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Featured Profile: Suellen Hopfer, PhD, CGC

Suellen Hopfer, PhD, CGC Photo

Dr. Suellen Hopfer is an Assistant Professor in the Program of Public Health at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). 

Dr. Hopfer is board certified in medical genetics and worked as a genetic counselor for eight years in Southern California (at UCLA in the Neurology Department and at Cedars-Sinai in prenatal care) and in Arizona (on the Indian reservations, with Mexican border town populations, and at the AZ cancer center). 

Dr. Hopfer received her PhD in health communication from Pennsylvania State University where she received training in health message design and designing effective public health interventions. During her graduate training she was awarded a CDC public health fellowship that enabled her to develop a narrative-based video intervention that nearly doubled HPV vaccination rates in a randomized controlled trial. Dr. Hopfer continued her training at Penn State as a post doctorate fellow over two years at the Methodology Center learning additional quantitative skills for evaluating longitudinal data, identifying latent subgroups, and modeling network data as is relevant for designing effective prevention interventions. Dr. Hopfer subsequently spent 7 months in Heidelberg, Germany consulting with the first cancer prevention clinic in Germany and learning about the public health effects of climate change. Dr. Hopfer has also worked for and consulted with REAL Prevention, a leading prevention company. Dr. Hopfer has just returned to Southern California to begin her position as assistant professor and researcher at UCI in public health (and she’s very excited). 

Current research of Dr. Hopfer emphasizes public health communication in the areas of vaccine communication, communicating the uncertainties of genomic information, and the complexities of climate change as it relates to bringing about positive behavior change. She teaches mixed methods courses, risk communication, and health communication theory. 

Dr. Hopfer’s expertise is in health message design, designing effective prevention interventions and applying novel, advanced statistical methods to answer prevention questions that might otherwise not be answered (e.g, latent class analysis, time varying effects models, network analyses) as well as applying narrative inquiry to uncover implicit assumptions when discussing health decision-making.


What aspects of the program can be adapted without it losing its effectiveness? Are there specific audiences (beyond those included in the research study) that you feel this program could be adapted for? Any that it shouldn’t be adapted for?

The location and context of delivery of the video intervention can easily be adapted without  losing its effectiveness. Of note, I am submitting an NIH grant proposal at this time that will use a multiphase optimization strategy (MOST) to test which combination of the 5 narrative intervention components (content) are necessary to maintain the program's effectiveness. 

The program could be adapted for:

  • Underserved and minority young adult women (we are working on that right now with a funded grant to adapt the program for underserved, African-American muslim women)
  • Migrant women, Asian-American women, Latina women 

The intervention can not be adapted for men and for girls aged 9-17. Different messages would need to be designed to reach these audiences.  We are working on designing messages for these audiences.

What do you view as the facilitators to implementation? What might be some challenges?

Administering the intervention in a time-sensitive manner. Ideally, the intervention is best viewed shortly before having a clinic visit (immediately prior, days or a week or two prior to a clinic visit is ideal, maximum time for intervention is within 1-2 months prior to a clinic visit). 

Challenges to implementing the intervention: Ensuring that the target audience pays attention and watches the entire video intervention. 

Do you have suggestions for questions that practitioners should include when they evaluate the adaptation/implementation of your program? Do you have specific evaluation tools that would be appropriate for practitioners when they evaluate this program?

For practitioners evaluating this intervention I think it would be helpful to measure not only intent to vaccinate and vaccination behavior, but also whether the intervention prompts discussion with providers or family about HPV vaccination and whether the intervention itself is engaging. (Please contact us for narrative engagement measure which includes questions about whether audiences like the video, found it interesting, relevant, realistic, could identify with what was being said.)

What is your current research focused on?

My current research program focuses on designing effective communication strategies for (a) vaccine communication (including understanding vaccination refusal and resistance), (b) climate change communication, and (c ) communication the uncertainties inherent in receiving genetic health information. Common across these 3 content areas is the inherent uncertainties and complexities that accompany health decision-making behaviors. Additionally, i am involved in health message design and designing effective public health interventions related to these areas for bringing about positive health behavior change.  

Updated: 01/13/2020 03:33:30