This simple question is one that we get asked all the time! Here is the quick answer:
A PSW is a ‘personal support worker’. This means they have taken several courses (usually about 6 months’ worth) in how to care for patients who need assistance with their health and hygiene. It also means that they are not regulated in the same way that an RN (Registered Nurse), or RPN (Registered Practical Nurse) is.
Why does the PSWs program exist?
The PSW program has several major benefits.
The first is that it provides an entry point into health care for workers who might be passionate about helping others but not have the resources to pursue the long and difficult post-secondary educational process to become an RN, RPN or an MD.
This also means that PSWs generally have lower wages than other health care professionals (PSWs tend to make between $16-$20/hour). This in turn allows hospitals, clinics, and home care companies (such as yours truly), to stretch resources in new ways .
This is compared to the corresponding RN rate (which could fall in the $35-$50/hour range).
Although a PSW cannot perform all the tasks that an RN or an RPN could, there are many they can and this allows hospitals and other companies to split up work in new ways and save money.
The PSW program is great, but it does come with some catches
The main one is that because PSWs are unregulated there is no regulatory group overseeing the profession.
Contrast this with the nursing profession where the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) oversees the rigorous process of becoming a nurse in Ontario and then protects the public by maintaining licensing for nurses and tracking any infractions (and can potentially even revoke a license) if a nurse breaks with the standards set by the College.
The CNO even allows you (or anyone at all) to log onto www.CNO.org and look up any nurse you meet to check to see if their license is in good standard and what (if any) infractions they have against them.
Now that’s visibility!
None of this rigour and structure exists for non-regulated professions like PSWs.
That lack of regulation is why it’s so important when hiring a home care company that you pick one that you can trust.
As a small local company we take that trust very seriously and it’s part of why we’ve had the privilege of working with so many families over the years.
Another note on PSWs…
Remember that the PSW program was developed in Ontario and so the term is quite specific to the province itself.
In other provinces the same idea exists but the role is known by other names such as health care aid (Alberta), home support worker (an older term before the PSW program existed), or nursing assistant (United States).
You may also want to familiarize yourself with other designations while we’re on the topic
PSWs aren’t the only option in town, here are the other key designations to know:
- Nurse Practitioner (NP) – this is the ‘highest’ level of nursing designation and requires an individual to have completed a master’s degree. A nurse practitioner is able to order diagnostic tests and prescribe medications. Oftentimes an RN (next category) will seek to be accredited as an NP after working as an RN for several years.
- Registered Nurse (RN) – this is university level educated nurse who holds a bachelor’s degree (typically a 4 year program). An RN is able to work with complex and unstable patients (i.e. in the emergency room or intensive care unit) and often work in case management and other managerial roles.
- Registered Practical Nurse (RPN) –is a college educated nurse who has completed a 2 year program focused on bedside nursing care. RPN’s are able to care for medically stable patients (i.e. long-term care facilities, and rehabilitation)
- Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) – is the title used for RPN’s in some provinces in Canada (i.e. Alberta).
Lastly and MOST IMPORTANTLY on PSWs
Moving back to PSWs for a second, the last thing I’d like to say is that over the last several years I have personally come to know many PSWs who are some of the most caring, authentic, loving, and genuine people on the face of the earth and I trust them so much so that I’ve brought some into my own home to care for my own family members.
They are experts in making the ‘impossible’ into the ‘possible’ and I’ve seen it personally more times than I can count!
If you think you might have a situation that a PSW could help with (or any other type of medical professional for that matter) you can have a look at what we do here, or if you’d like, you can give us a call, we’d love to show you how home care can help you!