With all the national and global attention that the nursing shortage has drawn, it would seem the healthcare industry might finally be gaining some traction. Yet, certain areas around the United States are still experiencing a drastic supply-demand disparity.
For example, the Missouri Department of Commerce & Insurance recently released the 2020 Nursing Workforce Report, which provides essential insights into the current state of nursing. Missouri State Board of Nursing Executive Director Lori Scheidt highlighted the nursing shortage in the state, stating in a Missouri Times article, “Of highest concern is the high rate of nurses nearing retirement and low number of nurses employed in rural areas.”
Why Is There Such a Shortage?
The reasons for the nursing shortage are multifaceted. As Scheidt pointed out, many nurses are on their way out of the profession — with no one to take their place. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) notes that even though enrollment numbers increased in 2019, there are still not enough incoming nurses to meet the projected demand for registered nurses (RNs) and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), including those who serve as nurse faculty, researchers and primary care providers.
Enrollment is also stymied by dwindling faculty and associated requirements of nursing programs. In the AACN’s report on “2019-2020 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing U.S. nursing schools reportedly turned away 80,407 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2019. This was due to an insufficient number of:
- Clinical sites
- Classroom space
- Clinical preceptors
- Budget constraints
Another reason for the shortage is the aging population. As the average lifespan is extended with improved medicine, more people who need medical care into their elder years. Many patients struggle with chronic conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, dementia and obesity — all of which require consistent care.
Finally, the shortage is placing more stress and pressure on the nurses who are currently in the field — resulting in poor job satisfaction and a greater likelihood these nurses will leave the profession prematurely. This was readily apparent throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Missouri Steps Up with Innovative Solutions
In Missouri specifically, certain areas of the state, as well as certain medical facilities, face the greatest shortage. Scheidt cites an example of one nursing home in a rural area that has a severe nursing shortage. Fortunately, the Missouri State Board of Nursing (MSBN) approved a “nursing home-nursing education” program partnership model in 2019 to allow the facility to “grow” its own licensed nurses.
The MSBN also approved an “earn while you learn” education/apprenticeship model that same year, which permitted fourth-semester associate degree nursing (ADN) students to earn a wage throughout their hands-on clinical learning.
The innovative solutions don’t stop there. One proposed action is to allow nurses to enroll in programs at a younger age, and thus enter the profession earlier. This is particularly important in Missouri counties where a significant portion of nurses are aged 54 and older. Lowering the average age of nurses could help combat the issue of retirement.
Several schools across the state have also come to the table with various efforts, such as expanding enrollment, focusing on leadership and strongly encouraging registered nurses to expand their knowledge and skillset by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Employers often prefer to hire BSN-prepared nurses among several healthcare settings (e.g., hospital, ambulatory care, academic, public health programs and more).
To allow students to continue working while earning a degree, many RN to BSN programs are offered completely online and in an accelerated fashion. Students can complete Northwest Missouri State University’s online program in as few as 12 months (30 credit hours). Courses cover many key areas within nursing, designed to elevate one’s nursing practice immediately, such as:
- Nursing Law and Ethics
- Leadership and Management in Nursing
- Community Nursing
- Nursing Informatics
Programs like these ultimately rise to the challenge and fill the short- and long-term needs states like Missouri face.
Now Is the Time to Act
Recognizing the dire nature of the nursing shortage is critical, but so is action. Industry leaders like Scheidt understand there’s not a silver-bullet solution to this very pressing problem. Even though strategies surrounding education models — like the ones approved by the MSBN — can make a difference, the state still must consider multiple factors.
“A one size fits all approach is not appropriate to solve the regional shortages. As new education models are approved, these strategies must be evaluated for impact and long-term changes,” said Scheidt.