Challenges of Being a Personal Support Worker

November 18th, 2021 / By Eastern College

Working in the healthcare field is a rewarding opportunity for caring individuals such as a personal support worker (PSW). A PSW assists clients with the daily tasks associated with their unique lifestyles. Because a personal support worker directly takes care of patients in their living space, a PSW can therefore be employed in client homes, long-term care homes, group homes, retirement homes, respite care facilities, and hospitals.

Personal support worker with a client
The scope of a PSW’s work involves getting very deep into the client’s personal life and space. Thus, a successful personal support worker must have a great relationship with their client.

If you are someone looking for a way to get into the healthcare field but don’t want to spend years in school, a career as a personal support worker may be right for you. But just because PSWs spend a shorter amount of time in school does not mean that their work is easy by any means. Although the job of a PSW can be very rewarding, there are still aspects of the job that can be challenging.

What is the Role of a Personal Support Worker?

A personal support worker’s role is to provide care to any person who requires personal assistance with the activities of their daily living. PSWs perform personal care for any person in their home or another living facility that meets the physical, mental health, and supportive needs of their clients. In addition to this, PSWs provide related paraprofessional services in accordance with an established plan of care. They are typically involved in both personal care tasks and related activities of daily living such as meal preparation (and feeding if necessary), personal hygiene, housekeeping, running errands, and companionship. PSWs can also help administer medications and must keep detailed and accurate records of their client’s condition.

“A personal support worker is someone who can make a difference in people’s lives,” said Divya Kuruvila, Personal Support Worker Program Coordinator at Eastern College. “PSWs provide care and support to people of any age who require assistance with their day-to-day activities, personal care, family responsibilities, and home management.”

A personal support worker is someone who can make a difference in people’s lives.

A successful personal support worker must have a great relationship with their client as the scope of their work involves getting very deep into the client’s personal life and space. Because a PSW can be so deeply involved in the client’s daily living, it’s imperative that the client really trusts them.

It is common for some PSWs and other care workers to experience some resistance at the beginning stages of their relationship with a new client. The client may resist care because of a fear of losing their independence or simply because they prefer the work of another PSW. When situations like this take place, it’s important to remain calm and have an open dialogue. People requiring care may be vulnerable and therefore slow to give their trust to a new worker. Keep your client reassured by answering any questions they may have about your background and the service and suggest some ways to build a rapport such as bonding over an activity.

Common Challenges

  • Early-morning and late-night shifts: Many clients will need aid at varied hours of the day, so your working pattern is unlikely ever to be a 9-to-5 routine. It may also include evenings and weekends.
  • Encountering resistance from clients: New clients may take some time to adjust to you as a care provider.
  • Communication issues within the larger team: As you work closest to clients, you may be the first to notice changes in their condition. You will have to communicate these changes immediately, which may be challenging if you are not in direct contact with the other healthcare professionals.
  • Coordinating transportation if you don’t drive: Escorting clients to and from appointments may be part of your tasks. You will have to be organized to get to destinations on time.
  • Side effects of client’s health condition: Clients who have mental health issues or illnesses such as dementia may present a challenge on some days. You will also have to prepare yourself for the fact that some of your clients may succumb to their health or old age and pass away.

Where Can a Personal Support Worker Work?

Personal support workers can work alone, mostly when they are working in the home of a client. When they work in someone’s home, the PSW usually reports to the primary caregiver of the family, liaising with nurses and other healthcare staff as necessary. If a PSW works for a facility such as a long-term care home, hospital, nursing home, supported living services, care homes, and community organizations, they will most likely be part of a larger team. When PSWs work as a part of a team in a facility ,it’s usually multidisciplinary and consists of various staff and departments as there will be overlaps in providing the care necessary for the overall well-being of the client.

A multidisciplinary team of registered healthcare professionals can consist of physicians, psychiatrists, clinical nurses, community mental health nurses, psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, and sometimes, professionals from other disciplines such as counselors/specialized therapists, caseworkers, and, of course, the personal support worker(s). With so many people involved in the decisions making for a client, there are bound to be some misunderstandings and miscommunications. A great way to cope with this challenge is to practice conflict resolution techniques. Try to communicate clearly and efficiently, especially if a mistake is made. If there are clashes in personality, try to provide someone with the benefit of the doubt and address it when everyone involved is calm. Having another co-worker to facilitate mediation can also be helpful. Another challenge can be reporting important changes in the client’s condition to the larger team. When this situation arises, it is important to know standard procedures related to the client’s health until the physician or nurse is available to advise.

How to Become a Personal Support Worker

You need a certificate to become a PSW, which means you will have to pursue post-secondary education. You can obtain a personal support worker certificate at most colleges and accredited educational institutions. The material covered in a Personal Support Worker program will give students a good overview of their role in clients’ lives and the overall healthcare industry as it affects PSWs.

The Personal Support Worker diploma program at Eastern College was recently updated to accommodate new changes in the industry such as the global pandemic and its effect on healthcare workers. Now more than ever, PSWs are considered to be essential workers and may have more responsibilities than before. Eastern College’s Personal Support Worker diploma program lasts 33 weeks and includes a combination of skills-lab training and a 9-week field placement to equip graduates with hands-on experience before entering the workforce.

Check out our Personal Support Worker program page for more information!