (2018). Text Messaging to Promote Uptake of HIV Testing among Migrant African Communities. Health Education Journal.

Chen, Z., Hong, C., Occa, A. (2018). How Different CSR Dimensions Impact Organization-Employee Relationships? Corporate Communications: An International Journal.

Occa A., Morgan S.E., & Potter J.E. (2017). Underrepresentation of Hispanics and other minorities in clinical trials: Recruiters' perspectives. Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, 1-11.

Morgan S.E., Occa A., Potter J., Mouton A., & Peter M.E. (2017). "You need to be a good listener": Recruiters' use of relational communication behaviors to enhance clinical trials and research study accrual. Journal of Health Communication. 22(2), 95-101.

Rangelov N., Suggs L.S., Occa A., Radchuk O., Schmeil A. (2017). Online Games to Improve Children’s Knowledge of Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines – A Pilot Study. Global Journal of Health Science. 9(4), 134-141.

Occa A., Morgan, S.E. (2016). Coinvolgere i pazienti nella ricerca: integrare le competenze dei reclutatori con le strategie di medici e direttori scientifici. Recenti Progressi in Medicina. 107(11), 602-603.

Morgan, S.E., Occa, A., Mouton A., & Potter, J. (2016). The role of nonverbal behaviors in clinical trial recruitment. Health Communication. 32(4), 461-469.

Morgan, S.E., Mouton, A., Occa, A, & Potter, J. (2016). Clinical trial and research study recruiters’ verbal communication behaviors. Journal of Health Communication. 21(7), 765-772.

Occa, A., & Suggs, L. S. (2015). Communicating Breast Cancer Screening With Young Women: An Experimental Test of Didactic and Narrative Messages Using Video and Infographics. Journal of Health Communication. 21(1), 1-11.

Evans, C., Turner, K., Suggs, L.S., Occa, A., Juma, A., & Blake, H., (2016). Developing a mHealth Intervention to Promote Uptake of HIV Testing Among African Communities in the UK: A Qualitative Study. BMC Public Health. 16(1), 1-16.

Evans C., Turner K., Blake H., Juma A., Suggs L.S., Occa A., (2015). Text messaging to encourage uptake of HIV testing amongst African communities: Findings from a theory based feasibility study, HIV Medicine, 16(Suppl. 2), p.54.


Occa A. & Morgan S. E. (2018). “This sounds like a good idea.” Animations about clinical trial participation for cancer patients and survivors. Paper submitted to the 104th annual conference of the National Communication Association, Salt Lake City, UT.

Peng, W., Occa, A., McFarlane, S., & Morgan, S. E. (2018). Discussions about clinical trials from a cancer-dedicated forum online. Paper submitted to the 104th annual conference of the National Communication Association, Salt Lake City, UT.

Peng, W., Occa, A., Ali, K., & Carcioppolo, N. (2018). Feeling worried, overloaded, or fatalistic? The determinants of cancer uncertainty management preferences. Paper submitted to the 104th annual convention of the National Communication Association, Salt Lake City, UT.

Occa A., Pagani O., Groux P., Di Lascio S., Rossi L., Froesch P., Maestrini N., Lagomarsino M., & Suggs L. S. (2018). “Shall I swallow or inject my chemotherapy?” Determinants of treatment preference, communication, and decision-making for patients. To be presented at the Kentucky Conference on Health Communication, Lexington, Kentucky, USA.

Peng, W., Occa, A., McFarlane, S., & Morgan, S. E. (2018). A content analysis of clinical trial information and misconception on online cancer community. To be presented at the Kentucky Conference on Health Communication, Lexington, Kentucky, USA.

Occa A., Anderson D., Kim S., & Morgan S. E. (2017). A comparison of metaphor modality and appeals in the context of skin cancer prevention. To be presented at the National Communication Association Conference, Dallas, Texas, USA.

Occa A., Morgan S. E., McFarlane S., Peng W., & Potter J. (2017). A pilot training to improve medical professionals’ verbal and nonverbal communication about clinical trials and research studies. To be presented at the National Communication Association Conference, Dallas, Texas USA (Top Paper Award).

McFarlane S.J., Morgan S.E, Occa A. (2017). A systematic review of community-based participatory research to enhance clinical trials in vulnerable populations. 15th Annual Disparities in Health in America: Working Toward Social Justice Workshop. Houston, TX, USA.

