Volume 36 Number 4 | August 2022

Stacie Lansink, MS, MT(ASCP)

Stacie LansinkThe conversation started just like every other conversation between clinical sites and programs: “How do we attract new MLS graduates?” This time, the conversation ended with a $40,000 sponsorship between Avera McKennan Hospital and University Health Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, partnering with the medical laboratory sciences (MLS) program at South Dakota State University (SDSU).

The SDSU MLS program has a strong track record of graduating high quality students with 100 percent job placement rates upon graduation. Our students are highly sought after, and as program director, I’m often approached by potential employers trying to identify ways we could work together. Students in our programs are placed all across the country at leading labs and health systems, but we are fortunate to have some key partners headquartered right here in our state.

“Avera has felt the need to engage high quality graduates before they opt to pursue opportunities elsewhere.”

Avera Health and SDSU have a long-standing collaborative partnership that has continued to strengthen and grow over the years. For the past several years, in addition to our MLS students, our Allied and Population Health Department has placed respiratory care, public health, and pharmacy students on clinical rotations at their facilities. Specifically, the laboratory division at Avera employs more than 200 individuals and, as Avera Health grows, so does the demand for laboratory staff. With the increase in demand for medical laboratory professionals, expansion of their laboratory infrastructure, and an increase of complex lab procedures, Avera has felt the need to engage high quality graduates before they opt to pursue opportunities elsewhere.

As part of our annual quality improvement (QI) assessment earlier this year, I polled our graduating class asking them, “What are MLS graduates looking for?” Responses varied as students named items including shift hours, pay, tuition reimbursement, benefits, and even opportunities for advancement. In preparation for their clinical experience, students will interview at a variety of different labs looking for that big incentive that helps them decide which facility to gain experience at and potentially seek employment with in the foreseeable future.

A summary of responses is then shared with our clinical partners during the annual site visits. This year was no different, but we did see an immediate interest from our Avera partners.

A meeting was called that included Pam Hilber, director of workforce development at Avera; Dr. Sharrel Pinto, department head for SDSU Allied and Population Health; Dr. Dan Hansen, dean of the College of Pharmacy & Allied Health Professions; and Ms. Jessica Deslauriers, lab quality and education manager, to talk about providing students with some incentives to reduce their financial burden and engage in a high-quality clinical experience prior to graduation. The team discussed sponsorships andscholarships options, extending the opportunity to on-campus students and also working professional students in our UPMLS and accelerated programs, etc. I continued to work with Mike Black, assistant vice president of lab and our department head, and Dr. Pinto on setting the best pathways for our students. We established a system that allows us the opportunity to offer a portion of the sponsorship funds towards the student’s tuition while also securing a two- to three-year work commitment with Avera McKennan Hospitals.

On March 28, Ms. Hilber, Ms. Deslauriers, and Sarah Siemonsma, career development consultant from Avera, presented this opportunity to our on-campus MLS students who were completing their first year of the program. Then, later in the evening, Mr. Black and Dr. Pinto joined the group to present the Avera Sponsorship to the Upward Mobility and accelerated MLS students. Students interested in this opportunity had to apply and be interviewed for the Avera Sponsorship.

As part of the sponsorship, Avera McKennan will select as recipients 12 MLS students currently enrolled in either the oncampus MLS program, the Upward Mobility program, or the accelerated MLS program at SDSU. Selected applicants will receive a $15,000 scholarship that will be applied to the student’s account while they are pursuing their MLS degree. Another $15,0000 sign-on bonus will also be given in exchange for a three-year work commitment. Lastly $2,000 per year will be paid out in student loan repayments, up to $10,000. While the Avera-SDSU sponsorship will continue to be evaluated each year, this is a great start to setting our students up for success and meeting a highly accelerated work force shortage exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and new lab technology.

Through the Avera-SDSU Sponsorship program, MLS students at SDSU can continue to gain key clinical experience with a premier South Dakota health organization that will prepare them for their future careers and help them to build important connections in the South Dakota region. We are confident that this is the first of many such pathways we can offer our students in years to come.

Stacie Lansink is the MLS Program Director/Instructor in the Department of Allied and Population Health for the South Dakota State University College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions in Brookings, South Dakota.