Thirty new students packed their bags and headed to school as they engaged in the inaugural personal support worker (PSW) courses being offered by Near North District School Board (NNDSB). The courses are being held in Parry Sound and North Bay.
In a unique educational opportunity, NNDSB partnered with healthcare facilities to provide living classrooms, in which students learn theory in a classroom then apply the knowledge on the floor of a long-term care home.
Today, 18 students headed to class at Cassellholme in North Bay, and 12 started class at Belvedere Heights in Parry Sound. The board intends to start a PSW program in September in West Nipissing and Mattawa.
Gracie Liritzis is one of those students. She’s been out of school for six years and admits to being hesitant to apply for the program. “Do I remember how to study? I’m an adult with adult responsibilities – will I be able to manage my time?” she asks. On the flip side, Liritzis says, “I’ve had a lot of life experiences. I’m not as scared of failure or have a fear of being wrong. I’m able to handle constructive criticism and learn from it.”
She applied to the program after working in several fields but wanted an active role in her community and to feel fulfilled at the end of the day. “It is really important for me to feel like I’ve contributed to something, and I wasn’t getting that in other professions,” says Liritzis.
NNDSB Board Chair Jay Aspin notes that the development and launch of the PSW program demonstrates the board’s commitment to the pillars of excellence in its recently developed Multi-Year Strategic Plan. “This program embodies excellence in innovation and excellence in relationships, two of the four pillars of that plan. It is through this type of work that NNDSB staff are reshaping what public education can look like and how the board can contribute to the communities it serves.”
Upon completion of the program, Liritzis and her classmates will be fully trained PSWs with experience on the floor of a long-term care home. For program partners, seeing the students develop every day is like a months-long job interview; many students will wind up with employment offers. Across the province, there is a PSW shortage, which programs like this can address.
Director of Education Craig Myles says the board’s ability to help fill that employment gap was a major impetus for developing the program. “NNDSB has the opportunity to grow stronger community relationships while encouraging learners to come back to school. Our staff live and work in communities throughout the district, and we are proud to be able to contribute to educating the workforce that will support us and our families in healthcare.”
Instructors for the courses are Nancy Corbett in North Bay and Nicole Robinson in Parry Sound. Both are Registered Practical Nurses (RPN) with backgrounds and experience in long-term care. That depth and breadth of knowledge in providing hands-on care will serve the PSW students well.
Corbett has worked as a RPN at Cassellholme for 25 years and has been a preceptor for RPN students completing their consolidation. She’s excited about teaching the PSW program in a living classroom. “Students will have the chance to learn in a very practical and hands-on setting, which I believe will provide the students with the skills and confidence to be successful in their new PSW career,” she says.
The healthcare sector has a need for PSWs that Corbett says is particularly great in the long-term care sector. She was interested in becoming a NNDSB instructor because “it is a great way to give back to the healthcare profession and Cassellholme. I want to help ensure the newly trained PSW’s are ready to provide excellent care for their residents/clients.” Her goal is to “show students how rewarding a career in healthcare is, and that what they do every day and the interactions they have with their residents/clients will have an enormous impact in their lives.
Liritzis says her experience through the application process has been positive, and she’s felt supported through the process. To people who are unsure of applying to the PSW program, she says, “do it! It’s free.” She’s grateful for the opportunity to start a career in healthcare. “You’re so young in high school and expected to make big decisions that I just wasn’t ready for,” she says. She’s grateful for a second chance.