Our member spotlights are on Miller Celestin (pictured top) and Anisha Rimal (pictured bottom), who are developing a mentorship program called Finding Affinity and Mentorship (FAM) for BIPOC nursing and medical students at the University of Vermont (UVM). FAM aims to enhance students’ sense of belonging within the UVM community, while also creating mentorship clusters that facilitate repeated interaction and relationship building.
Miller Celestin (he/him) is a nursing professor at the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at UVM and works in the Emergency Department in UVMMC as a registered nurse. He is currently based in South Burlington and has lived in Vermont for 2 years.
Anisha Rimal (she/her) is a Pediatric Physician at the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine. She is currently based in Burlington and has lived in Vermont for over 2 years.
Tell us a bit about your background before arriving in VT.
Miller: I have been a nurse for 10 years and worked in NYC and Chicago prior to coming to VT. I was born in Haiti and grew up in Brooklyn, NY. I moved to VT to take a teaching position at UVM.
Anisha: I moved to Vermont to start a new position as a Pediatric Physician (Hospitalist) at UVMMC, and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine. I was motivated to move to Vermont for the natural beauty, the opportunity to live in a lively college town, and I was also very excited to serve a large Nepali/Bhutanese population, having been born in Nepali myself and a Nepali speaker.
Why are you a member of the Vermont Professionals of Color Network?
Miller: I am a member of VT PoC because of the community it provides for to BIPOC people in the state. VT is less diverse than other places I have lived, and while it is welcoming, I feel that an affinity space is important for community building and increasing sense of belonging.
Anisha: VT PoC does incredible work fostering community and connection in Vermont, I am proud to be a member!
What do you enjoy about living in Vermont? What do you enjoy about working in Vermont?
Miller: I enjoy the free space that my son has to play and run around in. I enjoy my job as a professor at UVM and also working in the Emergency Department at UVMMC. Both have excellent teams to work with and I am happy to have had my start in academia at UVM.
Anisha: I enjoy the natural beauty, the quiet (you can really hear yourself think!) and the intimacy of a small town.
What are some challenges that you’ve faced on a professional level since living in VT?
Miller: It was an adjustment being in a smaller city or state with fewer resources than other places I have lived. Finding placements for students for learning experiences has been challenging without overwhelming the sites we send them to such as different units within UVMMC and other community health settings.
Anisha: It is challenging working in a largely homogenous environment, it can sometimes feel lonely and isolating.
How have you overcome the challenges?
Miller: I would not have been able to overcome these challenges without the support and kindness of other healthcare professionals! This includes in the hospital and in the different community health settings. They have been so supportive in accepting students because they recognize the importance of educating new nurses.
Anisha: I’ve worked hard at building a sense of community here; I got involved in community organizing work in Winooski, VT and have been contributing to a school-based health program there, and it has been an incredible way to serve the community and form connections and relationships.
VT PoC Network also works with community members who are future professionals and business owners. What opportunities and challenges do you see for your profession in the coming years?
Miller: I see my profession diversifying in the coming years in order to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population in Chittenden County. I hope to see more nurses of color, especially nursing educators of color to teach and support all nursing students, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds. The challenges I see in my profession is retaining this workforce due to challenges such as increased cost of living in VT. This is a big issue that forces many nurses to have to leave the state.
Anisha: There is an incredible need for a more diverse healthcare workforce in Vermont, and any mentorship and pipe-line programs that we can work to develop for BIPOC students to become health professionals would be tremendously valuable to patient care and outcomes in this state.
In what ways could the state better support BIPOC living in Vermont?
Miller: VT could be more supportive if there were better services such as increased public transportation, lower cost of living, and increased housing availability. I know that some of these projects are already in the works such as better public transportation and increased walkability throughout other parts of the state, but more can be done. This would convince more people to come and stay in VT, especially POC who may not have the financial means to compete in a tight housing market, for example.
Anisha: I think improving access to affordable housing is huge!!!
