PERSONAL SUPPORT WORKER:  A CAREER IN HEALTHCARE

by Anne McDonagh


originally published in the 2012 Winter Issue


Jocelyn recently graduated as a Personal Support Worker from a community college. She now works for an agency earning about $15 an hour. She works in the community visiting vulnerable seniors but also younger people with disabilities. She enjoys her work very much and for good reason. Her working life before she took the PSW course was precarious, monotonous and poorly paid.


PSWs can earn between $12 and $25 an hour depending who they work for and where. Those working in long-term care facilities make more than those who make home visits.


Even though the pay is not great, there are good reasons why Jocelyn enjoys her work. First of all, she has a lot of freedom and independence as she goes from client to client. When asked if she liked her job. She said that she did. When asked why she said, “Because it’s mine".


Then there is the nice warm feeling people get from helping others. PSWs sometimes have to go beyond the call of duty to comfort and console their clients, who are often at their most vulnerable. The reward for the PSW is that their clients are usually very grateful to their PSW for straightening their beds, making them a cup of tea, or for simply being there.


There is no danger that the job will be automated or off-shored to China. That’s another reason Jocelyn is happy in her work; she feels quite secure in her job. And finally the training could be a stepping stone to a career in healthcare. She herself will probably not go any further, but the possibility is there, and no doubt some of her peers will take advantage of the opportunity


What do PSWs do? They perform routine household chores like cleaning up the kitchen, tidying the living room, running the vacuum, shopping, meal preparation etc. They help clients with daily activities such as bathing, toileting, dressing, personal hygiene etc. They offer friendship and companionship. The skill set is really quite demanding.


They work in hospitals and long-term care facilities. A few entrepreneurs start their own business. Probably most, like Jocelyn, provide home care to elderly people who want to stay in their homes but have some difficulty managing. The PSW helps them stay at home, saving the government quite a bit of money. The PSW will be crucial for the next few decades as government tries to control healthcare spending when the population is aging and using the healthcare system more than ever before.


There are, of course, disadvantages to this work. Clearly, PSWs deserve better pay. Sometimes they encounter difficult patients who require them to use all the tact and people skills they can muster. Also the work can be quite difficult physically; for instance, a person needs to be quite fit to turn clients over in their beds. Someone considering PSW work would need to weigh carefully the advantages against the disadvantages and decide if it is a suitable career for herself or/himself.


PSW courses are offered by community colleges, private career colleges and a couple of school boards. All the colleges in the GTA offer many PSW courses as do most of the career colleges such as Robetech (see advertisement on page 7). To find the career colleges in Toronto and the PSW courses they offer go to www. oacc.on.ca. For the community colleges and school boards, course descriptions and contact people are in the sidebar to this article.


The Personal Support Worker curriculum followed by the various institutions was originally developed by the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care and the Ministry oversees the programs. Courses combine practical skills training with communication, patient care and many techniques that are required in caring for the sick. They study physiology, anatomy and alterations to human mental and physical health as well as practices such as infection control, administering medication and many more. They learn how to deal with a variety of patient types—cognitive disorders, palliative care etc. Because they often find themselves in the middle of intense emotion on the part of their clients or their families, conflict management and family dynamics are also part of the curriculum. Students have a clinical placement to practice their skills.


There is some concern about the training PSWs receive because unlike most other healthcare workers in Ontario, PSWs are not a regulated health care profession, that is, there is no governing body which sets standards for the skills and knowledge needed to practice as a PSW, and the services they can provide. Rather, PSWs have a role standard which says “personal support workers do for a person the things that the person would do for themselves, if they were physically or cognitively able”.


Whether they get their training at a community college, a career college or a school board, they more or less follow the same curriculum.


At the colleges the course lasts two semesters. At the career colleges it is 26 to 30 weeks. The prerequisites are a Grade 12 diploma or the equivalent including a grade 12 English credit. Fitness and good health are also required. Kindness and the desire to make a difference are probably the most important characteristics of the successful PSW.


COMMUNITY COLLEGES OFFERING PSW COURSES


Centennial College 

Morningside Campus

Contact Joy Roumanis, Program Coordinator Phone 416-289-5303 healthstudies@centennialcollege.ca


Durham College

Contact Melissa Brown, Program Coordinator

Phone 905-721-2000 ext. 7612


George Brown College

(full time and part time)

Contact Laura Bulmer, Program Coordinator

Phone 416-415-5000, ext. 3153

lbulmer@georgebrown.ca


Humber College

Contact Donna Skells, Program Co-ordinator

Phone 416.675.6622 ext. 4629 or email donna.skells@humber.ca


Seneca College

(full time and part time)

Contact Ann Hersch, Program Coordinator 416-491-5050 ext.22528 ann.hersch@senecacollege.ca


Sheridan College

Brampton Campus

(full time and part time)

Full time, contact Betty Bruder, Program Coordinator

Phone 905-459-8626, Ext. 5380

betty.bruder@sheridaninstitute.ca

Part time, contact Sandra Secord, Program Coordinator

Phone 905-459-8626, Ext. 2742

sandra.secord@sheridaninstitute.ca


SCHOOL BOARDS OFFERING PSW COURSES


Toronto District School Board

City Adult Learning Centre

1 Danforth Avenue Toronto, Ontario

Phone 416-393-9740


Yorkdale Adult Learning Centre

38 Orfus Rd, North York, ON

Phone 416-395-3350


Durham Catholic District School Board

Durham Continuing Education

120 Centre Street Oshawa Phone 416-436-3211


York Region District School Board

Dr. Bette Stephenson Centre for Learning

36 Regatta Avenue, Richmond Hill

(905) 884 2046

Toronto, Canada