Personal Support Worker Job: Learn all about the PSW Job

As the world faces one of the biggest health crises in history, careers in healthcare continue to see a rise in demand, not only in hospitals but also in long-term care facilities and home care settings. While people return to work past the lockdowns, more and more families are looking for caregivers to provide their loved ones with the support they need to perform their daily activities. This is precisely the job of a Personal Support Worker (PSW) and in this article Caring Support will tell you all about PSW (personal support worker) jobs.

What is a PSW (Personal Support Worker) Job?

A personal support worker is a caregiver that specializes in providing support to ill or elderly people with their domestic needs. Their job is basically to provide long or short-term care to those who cannot provide for themselves. By doing this, they help people optimize their quality of life despite their illnesses or disabilities.

An appropriately trained personal support worker can meet the supportive, physical, and psycho-social needs of the person they are caring for, according to the Ontario PSW association, which is a Chapter of the Canadian Support Workers Association. This means they have the right skills to make sure their clients are comfortable, safe, and enjoying emotional and physical well-being.

Although personal support worker is the most common title for these caregivers, the National Occupational Classification (NOC) allows workers performing similar duties to also be referred to as personal aides, home support workers, personal care attendants, health care aides, nursing attendant, respite care workers, palliative care workers, supportive care assistants or patient services associates. The titles vary depending upon the healthcare facility or home care the personal support worker is providing.

It is important to note that PSW jobs are not part of the Regulated Health Professions Act in Canada, which makes this a non-regulated profession. PSWs work for long-term care facilities or home care agencies, but they may also be self-employed. Their services are so diverse that they can help their clients with tasks like housekeeping and meal preparation, or they can simply serve as companions, providing them with opportunities to socialize.

Personal support workers are currently in high demand in Canada, not only because of the pandemic but also because there are more of them retiring than those beginning this career path, therefore landing a job will not be difficult.

And while some might say that becoming a PSW is the fastest way to start a career in healthcare and move up from there, the Ontario PSW association assures that being a PSW is “a fulfilling healthcare career that allows you to directly make a difference in the lives of your clients.” In fact, the organization’s goal is “to make the PSW a profession of choice in the Health Care field and not just as a stepping stone.”

What is a PSW Responsible for?

Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) states that personal support workers are responsible for performing duties such as: caring for people and families during periods of illness or recovery; providing bedside and personal care to clients, helping them move, bathe, groom, and get dressed and undressed; and giving them oral medications as instructed by their home care agency or supervisor.

Additionally, ESDC assures that PSWs can plan and prepare meals for their clients; help them with light housekeeping (for example, doing their laundry, washing their dishes, sweeping and mopping floors, vacuuming, and making their beds); or simply spend time talking to their clients. In other cases, they can even teach new parents to care for an infant.

Meanwhile, the Ontario PSW association says that PSWs can assist persons with activities of daily living that include feeding, lifts and transfers, bathing, skincare, oral hygiene, and toileting. They can also perform tasks delegated by a registered health professional (RHP), a registered nurse (RN), a registered respiratory therapist (RRT), or a physiotherapist. These types of tasks can include “insertion of a digit or instrument into a body cavity, care or procedure under the dermis, and any task or skill needing a physician’s prescription”.

The organization also says that PSW's responsibilities also include reporting and documenting unsafe conditions and behavioral, physical, or cognitive changes in their clients to a supervisor or family member, as well as completing and maintaining records of their clients, including progress notes.

On the other hand, personalsupportworkerhq.com (PSWHQ) explains that personal support workers are also trained to help their clients with transportation, for instance, if they need to go shopping or run some errands; and can accompany them to doctors’ appointments. However, in settings like long-term care homes or retirement homes, what a PSW can and cannot do depends on the policies and procedures of the respective healthcare provider.

PSW Job Skills

Being a personal support worker is a fulfilling career path that plays a vital role in society, but it comes with certain challenges. Because of this, PSW jobs require a specific set of skills that will allow these caregivers to succeed in this occupation and make a difference in the lives of the vulnerable people they provide support to. Most of these skills cannot be learned since they are part of an individual’s personality.

PSWs need the following skills, according to personalsupportworker.com:

The Ontario Skills Passport (OSP) adds that PSWs need to know how to perform certain health-related tasks like changing bandages, turning patients to prevent bedsores, applying medicinal lotions, helping with oral medication, and bathing patients. They also need to understand and follow emergency procedures and have good language skills for the country or region where they intend to work because part of their jobs involves communicating in person, on the phone, and in writing with clients and their families, as well as taking notes, reading medicine prescriptions and even books or magazines to comfort their clients.

On that note, the Cestar College of Business, Health, and Technology mentions other hard skills that personal support workers need. First, they need to have a good understanding of the body’s anatomy. “This understanding gives PSWs further context regarding health problems, ailments, or aches that their clients may be suffering from. This way, PSWs are able to detect, alleviate, and report any such problems from an informed standpoint,” the academic institution assures.

Cestar College also describes how PSWs need to have knowledge about the common health conditions of these potential clients (like arthritis, hypertension, and heart disease), especially for the elderly demographic; how they need to have familiarity with common cognitive problems and mental health issues that their clients could suffer from (depression, anxiety, dementia); and how they need to know the best practices in nutrition, hydration and assisting with medication.

Additionally, the college based in Toronto states that a vital skill for PSWs is being able to safely operate mobility machinery or devices like sit-to-stand lifts and Hoyer lifts. These types of equipment are used to help clients who have highly limited mobility.

Education and Experience Necessary to Become a PSW

To become a personal support worker a person doesn’t need to get a certification, but they do need to go through specific training and get a diploma, according to settlement.org. Additionally, to become a PSW, a high school diploma is required and the average work experience in the field to land a job is between none to two years. Because of this, the job is considered an entry-level position in the healthcare field. This is also the reason why the job is sometimes performed under the supervision of a registered health professional (RHP), following an established plan of care for a patient.

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care in Ontario, along with the Ontario Community Support Association, were the organizations that established the parameters and requirements that all aspiring PSWs need to meet to obtain a diploma in this field. However, since PSWs are unregulated health care providers, there are no governing body setting standards for the skills and knowledge needed to practice this occupation.

PSW Salaries

For personal support workers, salaries depend on many variables such as experience, continuous training, skills, ability to speak and read in another language, and the facilities where they work (hospitals or long-term care homes pay the highest wages, for instance). Moreover, the province where they offer their services also determines their salary, with Ontario being among the highest paying across Canada at a minimum of $16.50 per hour, according to the Department of Employment and Social Development.

It should be pointed out that since 2015 the province of Ontario has been implementing a PSW wage enhancement initiative for those who provide publicly funded personal support services. Back then it was said the decision was intended to better recognize the important role played by the approximately 100,000 PSWs that work in Ontario’s health care system.

The average PSW salaries in Ontario are these:

*Source: personalsupportworkerhq.com

The Future of PSW Jobs

Personal support worker’s career prospects in Canada are on the rise, which means there is a bright future for these jobs in the local healthcare sector. Labour market information trends point out that since the Canadian population keeps ageing (as of July 1, 2020, 18% of Canadians were 65 years of age or older, according to Statistics Canada) and more people have joined the workforce, many families cannot provide full-time care to their elderly, ill or disabled members, thus they are looking for home support workers and health care aides to assist their loved ones at home.

In addition to this, in Ontario, the local government has been pushing an "Aging at Home" strategy for years now, to ensure seniors have the services they need to allow them to “stay healthy and live independently and with dignity in their homes.” This may lead to more job openings for PSWs, as elderly Canadians get health care at home instead of at the hospital.

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