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Martima, a personal support worker, cleans an apartment in Toronto, on April 17 2020.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

The role: The role of a PSW is to provide care and support to vulnerable populations, most commonly the elderly. It involves assisting with everyday needs that range from medical treatment to housekeeping.

“I often say is it’s the ‘five Cs’ of caregiving,” says Gail Acton, who authored the PSW program for the National Association of Certified Caregivers and Personal Support Workers. “Commitment, compassion for the individual, communication, co-operation and care.”

A PSW can work in both public and private institutions, such as hospitals and long-term care facilities, as well as within private homes. Their day-to-day responsibilities typically differ depending on the work environment, but can include tasks often associated with social workers, nurses and homemakers.

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“They need the ability to assist the person with the activities of daily living, such as feeding, lifts and transfers, bathing, skin care, oral hygiene, toileting, those kind of tasks,” Ms. Acton says.

PSWs are also responsible for observing the condition of those they serve, and reporting any changes in health or behaviour to the appropriate supervisor, such as a family member or physician. In some instances PSWs may also be required to provide medical assistance directly, under the supervision of a health care professional.

“Say a person needed intravenous,” Ms. Acton says. “There would be a nurse that would come in, practise that skill, show them, document it, and then [the PSW] could carry on that responsibility because they’re signed off under a nurse practitioner.”

Salary: The hourly compensation of a PSW typically depends on their employer type, Ms. Acton explains. Those employed by health care agencies typically earn close to minimum wage, those in private retirement homes and residential care facilities typically earn between $15 and $20 an hour, and those who work in long-term care facilities typically earn upward of $20 per hour.

“Most would begin at around slightly over $15 [per hour], and they should be moving toward $20 to $25 an hour at the midpoint of their career, but many of these places are still paying them too little,” Ms. Acton says. Experience, education, geographical location and foreign language fluency can also contribute to salary expectation, she adds.

According to Payscale.com, the average compensation for a PSW in Canada is $18.10 an hour. On Oct. 1, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a temporary $3 an hour raise for PSWs in the province.

Education: The National Association of Certified Caregivers and Personal Support Workers requires students to complete 1,100 hours of training, including 800 academic hours and 300 paid placement hours, in order to be certified across the country. Would-be PSWs also have the option of earning certification in individual provinces, with educational requirements differing between jurisdictions.

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“Every province has its own educational standards,” Ms. Acton adds. “For a PSW in Ontario, for example, community colleges require 700 hours, and private career colleges require 600 hours.”

Job prospects: Demand for PSWs is strong from coast to coast and among all employer types as a result of Canada’s aging population. “The demand is high everywhere,” Ms. Acton notes.

Challenges: The role of a PSW can be both mentally and physically demanding and Ms. Acton says many feel they’re not appropriately compensated.

“The thing that gets on most of their nerves is working within the system itself. In some cases it’s not enough recognition and it’s not enough pay for the type of work that they do.”

She adds that even within long-term care facilities, where hourly wages are generally higher, employers typically avoid offering staff full-time hours, requiring many to seek multiple employers.

“This is what caused a lot of the transfer of COVID-19. These guys and gals are working several different shifts at different nursing homes in order to get enough hours, moving from one place to another.”

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Why they do it: The job can be demanding, but Ms. Acton says PSWs enjoy a highly rewarding career. “They have a genuine care for the elderly, they have a really positive attitude, and they want to make a difference. They’re helpers by nature.”

Misconceptions: PSWs are often confused with nurses, as they are responsible for many of the caregiving tasks traditionally associated with that profession. “Nursing has changed,” Ms. Acton says. “Nurses are much more technical today, and the PSWs are now the front-line caregivers.”

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