Mercy College of Health Sciences 17th Annual Research Symposium: Immigrant and Refugee Journeys - Healthcare Issues and Opportunities

Des Moines, IA US
April 8, 2024


There is no cost to attend. All healthcare professionals are invited to participate. 

Two participation options.

  1. On-site at Mercy College of Health Sciences
  2. Online

Before enrolling in this educational activity, you must log in or create an account

If you have questions about the Symposium, please contact Dr. Ryan Marr, Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, at or 515-643-6679.


Mercy College’s 17th Annual Research Symposium will provide education and facilitate discussion on immigrant and refugee healthcare in the United States among a diverse group of medical professionals and members of the general public.

The immigrant and refugee healthcare experience in the United States is a pressing issue. Symposium presenters will address several knowledge gaps that should be addressed to understand better this complex problem: healthcare disparities, cultural awareness, economic barriers, and insufficient staffing.

By addressing these gaps in knowledge, healthcare professionals can better understand the issues and improve patient care for immigrants and refugees, ultimately leading to better health outcomes.

Educational Need

Immigration and refugee resettlement in the United States are pressing issues. Seeking justice in these areas is sometimes hampered by biases held within the general public. Several knowledge gaps should be addressed to understand better this complex problem: healthcare disparities, cultural awareness, economic barriers, trauma-informed care, and insufficient staffing. By addressing these gaps in knowledge, healthcare professionals can better understand the issues and improve patient care for immigrants and refugees, ultimately leading to better health outcomes. 

Learning Objectives

  1. Describe current trends in providing healthcare for immigrants and refugees.
  2. Identify the cultural barriers to competent care.
  3. Describe key factors that prohibit access to care.
  4. Evaluate the resources that are available for meeting immigrant- and refugee-specific needs.
  5. Discuss the importance of collaboration between physicians, communities, and social service agencies in developing strategies to care for immigrant and refugee populations.


12:00 pm

Poster Viewing and Registration

1:00 pm

Ecosystemic Factors Impacting Equitable Access to Healthcare Services Among Immigrants and Survivors of Forced Migration

Amaya Alexandra Ramos (Alexandra), MSW, CPH, MA
Project Associate, Culturally Responsive Services, American Public Human Services Association

This session will examine how specific circumstances and exposures in the migration experience, systemic limitations within the national and international healthcare regimes, and other factors within the broader U.S. social service environment converge to reduce foreign-born populations’ access to equitable healthcare. Among foreign-born groups, specific demographic subsets, such as survivors of forced migration, as well as trafficking, violence, and torture survivors, are particularly vulnerable to health inequities. These inequities and their intergenerational dimensions can further impact social ascent, economic mobility, emotional health, and overall well-being. Disparities in access and health-seeking experiences, healthcare system learning needs, possible systemic interventions, and areas for continued advocacy are identified and discussed.

2:00 pm

Break and Poster Viewing

2:20 pm

Supporting Immigrants and Refugees Along Their Journeys

Vilma Bramasco, ARNP
Family Nurse Practitioner, Proteus 

Emily Mendez
Director of Development, Proteus 

Sara Zejnic, MA
Deputy Director of Programs, International Rescue Committee

This session will discuss the unique challenges and opportunities in delivering healthcare to migrant, immigrant, and refugee farmworkers in Iowa. By examining the intersection of cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic factors, they will share reflections and strategies on increasing equitable access to healthcare services, addressing barriers to care, and promoting preventative healthcare among farmworkers and their families.

3:15 pm


3:30 pm

The Immigrant and Refugee Healthcare Journey: Issues and Opportunities, In Focus

Stephanie Moris, BA (Moderator)
Director, Refugee Alliance of Central Iowa

Carly Ross, BA
Executive Director, Dental Connections

Jodi Bowden-Fuentes, BA
Program Coordinator, Latinas Unidas Por Un Nuevo Amanecer

Barwaqo Aden, BS
Assistant Director, Nisaa African Family Services

Following the enlightening presentations in sessions 1 and 2, the Symposium will close with a panel moderated by Stephanie Moris, Director of the Refugee Alliance of Central Iowa. This interactive segment will delve deeper into the nuances of healthcare inequities among foreign-born populations and the challenges and strategies associated with delivering healthcare services to immigrant and refugee communities. Participants are invited to inquire about specific case studies and explore potential avenues for collaboration and advocacy.

