Subscribe to our Newsletter
The Caring Support Blog

Working as a Frontline PSW & HCA

February 15, 2023

This week, on the Caring Support Podcast, we got to sit down and talk with PSW (Personal Support Worker), Fola Tajudeen, and HCA (Health Care Assistant), Kayleigh Doan-Adams. While the titles to their jobs differ, they both work roles that are integral parts of the healthcare system. Come along with us to learn more about being a PSW and HCA on the healthcare frontlines.

Tell me about yourselves

Kayleigh: I work at a hospital in acute care. I work a little bit of everywhere. I've done hospice and emergency the most. The two ends of the spectrum of the craziness of the hospital. And I've been working for almost two years now and yeah, I really enjoy the work that I do for sure.

Fola: My, my name is Fola, I'm a PSW, I work in Ontario and I have done long-term, which we call nursing home. Right now, I do more of home-to-home community care. I've been working for like three or four years now and basically, that's me. I enjoy what I do. I take care of my clients. That's what we're here to do, right? So yeah, that's it.

Everyone has a "why" that pushed them into the career that they chose. What is your "why"? What made you want to work as a PSW?

Fola: I'm an immigrant in Canada and as an immigrant I came in and saw that it's an in-demand field. That's what immigrants need to get permanent residency in Canada. That was my why. But then when I got into the field, I saw that it was it was a place for you to express that empathetic side of you. It became something that I enjoyed so much, and since then I've been loving it and I decided to just continue in healthcare.

Kayleigh: I started working in veterinary medicine first with all our furry friends when I was 15, because every kid wants to be a veterinarian and I just went for it. It was great. I've got to say, I think my patients bite me more now, but that's okay.

I changed careers during the pandemic because I felt like I needed a new challenge. I've always loved medicine. I thought that I would hate people. I don't know why I thought I was someone that hates people. I was convinced that it would not be a good time. I started it and I love it. I love it so much. It has been just the most rewarding thing ever.

I'm also super interested in medicine in general. I find it so cool, which isn't always great for my patients when I'm like this wound is awesome and they're like well, is it though?

I really love what I do. I love the variety, I love the diversity of it, as well as just the ability to do so much. Like I said, I work in acute care, so I work on every floor of the hospital, and I can pick up work everywhere. I work in heart health and emergency, which is wild. I also work in hospice care, which is an important field in general. I love that variety. I love my patients. I love the work that we're able to do now that we have HCAs in acute care that can provide that dignity, that care to patients, that support the nursing staff needs, because they always don't always have the time for it. So that's kind of why I do it and how I got into it.

In your opinion, what is the most important skill/strength someone would need to work as a PSW?

Kayleigh: I think the thing that I find really funny, when I started in my class, a lot of people were really nervous. They'd never worked in health care before. They thought they had to know a lot about medicine, but I think that it's much easier to learn about medicine than it is to learn about people skills.  I think that learning how to work with people is not always something that comes naturally to people, but when it does, that skill is so important.

I think that customer service skills can be directly applicable to working in health care. Not that we'd like our patients to treat us like service staff, maybe not servants, but sometimes they do. Having that diplomacy and those personal skills is a really important thing because I think you can always learn more about medicine and how to care for people in that way. I think that innate need to work with people is definitely that main skill that I would say you need, and it can come from anywhere. You don't have to have a background in medicine.

Fola: From experience, and just to backup what Kayleigh said, you do not need any type of specific skills. Like people would say, I do not know how to learn chemistry. I don't know chemical components, I don't know math, I don't know English, you know, stuff like that. So once you have this way of being able to communicate with people and are able to communicate well, you must also be empathetic. Being empathetic is what will make you be able to succeed as nurses or as PSWs.

You're working with people that are coming from the place of maybe frustration. They're coming from the place of they're not so well, sometimes they say things they don't even mean to say. So being empathetic is that thing that would help you to upscale. That is what will help you to put those things aside and remember ‘okay, I'm here to care for this person’ and just look at it and keep going. To be empathetic and you must be able to communicate with your clients, with their caregivers and with the people around them.

Without getting too political, what struggles are PSW's facing these days and what would you like to see change?