What advice would you have wanted to receive about being a VT professional of color/business-owner before arriving?
Miller: This housing market is tough! I moved here in 2021, so I understand that this played a huge role in the housing market especially in Chittenden County. However, it seems that VT consistently has a tight housing market that can make it difficult for people to want to build a life here. I also recommend doing an extensive search on the availability of food options! It’s easy to miss the great hidden food options outside of Church Street. This includes places such as Parkside Café in Hinesburg, Jamaican Supreme in South Burlington, and Zen Garden in South Burlington.
Anisha: Just a reminder that feeling “othered” is going to happen when you work in a homogenous environment/PWI. But working to build deeper relationships and forming community connections outside of work is how to find strength and meaning.
What do you wish others knew about living in VT that you’ve discovered?
Miller: Snow tires are not mandatory if you have Four Wheel Drive and live in Chittenden County!
Anisha: There is SO much incredible work and service being done by BIPOC Vermonters and BIPOC organizations. Unlikely Riders, Vermont Health Equity Initiative, Burlington Yoga Equity Project are just a few that come to mind. It’s really incredible.
Tell us about the work you’ve been doing together at UVM Medical Center and UVM Larner School of Medicine.
Miller: I work in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at UVM as a nursing professor and I work in the Emergency Department in UVMMC as an RN. I teach two undergraduate courses, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing and Health Alterations, along with other teaching activities. I have always worked to incorporate health equity and the Social Determinants of Health into my courses. I am also working with Dr. Anisha Rimal of LCOM to create a mentorship program for BIPOC nursing and medical students to increase their sense of belonging at UVM. This program is called Finding Affinity and Mentorship or FAM.
Anisha: Miller and I have been working to develop Finding Affinity and Mentorship (FAM), a pilot program in which physician faculty, nurse practitioners, advanced practice nurses, graduate nursing students and medical residents mentor third- and fourth-year nursing students and first-year medical students. The mentorship clusters offer opportunities for repeated interaction and relationship building.
Why is this program important?
Miller: The work regarding the mentorship program is important because mentorship can strengthen the personal and professional identities of BIPOC students. They are consistently underrepresented in healthcare and don’t often see themselves in the professionals teaching or training them. This program serves to challenge that dynamic and provide significant professional, academic, and social support to these students. My work regarding health equity and the SDOH is so important because it teaches nurses to understand these concepts and recognize health disparities. Nurses work very closely with patients, and they have to be able to recognize those at risk of poor outcomes as a result of social factors. Being able to understand those concepts and recognize patients at risk allows nurses to be instrumental in making sure that all of their patients’ needs are met so that they can thrive in society at their healthiest.
Anisha: Interprofessional mentorship programs to build community among BIPOC/underrepresented in health professions students, trainees and faculty has the potential to strengthen a network of support for the entire BIPOC healthcare community. If we are able to support a more diverse group of healthcare professionals, this could potentially improve the holistic care for patients. Even after BIPOC students and trainees enter the workforce, they continue to face unique challenges resulting in a low level of retention in academia. Therefore, there is a crucial need for mentorship programs not only for BIPOC students, but also for trainees and faculty. An infrastructure of support for BIPOC health care students, trainees and providers could potentially increase the retention of health care providers in the long term.
What is your ultimate goal for this program?
Miller: The ultimate goal for FAM is to create a community and network for BIPOC health professions students in VT. This will hopefully allow these students to want to stay and work in VT, further diversifying the healthcare workforce!
Anisha: We hope the program will create an interprofessional community of BIPOC health professions students, faculty, and staff that improves the sense of belonging of mentors and mentees, enhances the mentors’ mentorship skills, and fosters a sense of community and connection.
If community members want to get involved, what contributions would be supportive and how would they get in touch?
Anisha: We would love for students and faculty to feel closer to the BIPOC community in Burlington so if any BIPOC organizations would like to help host a fun social event for our program members, we would be thrilled!