4:20 pmQuestion and Answer Session
4:30 pm


    Course summary
    Available credit: 
    • 3.00 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits
    • 3.00 AOA Category 2­A
    • 3.00 CE Contact Hour(s)
    • 3.00 IBON
    Course opens: 
    Course expires: 
    Event starts: 
    04/08/2024 - 1:00pm CDT
    Event ends: 
    04/08/2024 - 4:30pm CDT
    Mercy College of Health Sciences
    928 6th Ave.
    Sullivan Center, Room 102
    Des Moines, IA 50309
    United States

    Barwaqo Aden, BS

    Barwaqo is the Assistant Director at Nisaa African Family Services, an organization that serves survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in African communities in Iowa. Barwaqo is a Somali-American who grew up in Kenya and is dedicated to serving African communities.  She has been an advocate at Nisaa since 2014 and through her role she overseas, implement projects and conducts community outreach. She is also responsible for organizing education programming, conducting trainings, and supervising advocates. Barwaqo has previously volunteered with immigrant populations in South Africa and the United States. Barwaqo is passionate about women’s global health and empowerment projects. She is a graduate from the University of Phoenix with a Bachelor of Science in Business Human Resources and a concentration in Global Management. When she is not working or giving back to her community, Barwaqo enjoys reading, cooking, and spending time with loved ones.

    Jodi Bowden-Fuentes, BA

    Jodi is the Domestic Violence Program Coordinator at Latinas Unidas por un Nuevo Amanecer (L.U.N.A). Jodi began working with survivors of gender-based violence as a Bilingual Shelter Advocate at Children and Families of Iowa, Domestic Violence Services. In that role, she had the opportunity to work closely with the Latino community and gain a practical understanding of immigration law, as well as extensive knowledge related to working with survivors as they navigate recovery from their victimizations. She received her Associate's Degree in Communications and a Bachelor of Science in Human Services Management from the University of Phoenix. Jodi's educational background focused on trauma-informed interventions, diversity and cultural competency, and women’s issues.

    Vilma Bramasco, ARNP

    Vilma is the Health Clinical Director at Proteus, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that provides job training, health care, and education assistance to agricultural workers in Iowa, Nebraska, and Indiana. She and her husband enjoy watching their son participate in sporting activities.

    Amaya Alexandra Ramos (Alexandra), MSW, CPH, MA

    Alexandra is an interdisciplinary researcher focusing on mental/public health programming for survivors of forced migration, torture, and targeted violence. Committed to bridging the gap between research and practice, Alexandra advocates for ethnography as a vehicle for institutional learning, enforcing human rights, and furthering equitable access to integrated health systems. Multilingual and proficient in all levels of engagement, she has supported humanitarian and development efforts from direct service provision through to administration for global bodies, including national and international: psychosocial program design and related research; crisis stabilization; immigration policy alignment; communications; monitoring and evaluation; education; and curriculum development. Alexandra has also worked in anti-human trafficking, post-disaster gender-based violence, and infectious disease research.

    Certified in Public health, Alexandra holds master's degrees in Social Work, International Affairs (Middle Eastern and modern languages emphasis), and Music (Ethnomusicology emphasis). Her regional specialization is working with Persian-speaking populations and the broader Middle East/Central Asian regions. In addition to her research and social services work, Alexandra is a lifelong visual and performing artist who seeks to incorporate the arts into holistic human rights practice.

    Alexandra is the founder and Chair of HazRav, a non-profit displacement health/mental health research organization and information-sharing professional network that supports integrated well-being for humanitarian beneficiaries and their providers and advocates by mobilizing and synthesizing diverse sources of knowledge across various interconnected sectors. Alexandra also holds an adjunct position teaching graduate coursework in Diversity and Social Justice at the University of South Florida’s School of Social Work.

    Emily Mendez

    Emily has dedicated her career to public health initiatives, particularly supporting and working with immigrant and refugee communities. With experience spanning maternal child health, mental health, oral health, and primary care, she has worked at Al Razi Academy, Catholic Charities, EveryStep, and Dental Connections. Currently serving as Director of Development at Proteus, Inc., Emily raises funds to ensure healthcare access for marginalized individuals, including immigrants and refugees. A graduate of Central College in Pella, IA, she serves on the Board of Directors for the Iowa Rural Health Association and as the Membership Chair for the Latino Trade Network.

