Olympia Orthopedic Associates Pioneers Tuition Reimbursement Program for Staff
Ahis medical scribe at Olympia Orthopedic Associates (OlyOrtho), Alisha Schaefer had little interaction with the patients, most of the time remaining in the background during medical appointments. Starting in June, however, she will work directly with clients in her new role of Medical Assistant (MA). Schaefer completed his master’s training through the company’s new tuition reimbursement program, which funds the professional development and training of qualified staff members. “I am delighted to be able to work with our patients individually,” says Schaefer.
According to CEO Ben Shah, the program was born in part out of necessity due to a county-wide MA shortage. “We have a shortage of medical assistants (PAs) in the county, and it’s been a struggle,” he explains. “With all the costs of recruiting, why not find good, dedicated employees who want to further their careers and give them an opportunity? We opened it to our staff and asked people to apply.
Schaefer and Michelle Ziegler, formed the first cohort to complete the 10-month MA certification course, with OlyOrtho partners offering a tuition reimbursement of approximately $ 23,000 per participant. “It allows me to pay for school right now,” Schaefer says. “With COVID and everything that has happened, it has been difficult to put the tuition money aside, and it’s something I couldn’t have done on my own.”
Currently both are completing internships and will be getting their certifications in June. As part of the agreement, they committed to stay with OlyOrtho for a specified period after completing their certification. Knowing that her employers have invested in her inspires loyalty. “I want to work for a company that supports me,” she says. “It makes me excited to stay and help them grow. “
Dr Gregory Byrd was a driving force behind the launch of the program and is a strong advocate for personal and professional development. He believes that helping employees maximize their potential benefits everyone, whether they stay with the company or move on. “We are trying to find opportunities to help people grow,” he says. “Alisha is a valued employee and we want to help her excel. What sparked this conversation was the desire to help employees achieve as much as possible while meeting a need in our organization and the community.
Once the OlyOrtho partners agreed to support the program, the next challenge was to decide how to structure it. “There wasn’t really a blueprint for how to create it,” Shah says. “We did our best to make sure we were following the tax code and consulted with experts in these areas, but otherwise we thought about how best to do it. We have learned a lot and as the program grows we will be better prepared.
Besides the continued reimbursement of tuition fees for the master’s program, the company plans to expand it to other areas requiring technical skills and training. Opportunities include support for licensed practical nurses (LPNs) to become registered nurses (RNs) or funding to develop more cleaning technicians. “We balance how to help the most people with the needs that we have,” Shah says. “Our owners have been incredibly generous in giving us a budget to work with this year that will allow us to help probably 10 times the number of employees we did last year.”
Innovation is not unusual for OlyOrtho. The company is known as an industry leader in surgical practice; they were the first in Washington State to begin performing outpatient joint surgeries and the first surgical center to adopt the use of MAKO robots for total joint replacements. As a pioneer of the tuition reimbursement model, Byrd would like other medical providers in the region to follow suit.
“At the end of the day, investing in our people and in our community is a good solution,” he says. “It is a victory for everyone to create more qualified medical personnel in our region. I hope others will look at this and say, “This is a great idea. We should do it too.
Schaefer agrees. “This program helps everyone,” she says. “There is a shortage of personnel in the medical field and the company knows they have an employee who already enjoys working here and who knows the patients. Paying tuition supports us as staff members and fulfills a role that is needed, so it is mutually beneficial.
Learn more by visiting the Olympia Orthopedic Associates Website or by calling 360.570.3460.