Updated January 2024
Inspired to begin a career in health care? Looking at your local training options?
Many students are attracted to personal support worker (PSW) training because of the direct focus on patient care, flexible work schedules, and high level of demand across Canada for PSWs. Students also like this program because it's quite short (usually less than 12 months) and is an excellent entry point for other healthcare careers, such as nursing.
Thinking you might enrol in PSW training this year? Before you sign up for a program, take some time to consider what it takes to succeed in this field, the skills you'll focus on in training, and your local job prospects.
Read on to make sure you're a good fit for the PSW career path.
1. What exactly does a personal support worker do?
In the most simple sense, a personal support worker provides assistance to people with special health care needs. PSWs most often work with elderly individuals as home-care providers or staff members at long-term care facilities.
However, as a PSW your clients could also include babies and young adults who are recovering from medical procedures or coping with chronic and debilitating health conditions.
Your primary goal as a personal support worker is to help your clients maintain the highest possible level of independence and dignity. This means assisting with everything from household management and meal planning to daily hygiene and grooming, medication reminders, exercise, general mobility, and social activities. You will also carefully document changes in health or behavior.
PSWs are an essential link between patients and other members of the medical team, such as doctors and nurses, who do not have time for daily check-ins with their patients. The personal support worker keeps a close watch on each client and immediately reports any troubling development to the supervising nurse or doctor—ensuring warning signs are addressed early, and no problems fall through the cracks.
PSWs also provide an invaluable service to family members who are unable to care for sick or dying loved ones on their own. Personal support workers step in to provide the kind of skilled, comprehensive, compassionate daily care an untrained, busy family member simply cannot perform.
2. Have you reviewed the coursework involved in PSW training?
As you can see, the daily work of a personal support worker covers a lot of ground! PSWs must be prepared for a variety of different challenges, including client mobility issues and mental health disorders. They must also learn to cope with death and support grieving family members.
If you're considering PSW training, it's a good idea to review the coursework required for a diploma and see if the topics match your interests. These are some of the key subject areas you can expect to cover:
Safety and mobility: The principles of infection control, how to safely lift, transfer, and move patients (both with and without equipment), and how to position clients correctly in a bed or a chair
Personal hygiene: How to help aging, ill, disabled, or confused clients maintain good personal hygiene, including bathing techniques, grooming, dressing, shaving, skin care, and hair care
Abuse awareness: Recognizing the signs of family violence and abuse, understanding legislation around abuse, and knowing how to protect the rights of your PSW clients
Nutrition: Understanding the special dietary needs of infants, nursing mothers, and elderly clients, and how to plan and prepare nutritious meals
Death and dying: How to support a dying person (and their family), reduce pain and discomfort, and follow the required procedures at the point of death
Mental health: Supporting clients with mental health issues, including conditions like depression, Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, and substance abuse—and knowing how to document and report related issues to a supervisor
3. Do you possess the physical & emotional stamina required for this role?
Becoming an effective PSW takes both physical and emotional strength. On the one hand, you need to be in good physical shape to lift and move clients with mobility issues. You must feel comfortable spending a great deal of time on your feet.
On the other hand, you need emotional stamina to offer your clients compassion and patience, cope with death and dying, and have resources left over to care for yourself. These are challenges many healthcare providers face, and you should consider them carefully before pursuing PSW training.
Personal support workers often talk about the deep sense of satisfaction and fulfillment they get from their work—but it's important to know that this career is demanding, and you must be truly passionate about your work in order to succeed.
4. What is the job outlook for PSWs in your region?
On a practical note, we recommend researching demand for PSWs in your area before signing up for a diploma program. This is true for students in any field who want to maximize their chances of employment after graduation. It's just good common sense.
The most recent job market information for PSWs from the Government of Canada Job Bank is extremely positive in Ontario. This occupation gets five stars for outlook and growth--the Job Bank's highest rating.
Are you interested in learning more about PSW training and career paths?
Have a look at the Personal Support Worker diploma offered by Herzing College at the Ottawa and Toronto campuses. Click below to explore a detailed list of PSW courses, career options, and admissions information, or to chat live with a friendly advisor. We're here to help!