The COVID-19 pandemic has brought long-overdue attention to the vital role that personal support workers (PSWs) play in caring for the most vulnerable members of our community.
Sheridan College has been training these heavy-lifters of the health-care system for nearly three decades in a certificate program delivered over two semesters on its Davis Campus in Brampton, Ontario. Students complete theoretical and practical requirements, gain hands-on experience through two work placements and are highly sought after upon graduation, working in settings from long-term care homes to supportive housing, with a 100 per cent employment rate.
“People are starting to see the value of this profession,” says Betty Buder, the coordinator and a professor in Sheridan’s PSW program, noting that there has been a 50 per cent rise in student enrolment this year, and there is a wait list.
She says that “PSWs look after the whole person,” attending to clients’ functional and emotional well-being. This includes basic daily tasks like feeding, bathing and getting dressed, as well as helping with things like grocery shopping and overall social engagement.
Ms. Buder, a registered nurse in long-term care, says demands and expectations of PSWs have mounted through the years as the aging population has increased dementia and reduced mobility among seniors, causing burnout for family caregivers. Workloads and ratios have risen for PSWs in long-term care homes, especially with the COVID-19 crisis, which isolates residents from caring loved ones.
“The pandemic has put extra stress and strain on the job,” Ms. Buder says. “PSWs are asked to be doing more even when they are overwhelmed already.”
The Sheridan program emphasizes that the job of a PSW “is not just focusing on the physical, it’s also looking after psychosocial needs,” she explains. The pandemic has also brought a greater emphasis on infection control protocols, as well as a greater sense of the value that PSWs offer.
Coordinator and a professor in Sheridan’s personal support workers (PSW) program
Today, the PSW courses at Sheridan are delivered virtually, with in-person labs that have low teacher-student ratios to allow for social distancing. Greater flexibility in class schedules is helpful for the students, many of whom are already busy with jobs and families to care for. “They come out of the workforce to become PSWs because they want to make a difference,” says Ms. Buder, who sits on the PSW subcommittee of the Ontario Heads of Health Sciences.
This new generation of Sheridan PSWs is “excited about the career they’re going into despite the challenges,” she adds.
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