    Stephanie Moris, BA

    Stephanie is the Director of the Refugee Alliance of Central Iowa.  She has been involved with the Alliance since 2013 and has worked with refugee and immigrant communities in education, employment, and wrap-around direct case management before joining RACI.  Stephanie obtained a Bachelor of Arts from Iowa State University after living in the Dominican Republic, where she met her husband. Outside of work Stephanie is very passionate about empowering our refugee and immigrant communities, immigration rights, and connecting our community. She volunteers as a mentor and teaches Spanish. She is a mother of two and loves creating art, reading, hiking, and swimming.

    Carly Ross, BA

    Carly is the Executive Director of Dental Connections, a private, non-profit community health center focused on providing dental care to all. Carly is also a public member of the Iowa Board of Dentistry. Carly has an extensive background working with the refugee and immigrant population in Des Moines. From 2015 to 2019, she was the Field Office Director for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. In this role, she also served on the Steering Committee of the Refugee Alliance of Central Iowa. Previously, she worked in East Africa for a non-governmental organization contracted by the U.S. State Department to help determine refugee eligibility for resettlement to the United States. Prior, she worked as a refugee resettlement case manager for Lutheran Services in Iowa, coordinating their high-need medical programs. She has a graduate degree from the Asian Institute of Technology, where she researched race and equity in Thai society.

    Sara Zejnic, MA

    Sara is the Deputy Director of Programs for the International Rescue Committee (IRC). She is responsible for leading the design and implementation of all direct service programs in the IRC Iowa office; including programming focused on refugee resettlement, economic empowerment, support to Ethnic and Community-Based Organizations (ECBOs) to deliver education and youth services, and health initiatives.


    • MD: This activity has been planned and implemented in accordance with the accreditation requirements and policies of the Iowa Medical Society (IMS) through the joint providership of Des Moines University Medicine and Health Sciences (DMU) and Mercy College of Health Sciences. DMU is accredited by IMS to provide continuing medical education for physicians. DMU designates this live activity for a maximum of 3.0 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)™.  Physicians should only claim credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. 
    • DO: Des Moines University Medicine and Health Sciences (DMU) is accredited by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) to provide osteopathic continuing medical education for physicians. DMU designates this program for a maximum of 3.0 AOA Category 2-A credits and will report CME and specialty credits commensurate with the extent of the physician’s participation in this activity.
    • Nurse: Des Moines University Medicine and Health Sciences is Iowa Board of Nursing approved provider #112. This live activity has been reviewed and approved for 3.0 continuing education contact hour(s). Nurses must attend the entire session to receive credit. Partial session credit is prohibited and will be forfeited.
    • Other Health Professionals: This live activity is designated for a maximum of 3.0 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)™.


    No ineligible company provided financial support for this continuing education activity. 


    The speaker(s) will disclose if any pharmaceuticals, medical procedures, and devices discussed are investigational or unapproved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The determination of educational content and the selection of speakers is the responsibility of the activity director. 

    Relevant to the content of this educational activity, the following individuals have no conflict(s) with ineligible companies to disclose.

    • Barwaqo Aden, BS - Speaker
    • Victor Babich, PhD, PMP - Planning Committee Member
    • Jodi Bowden-Fuentes, BA - Speaker
    • Vilma Bramasco, ARNP - Speaker
    • Archana Indira, MD - Planning Committee Member
    • Linda Knowles - Planning Committee Member
    • Ryan "Bud" Marr, PhD - Activity Director and Planning Committee Member
    • Jeanine Matz, PhD - Planning Committee Member
    • Emily Mendez - Speaker
    • Rita Million, PhD, RN, CNE, COI - Planning Committee Member
    • Joseph Moravec, DMin - Activity Coordinator and Planning Committee Member
    • Stephanie Moris, BA - Moderator
    • Amaya Alexandra Ramos, MSW - Speaker
    • Carly Ross, BA - Speaker
    • Adrienne St. Clair, MHS, RDMS, RDCS, RVT - Planning Committee Member
    • Rebecca Steidl, PhD - Planning Committee Member
    • Jennifer Wing, DNP, MSN-Ed, RN - Planning Committee Member
    • Sara Zejnic, MA - Speaker


    The information provided in this activity is for continuing education purposes only. It is not a substitute for a healthcare provider's independent medical judgment regarding diagnostic and treatment options for a specific patient's medical condition. The content of this educational offering does not reflect the views of Des Moines University Medicine and Health Sciences.

    Available Credit

    • 3.00 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits
    • 3.00 AOA Category 2­A
    • 3.00 CE Contact Hour(s)
    • 3.00 IBON


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