Vanessa Raaymakers balances Fleming College studies with PSW work amidst COVID-19

Although the start of her workday has changed, Vanessa Raaymakers is continuing to work as a PSW amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.

“It’s definitely challenged PSWs a lot more,” said Vanessa, who works at Extendicare Lakefield while studying Practical Nursing at Fleming College. “Unfortunately, there is a PSW shortage – even before the pandemic – and now we’re on overdrive to keep ourselves healthy to ensure we keep our residents healthy as well. It’s scary because we can’t physically distance in our jobs.”

To enter the building, Vanessa said she first visits a vestibule to answer a series of questions. She then enters the building and sanitizes her hands, takes her temperature, answers a series of questions in writing and adds her signature.

Vanessa has worked as a PSW for five years, spending the past three years at Extendicare Lakefield. She works day shifts and helps 12 to 13 residents get ready in the morning, which includes dressing, toileting, brushing, feeding, communicating with them and lying them down.

“This isn’t a Monday to Friday job; you talk to people all day, you’re in their personal space and you become like family. They are counting on you,” said Vanessa.

“I love my residents. You go in everyday and you’re there for them, you hear their stories about where they’ve been and about their kids. When you see them happy and you hear about their life, it brings so much happiness to this job,” she explains.

One of Vanessa’s favourite moments working in long-term care was discovering that her house was previously owned by a resident.

“Her daughter had pictures of her room and I showed her what it looks like now, and she just lit up,” said Vanessa. “They told me all that they did to the house and it made her so happy.”

While continuing her PSW career, Vanessa is studying Practical Nursing at Fleming College to gain more critical thinking and hands-on skills. She is currently in her second semester and, despite the disruption due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Vanessa said her experience at Fleming has been good overall.

“Being out of school for a long time and coming back as a mature student, it was difficult,” said Vanessa, who is 25 years old. “But there’s really good support and I was able to ask lots of questions, and there’s lots of help.”

Vanessa said she is already applying skills gained at Fleming College to her PSW role. After learning more thorough and specific terminology in the Anatomy & Physiology course, Vanessa is now able to relay more detailed information to the nurses who create care plans for residents.

The Fleming College student said she has always lived her life according to plan; she has been with her partner for eight years, bought a house at 20 years old, works hard and has a strict schedule. But one thing Vanessa is looking forward to when she graduates is being open to adventure.

“Now that I’m in school, it’s giving me a different perspective and, as I’m getting older, maybe my plan doesn’t need to be so strict,” she said.

Vanessa is currently brainstorming possibilities for the future, including moving north. “My family is from Alderville First Nation and I’d like to see what it’s like in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, and work as a nurse on a reserve,” she said.

But she isn’t setting any plans beyond dreaming of possibilities. Vanessa is not worried because she knows that, with her PSW experience and a Fleming Practical Nursing diploma, there are so many opportunities to make a difference.