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Case Study

How Avera bolstered genetic counseling staffing to meet demand

5 Minute Read


The challenge

A national shortage of genetics professionals has contributed to a lack of sufficient staff capacity to meet increasing demand for genetic counseling services. At Avera Cancer Institute, the genetic counselor’s capacity was stretched so thin that their time to next available non-urgent appointment had grown to 6 months.

The organization

Avera Cancer Institute is part of Avera Health, a health system based in Sioux Falls, SD, which has six regional centers across the Upper Midwest.

The approach

Avera tackled their genetic counseling capacity challenge with a staff recruitment initiative targeted to students. They implemented a scholarship program designed to create a pipeline of genetic counselors, and opened new roles for genetic counseling assistants (GCAs) to support the program.

The result

The scholarship initiative allowed Avera to recruit several genetic counselors and GCAs, effectively solving their staffing problem. After just one of the additional genetic counselors joined the program, Avera nearly doubled their annual genetic counseling volumes and reduced the time to next available appointment by 96%, from 6 months to 1 week.



How Avera bolstered genetic counseling staffing to meet demand

Many genetic counseling programs face staffing challenges that underlie their inability to keep pace with patient demand. Avera’s approach was threefold: justify and design an innovative method to recruit not only the right number of genetic counselors, but also hire the right support staff. The remainder of this publication details how they targeted recruitment efforts to students and drastically increased their staff capacity and timeliness of care.


The three initiatives

How leaders at Avera Cancer Institute improved their genetic counseling program’s capacity with three key initiatives:

  • Initiative

    Justify proposal by benchmarking performance

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  • Initiative

    Design scholarship program to secure multi-year contracts

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  • Initiative

    Promote top-of-license practice with genetic counseling assistants

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Avera’s scholarship program helped secure appropriate genetic counseling staffing levels for years to come. They recruited several scholarship recipients, each of whom committed to work at Avera for at least 3 years after the completion of their master’s degree program.

After hiring a second genetic counselor—the first scholarship recipient to complete the program—and hiring full time and part time GCAs, Avera substantially increased their genetic counseling volumes. Avera cut their wait time to next-available, non-urgent appointment from six months to one week. The program’s annual patient volumes also increased from 587 in 2017 to 947 in 2019.


Decrease in time to next available
non-urgent appointment


Increase in annual
patient volumes

Avera’s staffing solution did not just address their immediate needs, but created a long-term, sustainable solution that will continue to serve them as the demand for genetic counseling grows.

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