Fola: From my own experience, I have said that I work in more of community home to home. Healthcare is a sector that needs people to come in to, but even now, working in health care or home care, if you don't work two or three jobs, you will still not be able to make good money. It’s not just about the pay, it’s also about the policies. Policies that can actually improve the lives of health care workers. Coming from homecare, there's a lot of times where your clients would cancel on you. There needs to be a policy where when the client cancels you’re still covered. Right now when they cancel you don't get paid. While you have 8 hours availability in a day, it's very hard to get 6 hours and who would be able to survive on those six hours of pay so, we are doing two jobs to make ends meet.

I would say the government should look into that policy of paying all care workers, even when the clients cancel. It's going to make a lot of difference. Everybody wants an increased pay. I know that. So now I'm looking at that.

Kayleigh: I do a lot of night shift work. I think in general, I feel very blessed in my job and in the pay that I get because I came from veterinary medicine where it was very underpaid.  I do see that, that is an issue always, the pay. In general with our scheduling, I find that they tend to over schedule us for a full time job.

This job, although it's eight hour shifts, it's so physically demanding, it's not something that you can do so many days in a row, but people do. They work 16 hour shifts regularly, back to back, just to be able to support their families. That shouldn't be an expectation for people to have to do that to support their families.

I feel very blessed that I am able to make overtime pay to be able to make more money, but the amount of work you have to do to make that money is a lot. I do think that, that can be detrimental and dangerous to patients when we're working incredibly long hours because you're not going to be the best you can possibly be.

Recently, I've been working full time and I've been working eight hour shifts, and I find that I'm just as exhausted as when I was working longer days, but I'm making less money.

I do find that it is a lot of work to do, our job is so physical in general and I think that there has been a big push to protect our bodies, but I think that there should be a stronger push to protect our bodies and our minds as well.

In general, I don't know if I can think of specific policies that would change around that, but I think that those should be the main focuses in health care in general is just protecting us as health care workers. I see change, but it probably needs to happen a little faster.

What is the most important thing you have learned while being a PSW? 

Kayleigh: Gosh, I just think in general, I have really learned to take care of myself. This is going to be a little bit funny. In class, we learn about what's called Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. If you've already heard this, Fola, you might know, but basically it's a pyramid. It talks about our very base needs are things like food, to go to the bathroom, and to sleep.  I find myself asking myself this all the time especially with dementia patients: “why is this patient agitated?”  80%  of the time, that's what's wrong. You help them go to the bathroom, you feed them, you get them to sleep and they're better.

I've turned that around to myself so many times asking myself “Why am I so uncomfortable?” Then I'll realize, Oh, I really have to pee. I've had to pee for four hours and I ignored that. Or I'll be like, Oh, I just need food. Like, why do I hate everyone? Oh, I'm hungry. Or “Why do we think everybody hates me?” Oh, I just need to go to sleep. It's funny because that's a part of my job, to think about others needs and in turn I think that a lot of people neglect their own needs in order to take care of other people in health care. I think that's a big thing. I've actually found that while taking care of other people, I've learned how to take care of myself better, which is sort of weird. But I think that's the thing that I didn't expect about my job.

Fola: I do more home care and since I've been doing home care, I always wonder how will I be when I'm old? How is old age going to be for me. How is this house going to sustain me when I'm old? This staircase in my house, how is this staircase going to be modified? You know, things like that. I'm looking at my bed and I'm thinking, okay, so this bed, we can change it like this. I am constantly thinking about my senior age. Now, I put a lot of thought into when I'm eating, when I'm planning my budgets, my finances. I do a lot of things thinking about who is going to take care of me, how comfortable my children are going to be, even if they're not going to be the one to take care of me, will they be comfortable, things like that. I always think about how to survive and how to make life easier for myself. My children are my caregivers when I become a senior.

Thinking about the people that you have worked with, is there a client story that motivates you to keep going even when things get hard?

Fola: Recently, I lost one of my clients. This client was somebody that I saw on a regular basis before his demise. This person doesn't have anyone - he lives alone. He used to have a caregiver before me, a paid caregiver, and they were so used to each other and she was so fond of him. He was used to her, and when I came in, he had a hard time. Well, of course there's nothing he can do, we're helpers, you have to change caregivers.

