Personal support workers (PSWs) work one-on-one with patients of all ages and walks of life. They play a truly crucial role in their patients’ everyday health and well-being, helping their clients remain as independent as possible for as long as possible.
PSWs work primarily with elderly people, but they may also provide healthcare services to chronically or terminally ill individuals of varying ages. They are an essential link between patients, families, and supervising clinicians (such as nurses or doctors).
Wondering what your PSW career path might look like? We’ve got you covered. Below, we explore the various settings, specializations, and advancement possibilities for personal support workers.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Where You Can Work as a PSW
- Specializations in the PSW Field
- Advancing Your PSW Career
- PSW Educational Requirements
- Other Skills Needed for Success
WHERE YOU CAN WORK AS A PSW
PSWs work in a variety of settings, including:
As a personal support worker who focuses on home care, you will travel to different clients’ residences in the course of your workday. You will assist with daily activities such as bathing, dressing, and meal preparation. As a home support worker, you may also help with personal and social activities like laundry, grocery shopping, or escorting clients to appointments or other community outings.
Home-based PSWs often work with a diverse range of clients, including seniors, children with special needs, and those recovering from illness or surgery. You will likely encounter a broader range of ages and conditions than you would if you worked in long-term care, for instance.
Long-Term Care Facilities
Long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes and assisted living centres, are another common workplace for PSWs. In these settings, PSWs contribute to the well-being of residents by assisting with daily tasks and providing emotional support. Residents are usually elderly individuals who require ongoing assistance due to chronic illnesses or age-related limitations.
Working in long-term care allows you to develop deeper relationships with clients, since you care for them over an extended period of time.
In hospitals, PSWs work alongside medical professionals to ensure patients receive comprehensive care. In addition to helping with mobility, toileting, and personal hygiene, your responsibilities may include:
- Assisting with lifting, turning, and transferring patients
- Cleaning and restocking rooms
- Delivering meals and helping with feeding
Working in hospitals exposes you to a variety of medical conditions and treatment plans, allowing you to broaden your skill set and knowledge base. The collaboration with healthcare teams can also give you valuable insights into different aspects of patient care.
Personal support workers in hospices provide palliative and end-of-life care. They provide comfort in the final days of a patient’s life by speaking with the patient about what they want, saying goodbye, and facilitating contact with loved ones.
Palliative care PSW roles also involve tasks like:
- Supporting the patient’s family during the final stages of life and through the beginning of the bereavement process
- Communicating their patient’s needs, wishes, and condition to fellow health professionals
- Assisting nurses with procedures such as drawing blood
- Performing procedures such as collecting specimens, recording input and output, and monitoring oxygen equipment under the supervision of nurses
SPECIALIZATIONS IN THE PSW FIELD
Common personal support worker specializations include:
Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care
Specializing in Alzheimer’s and dementia care is an option for PSWs who are passionate about supporting individuals facing cognitive challenges. People with dementia tend to become confused and agitated, and their personalities often change as the disease progresses.
PSWs develop specific skills to address the unique needs of these patients. That may include communication techniques, creating a dementia-friendly environment, and providing behavioural support.
Working as an Alzheimer’s care specialist PSW takes special skills
A pediatric care PSW specialization is about helping to ensure the comfort and well-being of children facing health challenges. Not only would you assist with personal care, hygiene, and feeding, but you would also facilitate age-appropriate games and activities that promote physical, emotional, and cognitive development.
PSWs who support kids often work in private homes, group homes, schools, or summer camps.
ADVANCING YOUR PSW CAREER
After working as a PSW for a few years, you might be wondering what other avenues you can pursue. Below are a few PSW career advancement options.
Care Coordinator or Care Manager
You may choose to transition into a role as a care coordinator or case manager. In these positions, you take on a more administrative role, helping patients navigate the healthcare system and coordinating various aspects of their care. This includes:
- Arranging medical appointments
- Coordinating with other healthcare professionals
- Ensuring patients receive the necessary services
- Following up with clients regarding quality of care received
Becoming a care coordinator or case manager allows you to make a broader impact by improving the overall patient experience and facilitating seamless healthcare delivery. It requires strong organizational and communication skills as well as a deep understanding of the healthcare landscape.
Experienced PSWs also have a chance to share their knowledge and expertise by becoming supervisors. As a supervisor, you oversee the work of PSWs, ensuring that care standards are met and providing guidance when challenges arise. Your responsibilities may include developing work schedules, conducting staff training and orientation, and administering disciplinary actions when required.
Transitioning into a supervisor role allows you to contribute to the growth and professionalism of the entire healthcare team.
Registered Practical Nurse (RPN)
For those seeking to advance their careers further, becoming a registered practical nurse (RPN) is a viable option. This pathway requires additional training for PSWs as well as licensing, but it does open doors to expanded responsibilities and increased autonomy in patient care.
RPNs often collaborate closely with other healthcare professionals, administer medications, and contribute to the development of care plans. While the transition from PSW to RPN requires commitment and dedication, it offers a rewarding career path for those aspiring to take on more comprehensive healthcare roles.
PSW career development options include pursuing additional training as an RPN
PSW EDUCATIONAL REQUIREMENTS
To embark on a career as a PSW, you need to complete a recognized personal support worker program. These programs take less than a year to complete and typically cover topics like:
- The principles of safe patient care (preventing injury and infection, understanding lifting techniques, etc.)
- The fundamentals of anatomy and physiology and the impact of age-related changes
- Techniques for assisting clients with everyday activities (bathing, grooming, skin care, oral care, etc.)
- Recognizing and responding to abuse
- Ethical duties
OTHER SKILLS NEEDED FOR SUCCESS
Success as a PSW goes beyond formal education. Key skills for thriving in this profession include:
Observation and critical thinking—Part of your job as a PSW is to carefully observe your clients and report any changes to a supervisor. Is your client behaving differently all of a sudden? Are there changes in appetite, attitude, or behaviour? Do you suspect elder abuse?
Compassion and patience—This role takes patience, willingness to listen, and genuine care for your client’s happiness and well-being. Even when clients don’t respond well or are “difficult”, you must continue to treat them with the utmost respect and dignity.
Respect for different cultures—As a PSW, you can expect to encounter people of all faiths, backgrounds, and walks of life. To do this job well, you must embrace these differences and show respect for each client’s traditions and beliefs.
WANT TO BECOME A PERSONAL SUPPORT WORKER?
The personal support worker program at Herzing College takes less than a year to complete and includes an internship for real work experience. Plus, our career development team can assist you with finding PSW job opportunities, creating your resume, and preparing for interviews.
Curious about what your PSW career path might look like? Click below to explore the program in more detail and chat live with an admissions advisor. We’re here to help!