January 15, 2018 | News

Algonquin College’s personal support worker program embeds students at Ottawa long-term care facility

Laurie Fagan, CBC News

A hands-on training program for personal support workers that embeds students in an Ottawa nursing home has graduated its first class.

The eight-month Algonquin College program began last May, and is the first of its kind in the city. Twenty students worked with residents at The Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre on Russell Road in Ottawa’s east end.

“As much as we teach students important aspects from our textbooks and videos, it’s so different when you come into the real-life environment,” said Jennifer Munoz, Algonquin’s personal support worker (PSW) program co-ordinator.

Their classroom was a former dining hall that underwent a $100,000 renovation, including hospital beds with mannequins for the students to train on before they got to work with living patients.

Once they mastered the difficult job of safely manipulating the mannequins, the students moved out into the centre’s wards to practise what they’d learned under the supervision of their instructors.

Practising skills right away

The students spent one-quarter of their time working directly with residents, including two weeks unsupervised.

“We could practise our skills right away,” said graduate Ashley Yutronkie, 32, a mother of three who’s eager to return to the workforce after eight years.

Yutronkie said helping residents with such intimate needs as dressing and bathing allowed her to improve her communication skills, and taught her the importance of helping those under her care retain their dignity.

“I talked to them like a human being, exactly how I’d like to be treated or how I’d want my family to be treated,” said Yutronkie. “I treated residents with that respect and dignity.”

Then there are the more practical skills that can only be perfected with practice on real patients: “I learned how to put a man’s briefs on without removing his pants,” Yutronkie said.

Great job prospects

Pawan Aggarwal, an international student from India, completed his first term at Algonquin’s Woodroffe Avenue campus before completing his final semester at The Perley and Rideau.

“I love to care for old people,” said Aggarwal, who wants to become a doctor like his father, who advised him that training as a PSW is a good starting point.

“You know exactly what’s going on at the ground level and you experience what it’s really like to be a patient,” Aggarwal said.

According to Jennifer Plant, director of clinical practice at The Perley and Rideau, job prospects for the graduates are excellent: the facility currently has 20 openings, though not all are full-time.

“It’s such a great advantage having the program here in respects to recruitment and retention” Plant said. “We’re challenged a little bit with recruitment because there’s not enough PSWs in the field.”

Ashley Yutronkie said she’d love to land a job at The Perley and Rideau, where she already knows many residents.