JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri hospitals are seeing the highest vacancy rate of nurses ever, up more than 12% from 2018, according to the Missouri Hospital Association. 

Last month, the state announced $3 million in grant funding for 11 Missouri colleges and universities to help with nursing education programs to lessen the staffing shortages nationwide. 

In a recent report from the Missouri Hospital Association (MHA), there are nearly 34,000 nurses that work inside Missouri hospitals, but there are more than 8,000 vacant staff nurse positions. 
Joy Roberts has been a nurse for decades, but she’s also the interim dean for the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Nursing and Health Studies. She said the problem doesn’t only lie within a lack of nursing students. Finding faculty to teach the profession is also a struggle. 

Top Stories: Low Mississippi River levels has many walking to the Grand Tower

“We’re not making nurses fast enough to be able to meet the need,” Roberts said. “Right now, one of the things that is the mountain for us to climb in order to get to where we can educate more nurses, first we have to get enough nursing faculty.”

UMKC was one of the 11 schools awarded a grant. The program will receive $300,000 which Roberts said will be used for scholarships and educators. 

“We have been able to use another part of the grant to fund two additional nursing faculty in our bachelor of science and nursing program,” Roberts said. “If you thought you wanted to go into teaching from your clinical practice, you have to be prepared to take about a 30% pay cut.”

The Missouri State Board of Nursing 2020 annual report showed that of the state’s 90 pre-licensure nursing programs, there were at least 45 unfilled full-time and 44 open part-time nurse faculty positions. That year, there were more than 10,400 nursing students enrolled in school. 

“That combination of aging population, a large population of people living longer with chronic diseases means there are a lot more care needs of our population which means more need for nursing care,” Roberts said. 

She said there was a shortage of nurses before the pandemic, but then people saw the heroic work of health care workers. 

“We had an uptick in our applications, not only at UMKC but at nursing schools all over the metro Kansas City area,” Robert said. 

Since then, the number of nursing students has fallen, creating an even bigger shortage. 

“There is a tremendous shortage of nursing in the United States but also across the globe,” Roberts said. “The need is enormous, the funding that the schools of nursing have is not enormous, and having this money made available by the state will make a big difference in allowing us to educate and graduate and move new nurses into practice.”

According to MHA’s 2022 Workforce Report, the vacancy rate for staff nurse is 19.8%, nearly 8% higher than in 2021 and nearly 10% higher than in 2019. The turnover rate has also increased. Back in 2018, the turnover rate for nurses was 17% but in 2022 it was 22.1%. 

A graph of registered nurse turnover and vacancy over the past four years credited by: The Missouri Hospital Association

“One of the good things we are doing is trying to put money into that arena to try and get more nurses to be able to work,” Gov. Mike Parson said at an interview at the end of September. “I think it’s why several community colleges have expanded nursing programs throughout the state, and we are adding more programs trying to expand them just to meet the backlog of healthcare workers in the state.”

St. Louis, Kansas City and southeast Missouri have the highest vacancy rates for registered nurses. South central Missouri has the highest turnover rates for nurses at 40.9%.

A map showing registered nurse turnover and vacancy in different region in Missouri, credited by: The Missouri Hospital Association

“It’s getting people into the arena, how do you get them into the arena and how do you keep them in that arena to be able to fill those job vacancies,” Parson said. “The health care arena as a whole is the same thing, trying to get people in that arena and getting them educated, and I think we’re doing a lot of good things, just not quick enough to meet everybody’s standards.”

The Missouri State Board of Nursing’s report said programs throughout the state need an additional 87 full-time faculty positions to accommodate student applications. The annual report said within the next five years, at least 120 Missouri nursing educators will retire. 

“We have been very short on nursing faculty for a long time,” Robert said. “It is important because as nurse’s salaries in clinical practice increase over the years, nursing faculty does not.”

One of the faculty positions that will be hired with the money from the grant will be in a support role. Roberts said the educator will help students with tutoring and in whatever other support role needed. The funding will also be used to offer scholarships to graduate nursing students who will be going through UMKC’s nursing education master’s program. 
Other schools who were awarded the grant include: 

Avial University in Kansas City: $298,016Bolivar Technical College: $296,000Cox College in Springfield: $269,793Goldfarb School of Nursing in St. Louis: $300,000Jefferson College in Hillsboro: $275,900Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph: $230,044South Central Career Center in West Plains: $300,000St. Louis University: $298,137University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg: $300,000William Jewell College in Liberty: $129,800

The Missouri State Board of Nursing also awarded more than $8 million through the Nursing Education Incentive Program (NEIP) to improve infrastructure for nursing programs and to promote nursing education. 

To find a MHA full report, click here.