Personal Support Worker program rewarding for people who want to help others

A career as a personal support worker is a commitment to helping people, which is what drew Amber Wills of Orono to the one-year Personal Support Worker program at Durham College (DC).

“It was generally the aspect of helping people, that’s what I wanted to do my whole life,” she explains.

She was working as a manager at a restaurant when she decided to explore college programs and applied to DC because of the large placement component, where students complete more than 300 hours of placement before graduating giving them confidence to provide essential care in the community.

Wills said that before embarking on their first placement, students learn important skills in the lab, practicing on mannequins.

“They teach you all the skills in the lab before you even go out into the field, which is amazing,” she said.

In the labs students learn things like feeding people, how to roll people in bed and how to safely transfer a person from a bed to a wheelchair while supporting them.

Wills said her placements have included a long-term care setting and an adult day program and said her classmates enjoy their placement opportunities.

“They really like being out in the field and I think it’s really great that we can take our skills that we learned and practice them while we’re still in school and we can ask questions and make sure that we’re doing everything correctly.”

Wills said she also appreciated improving her communication skills at DC.

“As somebody who wasn’t great with communicating in high school—I had a lot of anxiety growing up—they taught me to break out of my shell and start conversations with people and continue conversations and I’ve been able to bring that into my every-day life as well.”

Overall, Wills said DC’s PSW program is a great entry into health care.

“You learn about diseases and illnesses, you learn about mental health, general anatomy and how the body works, and just in general you get a good foundation in the medical field.”

But the most important reason to pursue a career as a personal support worker is wanting to help others, said Wills.

“If that’s what somebody wants to do, if they want to help people, they will really enjoy it no matter what.”

Find out more about DC’s Personal Support Worker program and apply for May 2024!

Answers to your top questions about hands-on learning at DC

At Durham College (DC), we know the best way for you to learn what it takes to succeed in your chosen field is to experience it first-hand. By doing this, you’ll enhance the skills you learn in the classroom, network and make industry contacts, and gain valuable real-world work experience.

There are different forms of experiential learning, including work-integrated learning (WIL) which combines your academic studies with quality experiences within a workplace or practice setting. And it’s not just a valuable addition to your educational experience – it’s an essential component of preparing you for success in today’s rapidly evolving workforce as it provides hands-on experience in your chosen field – before graduation!

To help you understand work-integrated learning better, we’ve answered the top five questions we hear most!

  1. What are the benefits of WIL?

By providing opportunities for real-world application, skill development, career exploration, networking, and increased employability, work-integrated learning plays a vital role in shaping you as a well-rounded, career-ready graduate! DC offers a wide range of hands-on learning to help you lead the way in your future career.

  1. What are the different types of WIL offered at DC?

DC believes in the power of WIL to transform your educational experience and prepare you for success in your future career. That’s why we offer a variety of hands-on learning opportunities tailored to meet your specific needs and interests, including co-operative education programs that integrate academic studies with paid work terms, field placements, practicums that provide supervised real-world experiences, applied research and capstone projects, as well as volunteering.

  1. Do I have to pay for WIL?

Most forms of WIL at DC are built into the curriculum, so additional payment is not required. However, students transferred into their program’s co-op option will be charged an administrative fee of $475 for each work term. This is not a placement fee, meaning you are not guaranteed to be hired for a co-op position, rather it provides access to all the services administered by the Experiential Learning team, which are in place to assist you in your co-op job search.

  1. How long are WIL opportunities?

Different forms of WIL vary in length and scheduling based on industry needs. You are typically expected to work full-time hours aligned with industry standards and there may be shift work or weekend work required.

  1. Will I receive a paycheck?

Field placements are typically unpaid; however, co-op positions usually pay at least the provincial minimum wage. Beyond this, pay rates for co-op vary depending on your program of study, your employer, and the scope of your work term role.

Have more questions? Explore your future or current program to learn about its work-integrated learning opportunities.

DC leading the way in Paramedic education

The province of Ontario needs more paramedics, and Durham College (DC) is answering the call.

Last September, DC added 10 extra seats to the popular Paramedic diploma program in response to the increased demand for paramedics in Ontario and nationwide.

That demand remains high, and last month, Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones announced that the province’s community colleges would be adding 300 new spaces in their paramedic programs in order to bolster the workforce of this critically important sector. DC is doing its part by adding 30 seats in a compressed stream that will be delivered over four consecutive semesters.

DC’s highly regarded Paramedic program is always competitive and oversubscribed. The popularity of the program is due to many factors, including DC’s state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, 24/7 access to the lab, a team of passionate and dedicated instructors, and a willingness to innovate and change with the times.

