5th Annual Culturally Responsive Health Care in Iowa

Since 2014, the University of Iowa has sponsored a collaborative conference, bringing together members of the College of Public Health (CPH), the Carver College of Medicine (CCOM), the College of Nursing, and other community-based stakeholder organizations. The organizers’ goal each year has been to tackle one of the most pressing issues in health care, one that stretches across all diseases, conditions, and concerns. How can providers ensure that everyone receives access to the health care they need, that produces the best outcomes? This does not necessarily mean making sure everyone gets the same kind of health care.

Each year since, under the direction of Sherree Wilson, PhD, Associate Dean for Cultural Affairs and Diversity Issues in CCOM, the conference has invited a cross-section of providers—from physicians to nurses to social workers—with insight into removing barriers to equal outcomes to discuss what has worked or what changes should be made.

Mark Grey, PhD, and Michele Devlin, DrPH, led the day off with a keynote on the changing demographics in Iowa and how health care in the state will need to adapt. This was followed by a presentation from Polly Olsen, longtime advocate for indigenous people’s rights and current Tribal Liaison with the Washington State Museum of Natural History & Culture. Ms. Olsen’s experience as executive director of the Association of American Indian Physicians has positioned her well to discuss the many factors that a provider should consider.

Moderated by the Division of Nephrology & Hypertension’s Lama Noureddine, MD, a panel composed of John Warren, DDS, MS; Sean Bear I, BA, CADC; and Nicole E. Peterson, DNP, ARNP, went into even more detail about the relationship between native cultures and modern Western medicine, down to even the multiple meanings of the word “medicine” itself. The audience were also afforded plenty of opportunity to ask questions and get clarification on a variety of situations and specifics on how to connect with the community in order to overcome barriers to care.


After a lunch in the well-lit atrium of the UI College of Public Health Building, attendees could choose from three different breakout sesssion, two of which featured Internal Medicine members, among others. Providers in the AIDS/HIV Clinic, including the Division of Infectious Diseases’ Poorani Sekar, MD, discussed caring for people diagnosed with HIV, including how they provide access to social services and counseling. This panel also featured people living with an HIV diagnosis, and attendees expressed gratitude for getting to hear directly about what compassionate care actually looks like. Nicole Nisly, MD, director of the LGBTQ Clinic and member of General Internal Medicine, gave one of three presentations on treating incarcerated populations. A third breakout session covered innovations in integrated devices for communicating with people with disabilities.


The Culturally Responsive Health Care in Iowa conference covered a broad spectrum of spectrum of populations without giving any one group addressed too little attention. The rest of the afternoon focused in on individuals living with opioid addiction, both with a presentation from Washington University psychiatrist Theodore Cicero, PhD, as well as a panel of local experts, moderated by Department of Emergency Medicine’s Christopher Buresh, MD, MPH.

Members of University of Iowa Health Care continuously seek out multidisciplinary solutions to seemingly intractable problems. Events such as this day-long focus, featuring conversations between people who might normally approach a person in need from opposite ends of the health care continuum, not only show that “whole-patient care” is more than just a marketing phrase, but how future collaborations can be fostered.


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