Avera’s first step to increase capacity was to invest in their genetic counselor recruitment efforts. Rather than simply increasing genetic counselor compensation, Avera designed a scholarship program to incentivize students to commit to work for Avera upon completion of their education. This program establishes a pipeline of genetic counselors for several years to come, making it a more sustainable, longer-term approach.
Avera offered a scholarship to students entering a genetic counseling master’s degree program. The scholarship typically covered 100% of the student’s tuition. In exchange, students that accepted the funding committed to work for Avera Cancer Institute for at least 3 years after obtaining their degree.
Avera requires that students who apply to the scholarship already hold an acceptance to a genetic counseling program. They marketed the scholarship to local colleges and to pre-master’s students who shadowed Avera’s genetic counselor.
Given the high cost of graduate school, Avera secured several scholarship applicants from not only the local college program, but also from schools outside the area.
The scholarship is particularly effective because it captures mostly local students at the early stages of their education, before they have moved away from the area. The program is attractive to genetic counseling students as it reduces their graduate student loan debt, which has notoriously high interest rates, and is thus a greater value to the student than the same amount of money in a salary increase or signing bonus.
Avera’s scholarship program was so successful in securing long-term commitments from genetic counseling students that they have discontinued it for the next several years.