Seven Things I Have Learned On the Job as a PSW

Learning never ends in the life of a PSW. We learn as a student in our classrooms with our teachers and mentors. We also learn while at our field placement putting all our book learning to good use.

Once we enter the work force, we continue to learn in order to better take care of our clients.

Reading up on dementia symptoms is a great base to start from, but every individual who we come across with this illness is as unique as the illness itself. Every job has a learning curve and that of a PSW is no different.

When in the field, you will pick up on some things that you wouldn’t have thought otherwise about:

  • Your health is just as important as your resident’s,
  • Management really has no clue what goes on when on the floor,
  • Humor is a necessity, and
  • Please please don’t take everything so personally.

Your studies are important, but so are these on the job lessons.


Nursing home PSW lessonsThey hire you.

They read your resume.

Based on PSW qualifications they decide that you are suited for the job. But does upper management really have any idea regarding what goes on when a PSW is at work?

Based on my experience, I’d have to say NO.

It is management who decides how many incontinence products to order and how many PSWs is allotted per shift. It is management who decides how many clothes and towels are to be put on the floor, not the PSW, the person who uses said products for their residents.

Management seem to forget that even though the residents are in a nursing home, they are still people. Click here to Tweet this

And as a person, they have the same wants and needs as anyone else. It is extremely silly to tell someone that they are only allowed 2 briefs – for example – per resident.

We, as the PSW, know these people better than anyone. If someone has incontinence issues, sometimes 2 briefs aren’t enough.

What can we do?

Unfortunately, not a whole lot. But understanding that this is how things work will go a long way in making your day a lot less stressful.


A PSW’s job is such that you can end up working straight through your shift, without a break.

A lot of the time, you’re not paid for your break either.

Is it fair?


And yet we do the job anyway, because we often don’t have the choice.

Despite this, try to take breaks anyway. The body needs to recharge in order to perform at its best.

While on break, and during your shift, drink a lot of water! You’d be surprised how much you go through. I, for one, can go through a good 2-3 large bottles – no one said this job was easy! 

Also take rest room breaks when needed. Your bladder is just as important as your resident’s. Click here to Tweet this. 

If you don’t take care of yourself, who will? 

// ]]>You know your body better than anyone: try to recognize the signs of burning out as early as possible and take necessary breaks to prevent them. Your health is a key component to making sure you have a job to go to.

Keep your health in check.

Footwear is also extremely important. You are on your feet constantly, so be sure to choose running shoes of the best comfort and quality – see also the dress code for PSWs. Yes, they may be a bit pricey but your feet and back will thank you. Now is not the time to be fashionable.


Someone urinated on your shoes? Laugh.

A resident decided to threaten your life? Laugh some more.

A co-worker doesn’t like you? This is getting hilarious. Seriously.

Humour is a must when working in this field, in any aspect whether it be LTC or retirement.

If you took every little detail of this job seriously you’d be calling in sick every shift and then more than likely lose your job because your attendance record would become a concern.

Laugh for the sake of your job!

At times, humor can be used to diffuse a difficult situation with residents who have a tendency to resist care. It can also be used with a co-worker who seems to be having a difficult day.

A team who works together must also laugh together.

Everyone’s job should be fun in some way, otherwise why bother?


This goes hand in hand with humor.

If a resident calls you a nasty name, you have to remember that it wasn’t them, it was more than likely their alter-ego which often arises in those with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Sometimes you may get called names from someone who is in their right mind.

Don’t take it personally.

People living in a nursing home tend to get…well, a little on edge for lack of a better word.

And really, can we blame them?

This is a whole new chapter in life for them and the transition isn’t easy. They are more than likely frustrated and scared.

Empathize. Don’t get angry.

This also goes for management. Yes, they have the power but don’t let someone’s ego get the better of you. Stand up for yourself – in a polite and professional manner – and do your job. Smile and walk on. You can do this.


You wouldn’t believe how quickly an 8 hour shift can just pass you by. Things can happen during your shift that we as PSWs have no control over.

We don’t plan for a resident to have a fall, we don’t plan on working a shift with one PSW short, and we certainly don’t plan to attend a half hour in-service, all of which can be huge time consumers.

But it happens. Keep calm and do the best you can.

If due to short staff there happens to be no time for showering, then don’t do it. Leave a note for the on-coming shift so that they know why a task wasn’t completed. This way you’re covered should anyone complain and they have a heads-up as to how their shift is going to go.

Falls and illnesses can occur in an instant with fragile seniors, just as they can when taking care of children. Always make sure to check on your residents and know their whereabouts at all times.

Let your co-workers know when you intend to take your break so that they know to check up on your residents for you. 

A perfect shift will never happen. Something almost always comes up.

It’s ok. It’s a part of the job.


PSW's are compassionate and caringIn theory, you should have these qualities already, or working as a PSW would be extremely difficult.

You may be amazed though to find just how caring and compassionate the human soul can be to another in one’s time of need.

The amount of patience that I have at home with my own life used to be close to non-existent. Working with those who require these skills from their caregivers has taught me to apply these skills in my personal life.

Not that I was ever an unsympathetic person before starting this job, but I now find myself putting more effort in when someone I know is in need.

And I’m not doing it because I feel obligated, I’m doing so because I want to. Just as I want to be all of these things for my residents. It can be difficult at times, especially when you have a difficult resident. Somehow this only makes me care more.


This may be some of the best advice I can give you when dealing with a resident who has severe dementia:

DO NOT under any circumstances argue with them.

It won’t get you anywhere, it’ll frustrate them even more than they already are, and you will become frustrated in the process.

I have a resident who is convinced on a daily basis that she must go visit her mother in Montreal. Do I tell her that her mother is most likely deceased and that she is currently residing in an LTC home in Toronto?


That would most likely not help the situation. I’ve had to use some pretty tricky wording in order to convince her otherwise:

“I’m sorry love, but the buses aren’t running today.”

“Sorry, it’s too cold out.”

“How about we eat lunch first and then try to go?”

There’s no harm in encouraging as there’s an extremely good chance that within the next 10 minutes she’ll forget altogether.

By doing this you are talking on the same level as your resident and making them feel comfortable by letting them know that you care about what it is they desire.

Trust me.

If you try to argue and say something along the lines of “No, we’re in Toronto, you’re wrong” don’t be surprised if you get called something mean.

Go with the flow, it’s a lot easier.

You cannot deal logically with an illogical illness. Remember that.


Who says the learning has to stop once you enter the work force?

Your mind must be open at all times to opportunities and lessons. Some of the most important ones I have learned are those listed above, all of which I learned on the job.

I love to share what I’ve learned because I love my job and I feel that the life of a PSW is something more people should respect and know about. 

When I was first introduced to a nursing home – we’re talking 20 years ago when my aunt was ill – I was saddened and scared beyond words.

I had no idea that working in this type of facility could offer me so much insight into my own life.

I had no idea that it could be so fun and rewarding.

Share your love

Avlin is passionate about helping aspirants become better personal support workers. He is an entrepreneur and runs a clinic in Toronto.

Articles: 226

One comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *