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Celebrating Innovators in Migrant Health: Past Winners of the Kugel & Zuroweste Health Justice Award

Past Winners of the Kugel & Zuroweste Award

In the world of migrant health, there are remarkable individuals who have dedicated their careers to making a difference, often without the recognition they truly deserve. The Kugel & Zuroweste Health Justice Award offered by Migrant Clinicians Network (MCN) aims to shine a spotlight on these unsung heroes, recognizing their exceptional contributions to the field. The award is named after MCN’s own Candace Kugel, FNP, CNM, MS and Founding Medical Director Ed Zuroweste, MD. This week, to announce the opening of applications for the 2024 Kugel-Zuroweste Health Justice Award, we celebrate the previous winners of this prestigious award—Caroline Bachelder Johnson, FNP, Paulina Segovia, PA-C, RDN, and Emanie Dorival, CRNP. Their stories and quotes inspire us to continue the quest for health justice for all.

Caroline Bachelder Johnson: Bridging Gaps and Fostering Empathy

Caroline Bachelder Johnson, FNP, the inaugural recipient of the Kugel & Zuroweste Health Justice Award, won while serving as the Clinical Director at Proteus, Inc., a health center in Iowa. With the dawning of the pandemic, Johnson spearheaded a strategy of cooperative coordination between local leaders, farmers, and agricultural workers that contained the spread with rapid testing and expedient quarantining. Her tireless efforts in bridging health care gaps during the onset of COVID-19 motivated several of her colleagues to collaborate on nominating her for the award.

Her pandemic management strategy proved to be so successful that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consulted with her to adopt the protocols as a “Best Practices” guide for other agricultural hot zones throughout the country, a move that helped slow the spread of COVID-19 and save countless lives.

“When you look at what she accomplished, she was just such a stand-out choice,” Dr. Zuroweste recalled. “Her leadership skills, especially. She just jumped off the page as the person we wanted.”

Upon receiving her award—and the $1,000 cash prize—Johnson opted to take a short vacation with her husband and their young son before returning to work with a renewed sense of purpose. Describing Kugel and Dr. Zuroweste as mentors, she credits them with helping to redirect her passion toward the frontlines, particularly integrating listening and empathy in her clinical work.

"Every patient has a unique story, and by listening with empathy, we not only address their physical needs but also their emotional well-being,” she explained. “This is where true health justice begins."

Johnson recently left Proteus, Inc. after accepting a new position, and is excited to continue advocating for her patients in a different environment. She has also served on the selection committee for subsequent Kugel & Zuroweste Health Justice Awards and looks forward to taking part in selecting this year’s candidate as well.

Paulina Segovia: Advocate for Vulnerable Communities

Selected as the second winner of the Kugel & Zuroweste Health Justice Award, Paulina Segovia, PA-C, RDN, of Tepeyac Community Health Center, has been a passionate advocate for vulnerable migrant communities, particularly women and children. Segovia is the daughter of Mexican immigrants, who were themselves the children of Italian immigrants. Segovia’s paternal grandmother was among the first class of women to graduate from medical school in Mexico.

“As a first-generation American born to immigrant parents, it is so important to advocate for immigrants and for individuals that need access to health care,” she said.

Impressed by her dedication to public health and popularity with patients, the clinic invited her to participate in an unprecedented second rotation. From there, Tepeyac eventually extended an offer of employment to Segovia, and during her second year, nominated her for the Kugel & Zuroweste Health Justice Award.

“Paulina’s story was really moving, in a way that I will never forget,” Laszlo Madaras, MD, MPH, MCN’s Chief Medical Officer, said. “Like Paulina, my grandfather was also a doctor, and medicine a family calling. Her determination to continue with that made an impression.”

Since receiving her award, Segovia has done some traveling, including to the lands of her ancestors. Additionally, she served on the most recent selection committee for the Kugel & Zuroweste Health Justice Award. Her work is never far from her mind, however, and she has continued to largely prioritize spending her time at the clinic.

"My work is not just a job; it's a calling. When we empower the most vulnerable among us with access to health care, we uplift entire communities,” she said. “To me, health justice means working for those that don’t have a seat at the table even when it can be so difficult and challenging. Health justice is fighting for the ones that have been silenced."

Emanie Dorival: Championing Cultural Competence

Emanie Dorival, CRNP, the most recent recipient of the Kugel & Zuroweste Health Justice Award, has been at the forefront of promoting cultural competence in health care delivery. Reeling from racism which threatened to stymie her career, and likewise disturbed at the lack of bilingual, bicultural providers capable of connecting with the large population of migrants, immigrants, and asylum-seekers in her region, Dorival decided to focus on developing solutions by founding Ephphatha Medical Care Services.

Located in Seaford, Delaware, Dorival began providing services just as the pandemic began to aggressively force many young businesses, including medical practices, to permanently shutter their doors—an outcome Dorival refused to entertain. Instead of closing Ephphatha, Dorival dug into her own pockets to keep the clinic operational, skipping out on taking a paycheck for more than two years.

“She sacrificed so that others would not go without,” Kugel said. “That is quite the testament to her dedication.”

Her frugality allowed for Ephphatha Medical Care Services to open a second location in Salisbury, Maryland due to the sheer volume of patients critically in need. Since being named as the 2023 recipient of the Kugel & Zuroweste Health Justice Award, Dorival has continued to work diligently on behalf of her patients. However, she continues to struggle with the financial consequences of going without during the height of the COVID pandemic. Married to a pastor and the mother of a daughter with special needs, Dorival’s worries are far from over; funding the clinic’s operations drained her life savings. The financial pressure is unrelenting.

Despite this, Dorival has no plans to hang up her stethoscope; the work is too important.

"Cultural competence is not an option; it's a necessity,” she said. “To truly serve migrant populations, we must acknowledge their unique cultural perspectives and integrate them into our care. It's about treating patients as whole individuals."

Their Legacy and Ongoing Impact

The stories of Johnson, Segovia, and Dorival serve as powerful reminders of the difference one person can make in the world of migrant health. These clinicians have not only saved lives but have also ignited a spark of inspiration in others to join the fight for health justice.

“What really stands out to me about each winner is the drive to make such a significant impact from a place of resilience,” Dr. Madaras said. “They have such moving stories because these are clinicians with a lot of heart and strength, with the ability to say, ‘OK, I’ve failed, but that doesn’t define me.’ They take the struggles of life’s slings and arrows in stride and keep moving forward, which displays the strengths we were looking for.”

The Kugel & Zuroweste Health Justice Award recognizes and celebrates unsung heroes like these, ensuring that their work does not go unnoticed. Their paths serve as beacons of hope, guiding us toward a more equitable healthcare system for all, regardless of their background or status.

As we look to the future, let us draw inspiration from these past winners and redouble our efforts to ensure that health justice is a reality for everyone. Each one of us has the power to make a difference, and together, we can create a world where access to health care knows no boundaries. That’s why MCN is once again accepting applications for the next rising star clinician making a difference at the frontlines. Nominations are open now.