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The Missouri State Board of Nursing has decided to step in and create room for more nursing students to receive an education in an effort to ease a statewide shortage of qualified nurses. They have expanded five of the state’s nursing programs, effectively adding 250 slots for future nurses, a move aimed at helping reduce nursing vacancies.

According to the Missouri Hospital Association, the nursing profession has one of the highest vacancy rates in the health sector, with 13 percent of positions unfilled in Missouri. The high vacancy and turnover rates are largely a supply issue caused by state schools having more qualified applicants tan available space.

Jill Williams, director of workforce initiatives at the Missouri Hospital Association,, “There is definitely a need. 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 higher vacancy rates than the rest of the state, with 18 percent of registered-nurse positions in the region unfilled in 2017.

Schools apply to the state board for permission to add school seats. More than half of the 250 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 are at 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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