Being a PSW is one of the toughest jobs in the caring professions

By Graham Bashford

Being a PSW is one of the toughest jobs in the caring professions

I can still remember it like it was yesterday, I was 17 years old and knew that I wanted to help others as a vocation. I took the nursing program in Barrie and completed my first two semesters before realizing that in order to complete the program I would have to raise more funds. So I moved home to Lindsay to save up. Funny thing about being an 18 year old in college for many of us is that life skills — like budgeting — was not a strong point.

Columnist Graham Bashford.

I decided to take the Personal Support Worker (PSW) program here at Fleming College which was a nine-month program, fairly economical and close to home. I was the only male PSW student in a group of 30 and it was sure hard to explain to my 19-year-old friends what I was learning in school. The program is both class studies and practical placements in the community (about 100 hours), and in facilities. After completing my long term care placement (about 150 hours) I truly wondered if I had chosen the right path as the idea of getting 11 to 13 residents up each morning before 8 am seemed so different from how I envisioned caring for seniors would be. However when a senior looks at you and says “thank you dear,” it keeps you coming back day after day. And most people who live into their 90s tend to have a great sense of humour so there was no shortage of laughs each shift.

After graduating and working as a PSW for four years I found that my lower back was constantly giving out and Tylenol and A535 were items that were always on the grocery list. As for many PSWs, both physical and mental burn out is a very real thing. And a great deal of PSWs strive to upgrade their schooling and bridge over to later become a Registered Practical Nurse (RPN) to lighten the physical load, but continue to serve just the same.

A PSW is one of the most underrated positions to hold. The wonderful caregivers out there are not only involved in the most unfavourable jobs of the day, but are also constantly experiencing grief associated with the loss of a beloved client or resident. We are all taught in school to try and not to get too attached to residents, but that’s hard to do after helping a senior with the most personal of care tasks for years, meeting their families, and doing anything required to make them comfortable.

All too often adult children of residents and clients have some very demanding tendencies, and rightfully so — it’s their loved one. But the front line team is often all they can see making PSWs and housekeepers a target for frustration. It can be a thankless job sometimes, especially when you are understaffed, which any PSW can tell you, happens frequently. The cooks of facilities are often criticized for meals, even though they are restricted by $4-7 per-person food budgets per day. And what most seniors don’t realize is that taste buds age with them, and at 90 years old it’s mostly salty and sweet foods that are tasted well and enjoyed. Facilities’ cooks can’t prepare meals with sodium so the food always tastes bland to a resident, but not as much to the 30-year-old cook. Later in life, as an administrator, 10 residents would come to my office to say it was the best meal yet, followed by another 10 who threatened to move out if it didn’t improve.

The home care sector for caregivers can also be a challenging place to work. Pets, habits, adult kids, and the physical set-up of the home can all offer challenges. Not to mention, PSWs in Ontario work in a climate that is not always suitable to drive to a client’s house at 7 am after two feet of snow fell the night prior. But whether it’s snowing or a summer day any PSW can tell you that it’s going to be 85 degrees in any senior’s home you enter, so bring an extra shirt to change into after you leave.

Keep these things in mind next time you run across a caregiver. Whether private or publicly funded, none of us do what we do for the money — and there is no such thing as an easy shift. We don’t even dare to win when we’re watching Wheel of Fortune with them for fear of wrecking a client’s night!


  1. Marguerite Rendering says:

    When my dad was dying at home he was granted two hours of PSW care per day. We decided to use one hour in the morning to get him ready for the day, and one hour at the end of the day to get him ready for bed. Dad was palliative for 14 months, and I couldn’t have done it without the PSW’s. They took wonderful care of dad and gave me time to run into town for prescriptions, groceries… Dad went downhill very fast at the end and I never had a chance to thank them in person, although I did tell their boss and I hope it was forwarded to them. They were angels in my life at the time, angels who didn’t get paid enough and who often worked in less than ideal circumstances.

  2. Debbie L says:

    I began as a HCA(Health Care Aid) when I was 24 yrs old. I worked in a nursing home/retirement home in Ajax for 32 yrs and as a PSW the last 25 yrs. Unfortunately I had to take an early retirement at age 55 because of an illness called Bell’s Palsy which I was certain came about because of all the stress at work. After being off work for 6 years I decided I was missing my profession so I took a chance and applied for home care work just to see how I would like it. To my surprise I loved it so much that I’ve been doing it now for 2 years with no thoughts of retiring soon. There are still a lot of frustration in home care but only with the system. Thankfully I manage to handle that stress because I love what I do and the people I help everyday! They are so appreciative of all the help they receive and that is what motivates me!

  3. Holly Hibbit says:

    I think it is wonderful what you all do. Courtesy, respect and good care for the people you care for.? Thankyou

  4. Denise Griffin says:

    Love my PSWs! I’m an RPN and although through the years I’ve done some aspects of the PSW type work, I couldn’t do solely PSW work. The physical and emotional and mental demands are astronomical. I work nights with women in their 60s who could run circles around me. I couldn’t do my job without them. They deserve the utmost respect.