Zhou C. & Occa A. (2017). A meta-analysis of narrative-based serious digital games for promoting healthy behaviors. ICA Pre-Conference on Innovations in Narrative-Based Intervention Design, Development, and Evaluation. San Diego, USA.

Occa A., Morgan, S.E., & Potter, J. Underrepresentation of minorities in clinical trials: recruiters’ perspectives. National Communication Association, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

Occa A., & Morgan S.E. Structure, materials, and outcomes of training programs for improving clinical trials communication: a systematic review. National Communication Association, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA (Top Paper Award).

Carcioppolo, N., Occa, A., & Chudnovskaya, E. When is it OK to joke? Specifying how and when humor may be a more appropriate message frame than fear. National Communication Association, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

Occa A., Morgan, S.E. (2016). L’arte e la scienza di coinvolgere i pazienti nella ricerca medica: utilizzare le esperienze dei reclutatori professionisti per integrare le scelte strategiche di medici e direttori scientifici. Convegno dell’Associazione Alessandro Liberati/Network Italiano Cochrane. 31 May 2016, Rome, Italy

Occa, A., (2016). A Textual Analysis of HPV Vaccine Educational Videos Targeting Adolescents on YouTube. Media+Health Symposium at Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia, USA (Paper)

Occa, A. , Leopold., J, (2016). “You’ve Been Nominated!” Using Social Ties to Strategically Influence Engagement in Social Marketing Interventions. Media+Health Symposium at Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia, USA (Paper)

Chen, Z., Hong, C., Occa, A. , (2016). CSR as an international relationship management strategy: Linking CSR, organizational-employee relationships, and employee behavioral outcomes. 19th annual International Public Relations Research Conference, Miami, Florida, USA (Paper)

Chen, Z., Hong, C., Occa, A., (2015). The effects of corporate social responsibility on organization-employee relationships: The moderating role of perceived fit. RSA Educators Academy ‘Super Saturday’ research conference. Atlanta, South Carolina, USA (Paper)

Morgan S.E., Occa A., Leopold J., Mouton A., Peter M., (2015). Like a chameleon”: Clinical trial and research study recruiters’ verbal and nonverbal communication strategies. National Communication Association, Las Vegas, Arizona, USA (Top Paper Award).

Ramaprasad J., Occa A., Leopold J., (2015). Indian Journalists on New Media Technological Changes, Censorship and Control, Prestige. International Association for Media and Communication Research, Montreal, Canada (Paper)

Morgan S.E., Mouton A., Occa A., Leopold J., Peter M., (2015). Research study recruiters’ perceptions of barriers to the accrual of unserved populations. Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center Retreat. Miami, Florida, USA (Poster)

Occa A., Sugg S.L., (2014). Confronto tra strategie comunicative su canali digitali nel parlare di tumore al seno alle giovani donne. Convegno dell’Associazione Alessandro Liberati/Network Italiano Cochrane. 23 May 2014, Milan, Italy. (Poster)



Occa A., & Morgan S.E. (in press). Training programs for improving communication about medical research and clinical trials: A systematic review. In M. Prostran (Ed.) Clinical Trials in Vulnerable Populations, InTech.

Morgan S.E., Finn A., Raley J., Peng W., Occa A., McFarlane S.J., Krieger J., Potter J.E (in press). Assessing communication practice during clinical trial recruitment and consent: The Clinical Trial Communication Inventory (CTCI). In M. Prostran (Ed.) Clinical trials in vulnerable populations. InTech.

L.S., Rangelov N., Schmeil A., Occa A. , Bardus M., Radchuk O., & Dianat S., (2013). “E-Health Services.” In International Encyclopedia of Digital Communication & Society, edited by Wiley-Blackwell (PUBLISHED).

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” ― Ernest Hemingway

Research projects

My research is focused on advancing practical and theoretical knowledge in the area of health communication and intervention design. I analyze how cancer patients and physicians or clinical staff communicate about cancer treatment or the opportunity to join clinical trials. I study the functioning mechanisms of multimedia strategies (animations, infographics, videos, games...) and message features such narratives and evocative visual images. I adopt a multidisciplinary approach and I collaborate with experts and with the individuals to which the interventions are directed. I use qualitative, quantitative, and participatory methods. Below you can find information and links to the most recent research projects I have worked on.


