Young woman in a graduation gown holding a PSW certificate

The Ultimate Guide to Earning Your PSW Certificate in Ontario

Personal support workers (PSWs) make an enormous difference in the lives of aging adults, disabled persons, and other individuals needing direct care and support. According to the Government of Ontario, up to 24,000 new PSWs are needed by 2026 to fill the growing demand for these vital healthcare professionals.

If you’d like to step into a rewarding career that allows you to provide supportive, person-centred care, start by obtaining a personal support worker certificate in Ontario. Learn what it takes to become a PSW, including education, certificate and licensing requirements in this article.

Understanding the Personal Support Worker Role

The Ontario Personal Support Workers Association defines PSWs as professionals who provide care to individuals requiring personal assistance with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, and grooming. PSWs may also perform incidental activities, such as light housekeeping or meal preparation, and additional care delegated by a Registered Health Professional.

I’ve seen the difference a caring person can make in a patient’s life. For me, it’s one of the highlights of working in healthcare. As a PSW, you must possess empathy and compassion as you often work with vulnerable populations who rely on your understanding and kindness to navigate daily challenges. 

If you’d like to learn more about the role and responsibilities of a PSW, check out Inside the Role: What to Expect as a Personal Support Worker.

According to an article in the Economic and Industrial Democracy, turnover issues within the home health sector in Canada have existed for over a decade, with the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care reporting that about 60% of home care PSWs leave their jobs annually.

These high turnover rates and an aging population prompt an even greater need for personal care providers. PSWs can expect abundant and diverse career opportunities and job prospects in Ontario and throughout Canada.

Requirements for Becoming a PSW in Ontario

In Ontario, you must obtain a certificate in personal support work to become a PSW. Earning this certificate requires specific education, essential skills, and desired qualities such as patience and empathy.

Educational Requirements for PSWs

To become a PSW in Ontario, you must complete a personal support worker program. While you can obtain this education in a public college, a private program licensed by the National Association of Career Colleges (NACC) is often more comprehensive.

Upon completion, you must pass the NACC PSW certification exam to earn your PSW certificate. Find accredited institutions listed on the NACC website.

Fully accredited institutions offering PSW certificate programs in Ontario usually last one year, but you can opt for an accelerated program that lets you finish in about half that time.

You can also find programs that conveniently allow you to earn your PSW certificate online. PSW certificate programs delivered at public colleges in Ontario must follow PSW program standards established by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities.

Excel With These Skills and Qualities

Healthcare really is a team effort. PSWs often spend more time face-to-face with a patient than any other member of the healthcare team, and it’s essential to know how to communicate any concerns you have about your interactions with the patient to make sure they receive the care they need.

To excel as a PSW, you must have strong communication skills to effectively interact with patients, their families, and other healthcare team members. Problem-solving abilities are also vital.

While we always hope our shifts go by uneventfully, you will inevitably have days where nothing goes according to plan. Having strong problem-solving skills allows you to provide optimal care in diverse situations.

Your job will often entail lifting people to standing out of chairs, supporting them as they walk to the bathroom, and, for bed-bound patients, rolling them over or lifting them in bed. I know from personal experience that this can be physically taxing and may even make you break a sweat! Due to these physical demands, you must have the stamina for these tasks. 

While empathy is central to your role, you must also possess enough emotional resilience to handle losing patients. It never really gets easier, but I find peace knowing I could help them feel comfortable, cared for, and respected in their final days. It’s important to remember that this is a part of the job and that we did the best we could for them while they were in our care.

Steps to Earning Your PSW Certificate

If a PSW career sounds right for you, the details in this section help you know what to expect from a PSW certificate program. Learn how to prepare for your new career from curriculum to certification exam.

Enrolling in a PSW Certificate Program

While the application process and admission requirements for PSW programs vary by institution, most require a high school diploma. However, some let you finish your Ontario Secondary School Diploma requirements simultaneously.

You must provide proof of status in Canada and a photo ID. Some programs allow you to complete coursework in English or French, while others require you to pass an English language test.

As part of the enrollment process, you must provide a Criminal Records Check for Service with the Vulnerable Sector, a copy of your transcript from the last high school or Adult and Continuing Education Center you attended, and documentation of a medical assessment. You must also have a clear TB test and current vaccinations, including an annual flu shot.

Many full-time programs last one year, with accelerated programs lasting about six months. You may also attend part-time if you don’t mind taking longer to graduate. Your program will include classroom learning, hands-on clinical placement, and at least one practicum.

PSW Curriculum and Coursework

Program details may vary slightly from one institution to the next, but comprehensive NACC PSW certificate programs generally include 700 hours of learning, which includes clinical and facility placement.

If you want real-life experience before you graduate, I recommend doing supervised work in a long-term or palliative care setting while in school.

Typical subjects covered in the course include safety and infection control, communication skills, anatomy and physiology, developmental disorders and disabilities, cognitive impairment, mental health disorders, abuse and bullying awareness, and end-of-life care.

You’ll also study household management, nutrition, managing ongoing conditions, and assisting with personal hygiene, medications, and mobility.

Certification Exams and Licensing Requirements

The PSW certificate exam tests the standards of PSWs in Ontario to determine whether you’re prepared for the challenges of the job. It covers various topics related to your role and responsibilities as a PSW, including patient care, ethical considerations, safety protocols, and communication skills.

The NCAA and many colleges and professional organizations offer practice tests to help you prepare for the PSW certificate exam. Currently, PSWs are unregulated in Ontario, so you don’t need a license.

The Government of Canada has proposed regulations to strengthen oversight through the Health and Supportive Care Providers Oversight Authority Act, 2021. Comments on this act closed mid-January 2024, so stay tuned for more details.

Financial Assistance and Funding Options

Many colleges administer various awards and scholarships for PSW students. You can also apply for a PSW grant, the needs-based Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) or other government incentives to help you cover post-secondary education costs.

The federal and provincial governments fund OSAP, which offers interest-free loans to supplement your financial resources. According to Health Force Ontario, you can earn a stipend of up to $5,440 from the government during your clinical placement in a long-term care home or home and community care employer.

If you’re a recent PSW graduate, you can earn up to $10,000 for a 12-month work commitment with a long-term care home or home and community care employer and an additional $10,000 for relocation costs if that commitment is in a rural, remote, or northern area.

Besides traditional financial aid and government-funded programs, your employer may provide tuition reimbursement or sponsor free training programs that save you the cost of tuition.

Prepare to Launch Your Career

A PSW certificate is a recognized qualification that enhances job opportunities and is a foundation for career advancement. The Government of Canada’s Job Bank projects a very good outlook for PSW job seekers in Ontario over the next three years thanks to a growth in employment opportunities and upcoming retirements.

This projected shortfall increases your chance of finding a job after graduating from a PSW certificate program and passing the certification exam. Now is the perfect time to embark on a new and rewarding career in healthcare as a PSW.

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Jennifer Trimbee, RN
Jennifer Trimbee, RN

Jennifer Trimbee is a registered nurse with over 15 years of experience in various healthcare settings. She has cared for multiple patient populations, from neonates to seniors, and has worked in ICUs, transitional care facilities, and home care. In 2015, Jennifer combined her English degree and nursing expertise and started freelance writing.

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