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GELA’s Personal Support Worker Students Prepare for Careers Helping Others

A student and instructor work with a patient simulator dummyAt Grand Erie Learning Alternatives’ (GELA) City Centre campus in downtown Brantford, you’ll meet Pat. Pat doesn’t have a lot to say, and spends most of the time just sitting around. But Pat is an important part of the Personal Support Worker (PSW) program. Pat helps students as they learn to provide clients with the dignity and care they deserve.

Pat is an anatomically correct patient simulator, and is no dummy. Students can do everything from administer eye drops and oral medications, to clean wounds and change bandages. They even learn about mobility as they move Pat safely in and out of bed themselves or use an assistance device. It’s all part of gaining the skillsets and confidence necessary before going out on clinical and community placements. Later in the term, a physiotherapist will provide more hands-on learning to students in terms of safe movements.

“The personal support worker career path is extremely rewarding, and you definitely need to have a caring, compassionate personality to begin with,” says Terri Mellors, a registered practical nurse and clinical instructor in the program. “Many students in the program have cared for a family member such as an aging grandparent, and they really learn to look at each client as if they were part of their family.”

The outlook for personal support workers is good news: most students in GELA’s program will have a job before they finish the six-month program, often hired by long-term care facilities or home-care providers they work with on clinical and community placements, which are required to graduate.

“I tell students to think of their placements as the longest job interview they’ll ever have,” says Mellors.

The program combines theoretical knowledge with hands-on skills to work as a team member with clients, families, nurses, doctors and support services. Students spend eight weeks in the classroom learning about health conditions, anatomy and physiology, but also obtaining professional skills such as building a portfolio, acing a job interview, and organizing effective schedules to manage their work-day requirements.

A student and instructor work to demonstrate safe use of a mobility assistance device“This program is a way for me to better myself, and provide a brighter future for my kids,” says Laura, who’s balancing her course load with the full-time job of raising two children who attend Banbury Heights School. “I want to set an example for them.”

Echoing Grand Erie’s Multi-Year Plan, the program prioritizes providing inclusive care for clients, and takes into account the well-being of mind, body, emotion, and spirit as key components of equity and well-being.

The PSW program is part of adult continuing education courses, and is also an eligible dual-credit program for students obtaining a secondary school diploma at the same time. Mellors says the age range of students in the program’s history spans 19 to 60.

“Part of what’s so rewarding for me is seeing students make a positive change toward a great career,” says Mellors. “What’s even more special is knowing the impact they’re going to have on people in the community who need their help.”