What Does a Direct Support Professional Do? (Plus Salary)

Updated May 10, 2023

A home health professional or caretaker laughs with an older person sitting in a chair. The professional wears a uniform top and holds a cup of coffee or tea. Another cup is on a table next to the patient or client.

If you want to work in the medical field in a caregiving position, you may consider becoming a direct support professional. Direct support professionals are employees who provide individual support to patients or clients, depending on their developmental or behavioral needs. Understanding what these employees do can help you decide whether to pursue this career.

In this article, we share what a direct support professional does, discuss the salary for this position, explain the job requirements, offer tips for becoming one and provide an example job description.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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What does a direct support professional do?

A direct support professional (DSP), assists individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They help with everyday tasks such as housekeeping, meal preparation, attending appointments and running errands. Depending on the patient's condition, a DSP may also administer medications, develop a behavioral management plan and maintain medical records. Other job duties include:

  • Teaching life skills

  • Maintaining a safe living environment that adheres to state codes and regulations

  • Offering counseling and crisis intervention

  • Assisting individuals with money management, housekeeping, personal hygiene and other routine needs

  • Providing transportation to social outings, doctor appointments and other activities

  • Maintaining regular paperwork, including fiscal reports, behavioral assessments, medication logs, casework notes and daily activity logs

  • Documenting changes and updates digitally

  • Maintaining extensive knowledge of patients' needs

  • Promoting independence while providing the necessary support

  • Delivering individualized support for each patient

  • Establishing a safe and trusting relationship with patients

Related: What Is Medical Social Work? (Plus Job Duties and Salary)

Average salary for direct support professionals

The average salary for DSPs is $77,003 per year. Some factors that may impact salary include location, experience and certification. Although advanced education isn't necessary to work in this role, you may be able to negotiate for a higher salary if you have a college-level degree or a relevant certification.

For the most up-to-date salary information, click on the link provided.

Related: 13 Salary Negotiation Strategies

Job requirements for direct support professionals

DSPs handle a diverse range of tasks. People in this role benefit from a well-rounded skill set to keep up with the challenges of the job. Here are a few job requirements for this career:


Most employers require a minimum of a high school diploma or GED certificate equivalent. Continuing education is unnecessary, but an associate or bachelor's degree in a related field such as social work can make you a more attractive candidate. Some employers may require candidates to earn certifications before beginning their work. These certifications can enhance your job performance and knowledge when taking on a new role and also look great on your resume.

Related: GED vs. High School Diploma: What's the Difference?


On-the-job training is common for DSPs so they can interact with their patients appropriately and perform their expected duties. Employers typically offer a training program that covers occupational safety, CPR and behavior management. Some states require employees to complete a DSP training program or pass a written test.

Related: 30+ Direct Support Professional Interview Questions (With Sample Answers)


Certification isn't a national requirement, but employers may prefer certified candidates for this career. The National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) maintains a national certification program for DSPs. NADSP provides three levels of certification, including:

  • DSP-I: This credential is the lowest level of certification, and a candidate may earn it after obtaining the entry-level DSP Registered (DSP-R) status.

  • DSP-II: DSP-II is the middle tier of certification, and a candidate needs to earn DSP-I before pursuing it.

  • DSP-III: At the highest tier is the DSP-III certification, so candidates need to earn a DSP-I and a DSP-II certificate first.

Related: The Top 9 Medical Certifications You Need and Why


Direct support professionals use a certain set of skills when working alongside patients with varying types of disabilities. Patience, attention to detail and compassion are all critical in this role. Other skills that are useful for a DSP are:

  • Organization: DSPs maintain accurate, detailed records of their patients' appointments, medications and activities, and organizational skills ensure DSPs complete and document all critical tasks.

  • Communication: DSPs communicate with fellow DSPs, other healthcare employees and their patients. Strong communication skills help them build rapport and trust with different individuals so they can provide optimal care and assistance.

  • Observation: Helping patients achieve their goals for health, wellness and behavioral development is an important part of this role. Keen observation equips DSPs to assess a patient's progress properly.

  • Composure under pressure: Patients that need help from DSPs may present behavioral challenges. These employees thrive when they can maintain composure and approach crises calmly and professionally.

  • Dependability: DSPs are reliable and show up on time so their patients can depend on them to complete all assigned tasks.

  • Interpersonal skills: Compassion and kindness are distinguishing factors that elevate talented DSPs over others in their field. Strong interpersonal skills help these employees connect meaningfully with their patients. 

Related: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: What's the Difference?

Work environment for direct support professionals

DSPs typically work in residential care facilities or patients' homes. Here, they provide daily help with tasks such as cooking meals, doing laundry and cleaning the home. They may also spend time at physicians' offices accompanying patients to appointments or out running errands and attending social activities with their patients. Depending on the needs of the patient, a DSP may work with just one individual every day, or they may travel to multiple residences to offer assistance to several patients.

Related: 6 Different Work Environment Types (With Examples)

Tips for becoming a direct support professional

If you're interested in becoming a direct support professional, consider following these steps:

  • Earn your high school diploma and driver's license. Most employers require a minimum of a high school diploma or GED certificate for DSPs. A driver's license is important for this position since the job often involves transporting patients to and from appointments and activities.

  • Get certification. Many employers require certification from the NADSP. Employers may also require candidates to have CPR and first aid certifications.

  • Develop administrative skills. Familiarize yourself with basic computer programs, like word processing software, so you can perform administrative tasks more effectively. You can refine these skills through community college classes, online tutorials or free seminars at local libraries.

  • Show your soft skills. Employers want DSPs who are compassionate, patient and strong communicators. Gain work or volunteer experience that showcases these skills.

  • Build a strong resume. Draft a professional resume that emphasizes work experience with patients or customers, such as a volunteer position assisting patients in a hospital. As you're describing your previous job duties, highlight your organizational skills, administrative abilities and any experience working with individuals who have behavioral or developmental disabilities.

Related: How To Create a Direct Support Professional Resume

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Example of a DSP job description

Here's an example of a job description for an open direct support professional position:

Our residential care facility is seeking a direct support professional to assist residents with their daily tasks and activities. Our team is looking for a candidate who can prepare meals, administer medications, provide light housekeeping and assist patients with personal hygiene. Our direct support professionals also provide transportation to doctors' appointments and organized social outings. The ideal candidate is in good physical health, has a valid driver's license and maintains CPR and first aid certification during their employment period.

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