Along the line he got used to me. Sometimes when I'm sleeping and I'm thinking, oh, I'm so tired today, I don't want to go to work, I remember him. There's no one that is going to care for him, he would likely not even have breakfast. He’s going to get a replacement PSW, but the replacement PSW would not understand because he doesn't communicate so well. So, when I wake up and I'm feeling like I want to stay at home today, I remember him. I just have to go out there.

Each day he sees me, he prays. He's always praying for me. So when I remember that, I'm going to miss tomorrow's prayers when I think about not going and I'm thinking oh I'm going to miss that prayer, I will just get on my scrubs, get all my things and set out.

For a lot of clients if you're not there it's going to be a hard time for them. So each day I wake up with the motivation that I'm going out there to save somebody. I'm going out there to make somebody's life better for them. I'm going out there to make somebody have a better day. It keeps me going. It pushes me to go and do more.

Kayleigh: When I first started working, when I was a student, I was in long term care and we did this bath for a dementia patients and this patient had to be pretty heavily medicated in order to have this bath. When they were getting this patient up to get them out of the bath, they had slapped this patient on the bum in order to get them to stand up and I remember thinking, that's so dehumanizing. That's just so awful. I just kept thinking, how can we make baths better for patients? That was my big thing during school because I had witnessed that and seen how hard that was for that patient and how easy it is to fall into that, to get annoyed.

Then I started working at hospice, which I think is just some of the most important work, some of the most amazing people, the people I work with in hospice, I love them endlessly.  I worked with this one woman for a very long time. In hospice, usually people stay for only about three months. This person was there for seven months and we did bath time regularly. We would have in the afternoons, I would come on at 3 p.m., around like 4 we get into the bath. She loved rose scents. So I brought in Rose Scented bubble bath and we did bath time, had a lovely time, and it was just so wonderful to see that difference between what I'd seen as a student.

When things get busy, you get exhausted. I love being able to provide that dignity. I miss those bath times. When that patient passed, it was hard.  She'd always ask for me when I was on, and I would come on and the others would say ‘she's been asking for you all day. She's ready for bath’. I remember another patient saying  ‘Wow, you don't understand how life changing that is to get in that bath, like how much more human I feel.’

With the gentleman, giving them a shave when they can't do it themselves and they're so happy. A huge misconception about our job in general, I feel, is that, we just wipe bums. It's so much more than that because we are providing dignity for these people. We are helping them feel human again for all those things they can no longer do for themselves. Those bubble bath times, and a shave and those things are just so important to making just their entire day. That’s why I do what I do. I love what I do. I just I adore it. I've always thought about going into nursing and doing more of a challenge, but this base part of our job, this job is so important in providing that dignity for patients and I just I love that part.

Burnout is very common amongst all healthcare professionals, so how do you avoid burnout and what are your favourite forms of self care?

Kayleigh: I have been burnt out for sure. It's why I'm currently taking a break from the emergency department. It is so easy to just go and keep going, and especially in health care in general, it's a team effort, and you guys need to be a team. 

I love that you can switch around a little bit and finding that team that works for you because that is going to be the main determinant of how well your job is going to go. Of course, you can't have the same team every day, but having that support is so important. It’s that baseline. You need that support and health care and finding those people and that support system within your work.

Then finding that support system at home because our jobs are very people centered and I think that we need our people as well to take care of us.

I like working the nightshift because I go out and hang out with my people before I go into shift and I hang out with my family and friends and I just make sure that I take care of myself in that way. It’s one of my base needs and you can't ignore those. 

You are going to be burned out if you ignore your base needs. You need to find hobbies and things to do outside of work as well and remembering that you are more than just your job. It is so easy to make your entire self worth about that job. It's really important to remember that you are a whole person outside of work.

Fola: I used to work in long term care and it's easy to grab all the shifts and not remember that you yourself are a human being and that you need to take care of yourself.

For me, I have kids. It was becoming more challenging for me to work in long term care. So that was one of the reasons I had to switch to home care for the flexibility. In order to keep my mental health in check, I usually do not take on spontaneous shifts. I try as much as possible not to overwork myself. A lot of people would want to take on more clients every single day and thereby taking on their mental health.  I try as much as possible to just to stay within my number of hours. I don't overwork.

Then when I get home, my self-care is I do a lot of crafting. I love to craft - that is my safe space. When I'm home, when I'm not caring for anyone and I'm home, I go on my sewing machine. I do a lot of stuff in the kitchen that is my own self care.

What advice do you have for others considering a career as a PSW?

Fola: I know that the PSW job has negative stereotypes. I'm just going to wipe bums. Being a PSW is a lot more than that.  If you are coming in as a PSW, don't let those stereotypes sit with you. There's a lot more to being a PSW and you just need to value yourself. There's a lot more to it. You're providing dignity for people. You're helping people have a good day and what is more than that, if you know that your work is making somebody else have a better day. Just know that you are providing value. You know that you are bringing value to the table and with that all your self esteem will be increased. As long as you have goals that you're working towards, if you have your goals that you're working towards, you're getting closer day by day. Yeah. So that, that, that will get you through it. That will get you through it. 

Kayleigh: This job is so diverse. You can work in so many different areas like Fola works in community care, which is a great option for people. I work in acute care, but I have coworkers that work in addictions and mental health. I think that people don't know how wide a scope this job can have and it is such a rewarding job. It is an amazing job. Every single part of the hospital would be lost without us. I know because I get calls where I have to go to different parts of the hospital all the time.

We need so many more people and it's just so interesting to be able to do that.

Healthcare is so diverse; you can work in so many different areas. The craziest thing is that if it's not working, you can just move to a new area.  That's the thing about health care that you can't do in other jobs. You can't just be like, I'm going to quit this job, but you can in health care, you could just move into community, you can move into addictions, you can move into the emergency, the hospice, the heart health, the GI neuro. There are all these different areas that you can move to at any point. I have worked in so many different spaces. You can have temp jobs, all these different things. There's just so much diversity and variety that you can do, and you are never stuck like. I think it’s the most amazing part of working in health care. I think that you should 100% do it just for that. It's just a great thing to be able to have that freedom.

Is there anything else that you would like to tell us about life as a PSW that we haven't covered today?

Kayleigh: I see a lot in the States that our job in general, which has a million different names, PSW, HCA, all these different things in different provinces because health care is provincial, but in the states you can have a lot of extra certifications and I feel like that's something that would be really cool if we could do that here.

They can do blood sugars and even put in foley catheters, IV catheters, things like that which would be so cool to have here in general. I know that in my province you can do medication courses where you can start handing out medications in like long term care. I think that's something that probably is going to come in the future for this job.

Again, that is why this job is so diverse, so wonderful because I believe that there's going to be other certifications coming out that you can add to your job. You can always have more education. In medicine, you're always learning. I think that that's also a great reason to go into the career in general, is that there is a huge future for it. 

It is also hard for people to get into nursing school in British Columbia. You have to have the highest grades and it's hard to do for some people and it's a lot of work. I find that doing those little baby steps or those little extra things is such a more feasible way of expanding the field and filling that gap, which is what we need, because not everybody can afford to do those four years of nursing school. A lot of these gaps that we're missing are being filled by HCAs and PSWs and I think that giving them a little bit more is a really great idea.

Fola Tajudeen Bio

Fola is a dedicated personal support worker with a strong passion for helping others. In addition to her role as a personal support worker, she has leveraged her Masters degree in Business Administration to run a clothing brand called Houtpute. With a combination of hands-on care experience and business acumen, she is well-equipped to improve the lives of those that she works with and make a positive impact in her field.

Kayleigh Doan-Adams Bio 

Kayleigh is a Health Care Aide in British Columbia. She has been an HCA for just under two years. She switched careers from veterinary medicine which she had been in for seven years. She loved her furry friends, but she truly loves working with people. Kayleigh also has a very strong passion for medicine and health care in general. She works in acute care at a hospital where she’s done a little bit of everything from Hospice care to the Emergency department. She loves the variety that her job gives her as well as the amazing teamwork that happens in healthcare. She simply couldn't imagine doing anything else.


Are you thinking of a career as a PSW or HCA?

Don’t forget to check out the Caring Support Marketplace for more information on courses and micro-credentials to enhance your healthcare career!

Until next time…

About The Author
Cali Wiersma
Social Media & Content Specialist

Find Your Dream Job Today!

Get updates from Caring Support

We'll keep you updated on all new application updates and features!

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.