By Sofia Estevez
Originally from Ceriano Laghetto, a small town just outside of Milan, Italy, Aurora Occa has certainly traveled and accomplished plenty throughout her collegiate career.
Aside from the School of Communication’s top-notch Ph.D. program and varied resources, Occa fell in love with the school’s culture and compatibility with her interests. In May, she will graduate with a Ph.D. in Communication.
Occa’s focus for her degree is on health communication, particularly on encouraging individuals to participate in clinical trials, understand trial expectations, and effectively communicate with physicians. Occa has also worked to guide physicians to successfully communicate available opportunities to participate in clinical trials. Her other scholarly interests include developing cancer prevention campaigns and effective methods in communicating with stage-four cancer patients.
Occa’s passion and know-how reached its largest audience yet following the launch of Italy’s Fertility Day campaign in 2016.
“The topic [of fertility] is very important. It definitely deserved a campaign to educate people about the issue, but it was poorly planned and written,” said Occa.
The fertility campaign focused on guilt appeal, blaming couples for having children late, women for concentrating too much on careers, and failed to acknowledge fathers. The campaign failed to recognize issues contributing to low birth rates such as high unemployment and low wages.
“I remember it was a Tuesday,” said Occa. “I wrote a letter to the [health] minister saying the campaign was important, but poorly done and identified how to improve the problems.”
She sent her letter to the health ministry and various Italian newspapers. People in Italy reacted positively to the letter and shared it on Facebook, leading to Italian national network, Omnibus, picking up the story. Soon after, Omnibus asked Occa to participate in its morning program.
“It gave me the chance to explain what I’d written in the letter,” said Occa. “It was my first television appearance. It was a very nice experience.”
However, Occa didn’t write the letter with the expectation of appearing on television. Her passion for effective health communication drove her.
“In Italy, health communication isn’t really a field of research, which is a reason why I came to the United States,” said Occa. “I felt it was my moral duty to try to help.”
After graduation, Occa began her new chapter as an assistant professor on tenure track at the University of Kentucky teaching Introduction to Health Communication and Persuasion to undergraduate students.
Reflecting on Occa’s achievements, we’re certain she’ll spark a similar passion in her students for bettering health communication worldwide.