Social determinants of health refer to specific social and economic factors, such as income and education, that profoundly influence an individual's position in society. Experiences of discrimination, racism, and historical trauma are especially significant social determinants of health for certain marginalized groups, including indigenous peoples, members of the LGBTQI+ community, and Black Canadians, especially because these groups may be the ones hugely affected by health inequalities.
In this episode of the Caring Support Podcast, we had the privilege of speaking with Nurse Birgit Umaigba, a dedicated activist who has been tirelessly working towards creating a more equitable healthcare system in Canada. In this article, we will dive deeper into our insightful conversation with Nurse Birgit and explore the importance of health promotion and advocacy in achieving health equity for all Canadians.
Specifically, we discussed the following key concepts:
Birgit Umaigba is an Ontario-based registered nurse from Nigeria who gained a lot of followers on social media due to her passion for advocating for social justice, more equitable job opportunities in Canada for nurses, especially internationally-educated ones, and a better work environment for nurses, among others.
Nurse Birgit is an award-winning public speaker who has spoken about fighting health inequities and forwarding human rights across many platforms, all while juggling her different roles as a practicing nurse. Currently, she works at Centennial College as a nurse educator in the BSN program as well as the bridging program. She also offers comprehensive nursing advice to several groups through being a nursing consultant.
Deciding to pursue nursing was something she didn't think about early on, as she was contemplating more on pursuing medicine, pharmacy, or the administrative side of things. However, necessity brought her towards nursing, as she was a mature student at that time and wanted to get into the workforce as quickly as possible.
As soon as she entered nursing, she decided to love everything about it, from the classroom setting to working at the bedside to teaching at the college and the university. She even considers it a life-changing career that saved her in many ways.
Nurse Birgit considers change as a process, something that's in a continuum. She believes it's something we should proactively seek. In fact, according to her, "...in order to be a part of change, oftentimes we have to position ourselves in a way that allows for change to happen."
Through the years, she indeed positioned herself to fight for change, evident in her advocacies and speaking engagements, such as about women's health, health equity, nurse retention, and pushing towards a more equitable workforce through anti-racism activities in nursing.
Nurse Birgit believes that nurse retention will follow when nurses have better working conditions and increased mental health support. According to her, the need for this is better highlighted during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, as we've seen a lot of nurses quitting their jobs due to health inequities.
Nurse Birgit also pushes forward the advocacy for wage increase for nurses, to make nursing a more equitable profession in general. In fact, a big part of her work is rallying with the nurses, which, according to her, saw some wins, with Ontario registered nurses, seeing an increase of 11 percent in their wages for the next two years.
She, however, also believes that despite these wins, there's still a long road to go when it comes to making that equitable for all nurses, as registered practical nurses are not part of the wage increase.
According to Nurse Birgit, health equity is a big part of any system, and it's something we should push forward because, "...the same way in in in the society, especially marginalized groups are often treated disproportionately in the health care system..."
For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we've seen how health inequities played out during the vaccine rollout. According to Nurse Birgit, "We saw how vaccine advocates had to call out the system and how vaccines were being rolled out with areas with certain postal codes, getting the vaccines and areas with other postal codes being the last despite the increase in the spread of the virus in those areas, which are often more crowded."
Nurse Birgit believes that it's important to use her privilege to help prioritize vulnerable populations that are often silenced or not mentioned at all. Some of her wins during the COVID-19 vaccine administration include the following:
Indeed, Nurse Birgit is an outstanding individual that can serve as an inspiration for all. Her desire to improve the health system, to create a better work environment for healthcare professionals, and her on-the-ground activities to make it happen is truly something to look up to and support.
At Caring Support, we support the cause of providing fair opportunity to different groups of people to provide their health services regardless of their ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, and any other characteristics protected by law. Our comprehensive platform helps employers connect and find their ideal candidates without bias and based only on the user's behaviour. Create your free account today and take your career to new heights.
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