Teaching is one of the most exciting parts of my job. The most rewarding moment of the semester is when I see my students connect all the information learned through the course and reformulate those ideas to create their own projects. In my perspective, this is learning: being able to question and find meaningful answers. To help my students succeed, I adopt multiple educational strategies and resources, and I introduce new stimuli and updated materials each semester. I do not have a single recipe to keep students' engagement high. Each session is flexible and responsive to the distinctive vibe of the class. My students know that I expect a lot from them. They also know that I am always available to answer questions, review drafts, develop a study plan, or explain concepts again. In my office they will always find a chocolate and a smile. We work together on their education, as a team.

These are the courses that I have taught and/or that I am teaching in this academic year:

  • COM 471 Introduction to Health Communication (University of Kentucky)
  • COM 482 Studies in Persuasion (University of Kentucky)


  • COS 343 Introduction to Intercultural Communication (University of Miami)
  • COS 427 Health Behavior and Risk (University of Miami)
  • COS 472 Persuasion (University of Miami)

"I am a planner, not just a dreamer"

-Aurora Occa

what I can provide

If you are a healthcare professional, manager, journalist, or student, this is the section for you. These are just some examples of the services and activities I can provide to you or consult you about.

Message design

If you are a physician, NGO organization, or company, I can help you developing messages to make your scientific content interesting, credible, and valuable.

Medical education

I conduct training programs to help healthcare professionals to communicate with their patients. You will improve your skills and better help your patients to digest complex information and adhere to treatments.


To educate individuals on health and prevention; to improve consumption of healthy foods; to talk about vaccines; to persuade people stop smoking, use condoms - I will create for you a media campaign or health intervention. From A to Z.

Patient engagement

There's no need to run away from tough conversations! I can help you open meaningful dialogue with your patients, establishing a connection and building trust.

Scientific writing

You need to catch individuals' attention but the information is very complex? I can write news articles and social media posts for your media outlet. Also, I can provide you with insights on how to read and write peer-reviewed articles in a professional manner.

Organizational Health Programs

Would you like to implement a health or science education program for your school, organization, or office? Let's schedule a meeting!

Digital services

Animations, games, infographics, mobile apps for your campaign? I can develop and evaluate the most adequate digital service for your needs.

Business communication & marketing

To improve your image, presence, and most importantly communication - essential components to provide high quality services and improve patients' and healthcare professionals' satisfaction.

My work process








My Blog

This blog represents a collection of the information and the news that affect my working life. Since in Italy health communication is a field still in its infancy, I have decided to include some posts in Italian with the purpose to support the development of this amazing area of research. Questo blog rappresenta una raccolta delle informazioni e delle notizie che piu’ mi colpiscono nel lavoro di ogni giorno. Alcuni posts sono in Italiano, con lo scopo di supportare il diffondersi di questo affascinate campo di ricerca anche nel mio Paese, dove e' ancora poco conosciuto.



Posted by Aurora |18 May 18 | 0 comments

Quello che si vede in questa foto è un momento di gioia e soddisfazione. Quello che non si vede, ma si può immaginare, sono gli anni di sacrifici, ansia, numerosi

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NCA 2016 in Philadelphia

NCA 2016 in Philadelphia

Posted by Aurora |23 Nov 16 | 0 comments

A big thank you to all my collaborators and mentors. A special thank you to Dr. Susan E. Morgan, for her invaluable guidance, enthusiasm, and support. Go Canes! The National

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Tutti gli errori della campagna #fertilityday

Posted by Aurora |22 Nov 16 | 0 comments

#FertilityDay – Parte II

Posted by Aurora |22 Sep 16 | 0 comments

Qualche osservazione tecnica sul nuovo materiale presentato dal Ministero della Salute per il #FertilityDay, per chi fosse interessato. 1) Dopo lo scandalo e l’attenzione ricevuta dalle prima cartoline, sarebbe stato

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#Fertility day: una campagna sbagliata

#Fertility day: una campagna sbagliata

Posted by Aurora |02 Sep 16 | 1 comments

Oggi su “La Repubblica” nella sezione commenti a pg. 28 e’ stato pubblicato un estratto dalla lettera che ho inviato al Ministro Lorenzin riguardo la campagna #FertilityDay. Qui di seguito

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Posted by Aurora |24 May 16 | 0 comments

Ciao a tutti! Come avrete modo di osservare dai post pubblicati, in questo blog parliamo molto di salute e comunicazione, o piu’ precisamente, di comunicazione per la salute. Ma che

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Contact me

Please stay in touch...and follow my work!



  • +1 786 503 5997

  • 5100 Brunson Dr. Coral Gables, Florida 33146