  5. Traceu says:

    I have been a psw for 21 years done it all from homecare retirement home musing home and hospital. Now I am back in home care as I can no longer handle the stress in musing home. Too hard on the body. 13 yrs was enough. I love my job and my clients. It is the most rewarding job for the least amount of money. But I live it just the same .

  6. carolyn says:

    Worked for over 15 years as a PSW. I loved my job. Over the years, I noticed that the type of resident that we were moving into our LTC changed drastically. We thought that we would be helping the elderly. We had drug addicts, alcoholics, mental health issues. The list goes on and on. These were not elderly people. Many were in their 40s and 50s. We were assaulted on a daily basis and some staff endured life threatening abuse. My body finally started breaking down. The mental stress causes by management was too much. I decided to retire early just to save myself.

  7. Debby says:

    I love my job .and sad but true it has become a unrealistic task getting 18 .to 20 residents up dressed if bath day on unit usually 3 to 4 .this is between 2 staff.have down for 8am your daily chit chat doing care is very short lived.their quality spa ( bath ) is now a quick dip.Is it anybody’s fault .i truely believe no we do the best to provide quality care with respect and dignity .problem the aging population is continually growing at a rapid pace .what is the biggest issue is the fine line between neglect and abuse that is the biggest problem our province is making us deal with .but hey do not dare say you gave a bed bath because you were short staffed or no time .its becoming a sad but true reality.and i strongly believe we do what we can in a 8 hr shift always giving care with dignity and respect .knowing if resident says no than it means no .remember after all we are a visitor in their home .( just saying )

  8. Arlene says:

    I am a psw for 15 years. I work in a LTC and enjoy every moment of it, cause it felt like my second home and family. The last 5 years has seeing some drastic changes. There’s every different types of residents coming in with lot of behaviour. Care time has been reduced drastically, no time for interaction and work load increase and staffs cut back and each staff has between 11 to 13 residents to care for. The management really don’t care about the staffs as long as the work get done at any cost and everything looks good on papers.

    So what happen staff starts getting injured and burned out, so physically and mentally the body start slowing down with the aches and pains.
    Now it comes to the community LOVE it. Enjoy my clients, the wealth of life experience they have to share, makes my job more enjoyable.

  9. Stacey says:

    I love this post. I’ve been a PSW for over 6 years in home care, facility, and special care and it’s a job that’s very mentally and physically demanding. Time restraints can be next to impossible, and we deal with all sorts of behaviours and illnesses, often understaffed, as you have said, for less than ideal pay. Despite this, many of us do what we do because we love to help people. Although I am upgrading to my practical nursing in the fall, I have truly enjoyed my time working as a PSW and it has given me perspective as part of the health care team. As I become a nurse, I will have nothing but the utmost respect for my PSWs who are often overlooked. We are a very important part of the front line health care team ♥️

  10. Linda simmons says:

    Just loved my job as a personal support worker…
    I worked in the community for 3 years then went to a long term nursing home which was the best 14 years years of my life…helping someone that can’t help themselves was so rewarding to me…
    I worked with great people and we are still friends today… I’m retired and miss my job… but I’m loving retirement

  11. Greg Escaper says:

    I am good with money while in college is one of the most necessary traits for anyone. My friend usually ends of blowing all of his money on escape room in the university and then he is out of money for the whole month.

  12. Greg Escaper says:

    I think of-of the occupations in the caring industry are very difficult as the members of the community have to be very diligent. This is exactly the reason why I tell them its hard.

  13. Robert Renshaw says:

    I wish a very BIG thankyou to all PSW’s everywhere..especially the ones at Caressant Care Mary St..As a police officer in Toronto for 32 years I thought my ‘job’ was tough but you people have to be admired for what you do. Thanks again and Blessings on all of you

  14. Darla Belanger says:

    after reading all the comments/posts above, I don’t feel I have any more to add that hasn’t been said. Some of the comments made me feel as if they had been written by ME!! I have been in the “caregiving” business for 33 years.
    LTC for 15 yrs, Treatment foster care 9 years and now, homecare for the last 3.
    I am 60 years old and I find myself being appreciated very much by my clients because I am ‘halfway’ between. I am still young but I am old (er) too. I have had the unfortunate experience of being laid up from an almost fatal accident at 45 and know first hand what it is like needing a PSW’s help. The ones that are ‘in charge’ need to experience some of what it is like first hand to perhaps help them understand better about wha. I could go on forever about this but I know it’s futile and everyone doing this type of job would understand my thoughts regarding this.
    Bottom line is… how will it ever be changed? In the interm, we as care givers, willcontinue to do whatever we can for our clients…. as one person commented…just saying…

  15. Anita says:

    I’m a psw & I love my job doing homecare…The people I help are always so glad for my help & visit.
    They look forward to the next time I show up.
    I love to help make their day & see them smile.

  16. Anita says:

    PSW is a great career choice if you love to help make someone’s life a little better.

  17. TRACI says:

    Been a psw for 8 years now love my job now then you know The residents become family you are with them more than your own family. Yes we sll work under alot of stress but we get thru out day with the elderly thanking you kissing your cheek and smiling missing you when you have 1 day off that is what makes a great place to be . Hopefully others will realize the importance of our jobs and how we take great care of their loved ones . I must thank all the woman and men out there for doing a great job!!!

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