Birgit Umaigba is determined to improve nursing conditions

Alumni profile

Speaking up about health care

Birgit Umaigba is determined to improve nursing conditions

February 14, 2024

Birgit Umaigba was a new mom who had recently moved to Toronto from Benin City, Nigeria when she started the collaborative Bachelor of Science – Nursing degree program at Seneca Polytechnic and York University.

Now, more than 11 years later, she’s become one of the country’s top advocates for nursing. Not only has she scooped up awards and become a sought-after speaker, but she also teaches, works as an agency nurse and continues her advocacy work.

“It all started with the foundation I got at Seneca,” said Ms. Umaigba, 36. “From my first semester, I knew I was meant to be a nurse.”

“I really enjoy the human connection piece — to be able to help people in the most vulnerable states through their healing journey and even to support them in their last days on Earth.”

“It all started with the foundation I got at Seneca. From my first semester, I knew I was meant to be a nurse”

But during the pandemic, the conditions were so challenging that Ms. Umaigba felt compelled to speak out. As an agency nurse she’s not directly affiliated with any one hospital or health-care provider, which she said made it easier for her to raise issues.

She started tweeting, writing to politicians and talking to the media. Before long, she was organizing petitions, being asked to speak at events and slowly but surely getting results.

Portrait of Birgit Umaigba

When pregnant women weren’t deemed a priority to get the COVID-19 vaccines because they weren’t considered a high-risk group, Ms. Umaigba spoke out. In April 2021, the women were prioritized. In December of the same year, she started a petition in Ontario asking for free COVID-19 rapid antigen tests for the public. The campaign spread across the country garnering 150,000 signatures before the tests were handed out free of charge.

“I never knew how much people wanted to hear what nurses had to say until I started speaking,” she said.

Ms. Umaigba has raised concerns about everything from nursing shortages to pay. She’s passionate about health care, equity and social justice and with more than 60,000 X (formerly known as Twitter) followers and opportunities to address the public, she continues to use the platform she’s built to bring attention to a range of issues.

She’s spoken to everyone from the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario to the Martin Luther King Global Summit. In 2022, she received Chatelaine magazine’s Doris Anderson Award, which is given to inspirational women and earlier this year she was listed as an emerging health-care leader by The Peak newsletter.

Ms. Umaigba graduated from York University in 2016 with her bachelor of science degree in nursing and a master’s degree in education in 2018, the same year she completed a critical care nursing certificate from Humber College. This fall, she started her PhD in nursing at Queen’s University, while continuing on with her other roles.

As an agency nurse she works in intensive care units and emergency room settings in approximately 26 different hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area. In addition, she teaches at Centennial College and at the University of Calgary.

She loves the flexibility and autonomy that comes with being a nurse, a teacher and an advocate.

“I enjoy every bit of it and I know there’s more to come.”

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