After investing in additional lab space and simulation equipment, DC is ready to accommodate more students while maintaining the high quality of the program, according to Gillian Dunn, associate dean in the Faculty of Health Sciences.   

“The faculty and staff, they’re so dedicated and committed to the program,” she said. “We’re always in close contact with our external stakeholders and partners, making sure that they’re being informed about our curriculum and have the opportunity to provide input on how we prepare our graduates. We have really strong partnerships with many of the paramedic services, both in and outside of Durham Region.”

Those partnerships allow students to get experience in long-term care facilities, hospital clinical rotations and on-ambulance preceptorships, where they ride along with professional paramedics. The amount of experiential learning has been a pleasant surprise for Zachary Lash, a student in the program who will enter his second year in September.

“One thing that caught me off guard was how often our faculty are throwing opportunities at us to get out there on the streets and work with paramedic services around Ontario for training,” he said. “The fact that DC gives us that opportunity almost every month means that we’re just practicing and getting better and better and better.”

Sabrina Chapman and Jaime Philips are also entering their second year of the program in September, but they’re not taking the summer off. Instead, they’re furthering their education as summer students in the logistics department of the Region of Durham Paramedic Services. The experience they gained in the program’s first year is one of the reasons they were able to beat out other students for the coveted opportunity.

Learning from instructors who are working paramedics has been particularly influential for the pair.

“The fact that you have that exposure to them and their stories from what’s happening on the road, it really helps you gain a better perspective,” said Philips.

Another reason the pair chose DC is that the program is recognized by Accreditation Canada, which means they’ll be eligible to work as a paramedic anywhere in the country.

Their classmate Lash has also been impressed by the program; particularly its focus on the mental and emotional toll the job can take.

“Going into this line of work, it’s important to have a resilient and strong mental health background, and DC has provided us with the necessary tools and classes on how to stay on top of that stuff and maintain our wellness,” he said.

The program is hard to get into and harder to complete, but students who are willing to work hard will excel, according to part-time faculty member Joseph Barrett, who teaches the program’s Crisis Management course.

“What you put in is what you get out. It’s a very intense, demanding course. I would argue it’s even harder than some university courses,” he said. “But if you put your time in, dedicate yourself to the material and trust the learning process, you will get out 100 per cent of what you put in to the program.” 

For Chapman, all of the hard work has been well worth it.

“I couldn’t be happier with the choice that I’ve made. I’ve loved every minute of it so far.”

Gaining on-the-job skills before graduation sets DC students up for success

Future fitness professional and Durham College Fitness and Health Promotion student, Josh Malbon, is getting on-the-job experience before he even graduates from college.

He is one of a number of students participating in a collaborative project* with students in the Firefighter – Pre-Service Education and Training program who are measuring the vital physiological responses of future firefighters as they perform real-life fire simulations to help learn how to improve their health, safety and performance.

“Working with students in the firefighter program is strengthening my ability to connect and communicate with clients in a professional setting,” said Malbon. “And the chance to work with a special population and learn specific procedures and protocols related to occupational testing is a huge benefit.”

Providing opportunities like this for students to participate in hands-on learning – also known as experiential learning or work-integrated learning – is a focus and priority for Durham College. Whether it is field placement, applied research, apprenticeship or co-op, they all have the shared objective to strengthen the skills students learn in the classroom by applying them to real-life settings.

And the result is undeniable that it gives students the skills employers are looking for and helps set them apart from the competition at graduation.

For Russell Waring, a third-year Computer Programming and Analysis student at DC, the opportunity was a co-op experience with the Ontario Ministry of Transportation that he says has helped boost his employability in the competitive field of information technology in advance of his graduation this spring.

“The Experiential Learning office supported me throughout the entire co-op experience,” said Waring. “Without the opportunities provided by DC’s work-integrated learning, I would not be graduating with the experience and confidence that I have today.”

Hands-on learning opportunities can also be student-led. In the Faculty of Media, Art & Design (MAD), a collaborative project lets students test out entrepreneurship and gain first-hand business experience.

Project Founders Drive*, a series of podcasts launched by DC’s Enactus Team, is helping student entrepreneurs realize their dreams and materialize business opportunities. With 18 jobs created for students across six MAD programs, the project has helped young professionals start seven businesses and exposed 780 people to entrepreneurship, not to mention the experience gained by the team.

No matter the form of learning, it’s all about gaining valuable experience while completing your studies to be job-ready on graduation day. And DC is here to help you get there.

To learn more about hands-on learning at DC, visit

*These projects are funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Innovation Work-Integrated Learning program and Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning (CEWIL) Canada’s Innovation Hub.