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Missouri Makes Way For More Nursing Students To Ease Statewide Shortage

New nurse Becky Boesch looks through files as part of her job as a nurse in the cardiac step-down unit at St. Luke's Hospital in Chesterfield.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri State Board of Nursing has approved expanding five of the state’s nursing programs, adding 250 slots for future students.

State officials say the move aims to help reduce nursing vacancies. The profession has one of the highest vacancy rates in the health sector, with 13 percent of positions unfilled in Missouri, according to the Missouri Hospital Association.

Health experts say the high vacancy and turnover rates are a supply issue. Many times, the state’s schools have more qualified applicants than available space, said Jill Williams, director of workforce initiatives at the Missouri Hospital Association.

“There is definitely a need,” she said. “Schools say that they’re having to turn away applicants, very qualified applicants, just because they don’t have enough slots.”


Hospitals in St. Louis and the Metro East have an even higher vacancy rate than the rest of the state. Eighteen percent of registered-nurse positions in the region were unfilled in 2017, according to the association’s annual workforce report.

Schools apply to the state board for permission to add school seats. More than half of the 252 new positions were approved for Cox College of Nursing locations in Springfield, Branson and Monett in southwest Missouri.

St. Louis Community College, Missouri State University, the University of Missouri – Columbia and State Fair Community College also plan to add approximately 25 seats each.

Lack of space in nursing programs is just one reason behind the profession’s high vacancy rates, experts say. Nurses areat risk of burnout from working long hours in stressful conditions. As baby boomers age out of the workforce, more nurses are needed to fill the spots they left behind. Additionally, that aging population means more nurses are needed as boomers require more medical care.

Adding more nurses to the workforce could help ease stress on existing workers, too, Williams said.

“Not only does that help the bedside nurse and gets more people into that role, it releases those demands on them, because there are more people working in that career,” she said.

More qualified nurses would also allow more experienced nurses to earn graduate degrees and become eligible to teach. Williams said it’s hard for schools to find qualified instructors. Many times, nurses with that level of experience can make much more working in the private sector.

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Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.