Pauline Hughes-Derome, Personal Support Worker student at Herzing College Ottawa
At 58 years old, Pauline Hughes-Derome figured it was too late to change careers. And at her age, she assumed going back to school wasn't even an option. After all, she already had a stable job in accounting, years of business experience, and no reason to make a move.
But then everything changed when her sister got cancer, and Pauline became her primary care-giver.
She realized how crucially important the care-giver role is. How vital it is for people facing frightening illnesses to get the right kind of support, and have the choice to remain in their own homes. After her sister passed away, Pauline decided to face her fears, and start a completely new career as a Personal Support Worker.
Her mission? To ensure people facing terminal illness and debilitating disease get the care they deserve, from compassionate, properly trained professionals.
Now she’s nearing the end of the Personal Support Worker program at Herzing College, and has already completed 200 internship hours at Hillel Lodge – a long term care facility in Ottawa.
We interviewed Pauline to find out what she thinks of the training, how her life has changed, and where she plans to work after graduation. This is her story.
Q: Pauline, can you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you make the decision to go back to school?
Pauline: Before heading back to school, I was working full time as a bookkeeper. And before that, I worked in human resources for years. I had never even thought of a career in health care until my sister got sick.
When my sister got cancer, I took care of her right up until she passed away. She really didn’t want to be in a hospital, so I cared for her at home, and made sure she was comfortable.
That experience changed me. I began thinking of doing something different with my life. I wanted to help people like my sister get better support when facing life-threatening or terminal illnesses.
The one thing that held me back was my age. At 58, I thought I was too old to go back to school. But my daughter kept encouraging me to go for it. And my friends kept telling me I’m a natural caregiver, and that becoming a Personal Support Worker would be perfect for me.
So, I started researching personal support worker colleges in Ottawa, talking with Admissions, and checking out various programs.
I said to myself, the worst thing that can happen is I fall flat on my face and fail. Why not just go for it?!
Q: So, in the end, what made you choose Herzing?
Pauline: I went into Herzing to meet with Admissions and get more information about the PSW program. They really made me feel like this was something I could do...that age wasn’t an issue at all.
They made me feel so confident, I signed up right then and there! I knew that if I went home, I would just keep procrastinating, and never make a decision.
Q: How is the training going? Can you tell us about your instructor, what you’re learning, and the other students in your class?
Pauline: Going in I was worried, but once I got there, the instructor (Kelly Hickson) made us feel so welcome and comfortable.
My class had people from all age groups and backgrounds. I wasn’t the only older student. We all got along really well and worked together.
Kelly told us the class was not a competition. She said if we saw a classmate struggling, we should give them a hand. We were taught to watch over each other, and help each other succeed.
We had homework groups, training groups, study groups. I really appreciated that approach to learning. It made it so much easier to transition back to school.
I have learned so many important skills in this program! We studied different illnesses and diseases, special care techniques, what to expect from patients who have different conditions...
We even went to a place that sells patient lifts, so we could practice on the real equipment they use in hospitals and care homes.
There was a lot of hands-on training. We had mannequins and hospital beds, so we could practice our techniques. We learned how to move people who are paralyzed, how to make beds, bath clients, and the importance of hygiene.
Our instructor, Kelly, does disease control for a hospital in Ottawa, so we learned a lot about the role of hygiene in client care.
I have taken in so much information I never had before. I really wish I'd had those skills when I was caring for my sister.
Q: What was the hardest part of PSW training for you?
Pauline: The most challenging part for me was the course on anatomy. That was a lot to learn!
We had to know all the bones, functions of the heart, functions of the brain....many students found that part hard .
I even talked to people from previous classes who agreed it was tough. There was a lot of reading, memorization, and small details to remember for tests. These are things I hadn’t done in many years – since I was a young student in school. But I got through it.
Our instructor helped us a lot. She gave us ways to remember all the body parts and prepare for tests.
Q: What’s been the best part of PSW training for you?
Pauline: The internship! As of today, I’ve done 200 hours of my internship at a long term care facility in Ottawa called Hillel Lodge.
Everything I learned in class, I now get to use and apply in the real world. I’m absolutely loving caring for the people. This is the best part – the real, hands on work.
So far, I’m working in what is called a “locked ward”. I’m caring for people in the last stage of dementia, and they tend to wander, so the ward has to be locked.
In total, there are about 25 patients, in 3 different sections, with different staff working in each section.
Q: Can you tell us more about your internship at Hillel Lodge? Exactly what are you doing on a daily basis?
Pauline: When you first start the internship, you just observe for a couple of days, following a full time Personal Support Worker. Then you start pitching in and helping, and eventually get your own clients.
I now have 5 clients I am responsible for. By the end of my internship, I will have a full load of 8 clients to care for.
In the morning, we meet with the nurse for an update on the clients, and they tell us anything we need to know.
Then we start getting the clients up, bathed, dressed, toileted, and ready for breakfast. About half our clients in the locked ward have to be fed, so we help them with that. After breakfast, we make sure all beds are made, and the laundry is done.
Then we spend some time talking with the clients, keeping them company, making sure they’re comfortable.
In the afternoon, we get them ready for lunch, help with any toileting that’s needed – often using lifts to help the clients stand up and move around. After lunch, many clients take a nap, so we check in to see if they need anything beforehand.
Right now, I’m working until 3:00 pm, 3 days a week. But moving into the last stage of my internship, I will increase to 5 days a week (Monday through Friday).
And after my placement at Hillel Lodge is complete, I’ll do another internship at a seniors home, where the clients are more mobile and independent. This will give me additional work experience in a different kind of setting. I’m really looking forward to it!
Q: What are your career plans after graduation? Where would you love to work?
Pauline: I’m very interested in working with clients who have dementia. In fact, I asked to work in that ward during my internship, to gain experience.
I’m also passionate about end-of-life care. Actually, I would love to work full time at Hillel Lodge. They’re telling me I should go ahead and get my application in, so I’ll be doing that very soon.
Q: What advice would you give someone who’s considering becoming a Personal Support Worker?
Pauline: I would say, go for it! Do it! I’ve been telling friends who are thinking of going back to school not to hesitate or procrastinate. Just take that first step.
If you love people, and are passionate about caring for others, you will do great in the PSW program.
Q: One last question...Would you recommend the PSW program at Herzing?
Pauline: I would absolutely recommend the Personal Support Worker program at Herzing. Right from the beginning, to the last day of class, the people have been wonderful.
Everyone is friendly, encouraging, and supportive. It’s been a really great experience.
Thank-you so much, Pauline, for sharing your story with us. We're very proud of your success, and know you will be a tremendous asset to the personal support worker profession.
Learn more about Personal Support Worker Training at Herzing
Herzing College Ottawa offers an 8-month Personal Support Worker diploma. Training includes an 11-month internship, and certificates in First Aid and CPR.
If you’re interested in the program, we welcome you to fill out the Request Info form on this page, to get free information by email.
Or, click below to explore training, chat live with an Admissions Advisor, and book an appointment to visit the campus. We’re here to help!