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2023 Kugel & Zuroweste Health Justice Award Winner, Deysi Merino-Gonzalez: Going Full Circle

2023 KZ Award Recipient

Migrant Clinicians Network (MCN) is proud to announce Deysi Merino-Gonzalez as the 2023 recipient of the prestigious Kugel & Zuroweste Health Justice Award.

Named after Candace Kugel, FNP, CNM, MS, former Specialist of Clinical Systems and Women’s Health, and Ed Zuroweste, MD, Founding Medical Director, the Kugel & Zuroweste Health Justice Award recognizes early-career clinicians making an impact at the intersections of vulnerability, migration, and health.

Deysi with a team supporting the community

“Deysi clearly personifies the criteria we look for in a recipient of the Kugel & Zuroweste Health Justice Award,” said Kugel and Dr. Zuroweste. “She has been recognized as a ‘rising star’—being rapidly promoted multiple times... In addition, her personal and family background includes direct experience performing farm work, an experience that has no doubt informed her commitment to health care justice for agricultural workers.”

Merino-Gonzalez, born in Oaxaca, Mexico, remembers tending to vegetables alongside her parents and doing her best to receive an education in an area with few resources. When her father, who was also a farmworker in Carlsbad, California, offered the chance to move the entire family to the United States in the hope of providing her education, Merino-Gonzalez leapt at the opportunity. Though it was often difficult, she persevered and graduated from California State University, San Marcos in 2015. She started at Vista Community Clinic in 2020, as a Community Health Specialist, and rose quickly to her current position as the Program Manager for Migrant Health and Outreach.

Deysi providing food and resources to the community

In 2021, she revisited the farm in Carlsbad where her father worked and lived years ago. “I go back to that place, as VCC staff providing access to the COVID-19 vaccine. For me, that was like a full circle experience,” Merino-Gonzalez said. Recalling her father, she added, "I’m meant to be here. He is my reason why I do the work that I do.”

“Over the years [Deysi] has exemplified what this award stands for: courage, compassion, and health justice,” commented Michelle Sevilla, MA, Director of Community Outreach at Vista Community Clinic. “Her unique experience has helped improve the development of outreach tools, program forms, health education, promotional materials, and program implementation at our agency when working with our community of agricultural workers.”

Sevilla nominated Merino-Gonzalez for the award, recognizing her dedication and impact.

Deysi and team that work to support community.

“The valuable insight that she brings has also been noticed by our partners working with agricultural workers and has helped strengthen those partnerships to continue to address health disparities and expand access to health care,” Sevilla added. “It is an honor and privilege to work with such a wonderful person with her level of passion and commitment to health justice and serving marginalized communities.”

The two finalists for the award were Maggie Eckerstorfer, Operations Manager and Lead Coordinator for the University of Minnesota Mobile Health Initiative, and Chiara Izquierdo, Community Health Worker for the Dorchester County Health Department. “Every year I believe the applicants get more deserving and our job as reviewers gets harder,” stated Karen Mountain, RN, MSN, MBA, Founding Chief Executive Officer of Migrant Clinicians Network, and member of the Award selection committee.

Dr. Zuroweste added, “This year was very difficult.”

Deysi and team receiving an award

As the recipient of the Kugel & Zuroweste Health Justice Award, Merino-Gonzalez will receive a gift in the amount of $1,000, as well as considerable recognition across MCN’s network of partners, collaborators, and constituents. A virtual ceremony acknowledging the finalists and honoring Merino-Gonzalez’s accomplishments will be hosted January 30. Those interested in participating are encouraged to request a formal invitation by emailing before January 26.

Here's a moment from an interview MCN had with Deysi: