Updated January 2023
We've all heard the news and read the stats. Canada's health care system is stretched to the limit. We don't have enough long-term care beds, there aren't enough medical professionals, and we don't know how we'll care for our growing population of seniors.
It's no surprise that in the middle of this challenge, we've seen demand for personal support workers skyrocket.
The Government of Canada Job Bank gives this occupation its highest rating (five out of five stars) for employment growth in several provinces, including Ontario.
Why? Because personal support workers (PSWs) provide essential health care services doctors and nurses cannot. They fill a growing need in our society for flexible, personalized patient care—the kind of ongoing support our hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes can't provide.
Exactly what makes PSWs so important? Take a look at five ways personal support workers change lives on a daily basis. Here's what makes this career one of the most meaningful jobs in healthcare today.
1. Helping Elderly Patients Stay in their own homes
For many seniors, leaving home to go live in a long-term care facility is a wrenching experience. Most of us would much rather stay in the homes we love, with familiar surroundings and fond memories.
But when daily health care needs become too great, and too much for family or friends to handle, a nursing home is the only alternative. At least, until personal support workers came along.
PSWs make it possible for seniors with health care challenges to stay in the homes they love. By making regular home visits and providing essential health care support, PSWs ensure seniors can live safely and comfortably on their own.
There are so many benefits to helping seniors live at home. There is more opportunity to see friends and family, the comfort of regular local routines—even the chance to stay with a beloved pet, which can make a huge difference in a patient's life.
Most of all, personal support workers help seniors hold on to the feeling of independence and dignity that is so crucial to our happiness as humans.
PSWs are trained to offer a wide range of home care services and supports, which cover every aspect of daily living. These include:
- Light housekeeping
- Personalized nutrition plans and meal preparation
- Assistance with errands, such as grocery shopping
- Help with personal grooming and hygiene
- Reminders to take medication
- Assistance with any prescribed therapeutic exercises
- Help with mobility, getting to and from appointments, activities, etc.
Some of these tasks require special training, while others simply require time that friends and family may not have.
By providing trustworthy, compassionate, affordable home care to seniors, PSWs truly change patients' lives for the better. And they help families and friends breathe a sigh of relief, knowing their loved ones are getting the attention and care they deserve. What could be more meaningful than that?
2. Providing Relief & Support to Caregivers
Some families and friends choose to care for elderly, incapacitated, or sick loved ones by themselves. They're looking after a spouse, close friend, child, or sibling each day, around busy work schedules and other responsibilities.
This process can become exhausting and overwhelming. This is why personal support workers often provide respite care, so primary caregivers can get a break.
Respite care happens both at home and at community organizations, like a nursing home or day program that offers temporary care to patients.
Imagine you're looking after your aging parent while juggling full-time work, kids, and all the other tasks of daily living. Or caring for a child with special needs who needs round-the-clock support. At some point, you will need some time off to take care of other responsibilities or simply rest and recharge.
Personal support worker training prepares students to provide this kind of relief. Respite care is absolutely essential for helping people cope with the strains and stresses of caregiving—and ensuring family/friends can keep on giving that care without burning out.
3. Protecting Patients from Isolation, Accidents & Abuse
As people get older, the risk of becoming isolated increases. Spouses pass away, children live in other cities, and illness may limit a senior's ability to get around and stay active within their community.
Being alone all the time can lead to depression and put seniors at risk for accidents. Whether they work at a long-term care facility or make home visits, PSWs play a vital role in protecting vulnerable seniors from social isolation.
Personal support workers provide regular health care monitoring, and report on any behavioral or health changes quickly. Daily check-ins help PSWs prevent (or quickly respond to) accidents, missed medications, or incidents of elder abuse.
And crucially, PSWs make sure their patients stay connected socially. They help seniors (and patients of all ages) participate in activities, attend local events, and maintain healthy relationships with friends.
Getting exercise and having an active social life has been shown to reduce depression, and early detection and treatment can absolutely save lives.
Personal support worker programs teach students to look for signs of poor mental health, social withdrawal, and physical problems so patients can get help right away. This is a key part of the PSW role.
Related: Should You Take PSW Training? 4 Things to Consider Before You Enrol
4. Giving Patients Emotional Support & Companionship
One of the most meaningful aspects of becoming a personal support worker is the relationships you'll build with patients.
Think about how busy doctors and nurses are at long-term care facilities and hospitals. Or how difficult it might be for a family member to spend long periods each day with an aging parent. What if a patient simply has no friends or family to visit them?
For many patients, PSWs provide the kind of regular emotional support they simply can't get anywhere else. This companionship is vital for their overall mental health and sense of well-being.
Just being there, showing you care, listening, and helping patients face fears adds a value that cannot be measured. This is something other health care providers don't have time for, and one of the most meaningful and special parts of being a PSW.
5. Helping Patients & Families Cope with Death
Every personal support worker comes face-to-face with death during their career. Whether you work with children, young adults, or seniors, at some point you will care for a patient who passes away.
Your role as a PSW is to assist the dying patient with compassion and care, and help the family through the grieving process.
Since doctors and nurses are so pressed for time, we do not necessarily expect them to provide real emotional support to the patient or their family/friends.
PSWs step in to offer help during a very difficult time of transition. This help includes practical skills you'll learn in training, such as reducing pain and discomfort, care at the time of death, and care of the body after death.
But it also includes being sensitive to how people of different backgrounds and cultures deal with death, and how to respond to families who are grieving. For example, sometimes PSWs will attend the patient's funeral and check in with the family periodically afterward to show their ongoing support.
Knowing their loved one has someone there to look after them compassionately, right up to the end, makes a huge difference for families.
Once again, this is a very special role only PSWs play because of how closely they work with each patient. And it is definitely a factor that makes personal support worker one of the most meaningful, personally rewarding jobs in health care today.
Are you inspired to become a PSW?
Your first step is to speak with admissions. Chat live with an advisor right now, or click below to explore the PSW program in more detail. We're here to help!