WGU’s New Nursing Lab in Missouri Will Give Students Hands-On Experience and Help Fill Need for Nurses

WGU’s new state-of-the-art nursing simulation and learning lab will train 500 new nurses in the region by 2026 and advance health equity through quality nursing education

Kansas City, MO, May 08, 2024 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Western Governors University’s (WGU) Michael O. Leavitt School of Health (LSH) today opened a new nursing simulation and learning laboratory in Kansas City, Missouri, that will provide high-quality, clinical nursing education to students from Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa.

The lab is part of WGU’s efforts to address the nursing shortage crisis in the United States by expanding access to education, helping students gain degrees that position them to serve their communities, and advancing health equity with additional competent professionals to the community workforce. With the launch of this laboratory, the university aims to train and educate more than 500 new nurses in the region by 2026, and up to 3,000 per year in the long-term.

“We commend Western Governors University for its efforts to support critical workforce needs while also expanding higher education opportunities,” said Gov. Mike Parson, who signed legislation providing $2 million in state funds for the Missouri nursing simulation and learning laboratory. “Nurses are vital to improving health outcomes in our state and region, and WGU’s innovative educational options will help more individuals who wish to fill crucial roles in the future of our state.”

The nearly 18,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility features advanced hi-fidelity medical education simulation equipment across five simulation rooms and two skills labs with 17 patient beds, four patient exam rooms, five student-focused debriefing rooms, and a large multipurpose room for training and teaching. The total cost of the Missouri lab, inclusive of construction and equipment, exceeded $5 million. WGU received a $2 million grant for the lab's construction, thanks to the generous support from Gov. Mike Parson and the Missouri General Assembly. This grant was administered in partnership with the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development. WGU provided the remaining funds in alignment with plans to expand access to LSH’s innovative nursing programs nationwide.

Global consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimates that the U.S. could have a shortfall of direct patient care nurses ranging from 200,000 to 450,000 by 2025. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics echoes similar projections and reports that employment opportunities for nurses will grow at 9 percent, faster than all other occupations from 2016 through 2026. According to the Missouri Hospital Association’s 2023 Workforce Report, the staff registered nurse (R.N.) vacancy increased to 17.4 percent in 2023 from 11 percent in 2019. The Kansas Department of Labor Occupational Outlook data also states that R.N.s are expected to witness the largest number of new jobs with more than 3,100 positions expected to be created by 2030. In Iowa, the jobs for R.N.s and nursing assistants dominate the market. According to Radio Iowa, 13 percent of U.S. nursing homes that closed in 2022 were in Iowa.

“This new nursing laboratory reflects WGU’s commitment to expanding access and preparing nurses who serve on the front lines of healthcare, that are needed both now and, in the future,” said WGU’s Chief Academic Officer and Provost Dr. Courtney Hills McBeth. “Because our model adapts to students' needs and pacing instead of relying on a one-size-fits-all approach, we can help our students fulfill their career dreams, often more quickly, so they can begin working to meet the healthcare needs of their communities.

"This lab would not have been possible without the support of so many people. I’d like to congratulate my WGU colleagues and offer deepest thanks to Gov. Mike Parson, the Missouri General Assembly, the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development, Missouri Partnership, Kansas City Area Development Council, Platte County Economic Development Council and all our Missouri and local Kansas City partners.”

Missouri Hospital Association data shows more than 10,000 nursing students were enrolled in Missouri prelicensure programs in 2020; however, nearly 1,300 qualified applicants were turned away. According to the Missouri State Board of Nursing the state’s nurse faculty shortages are more than critical. The situation, though, is not limited to a single state. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reports that more than 65,000 qualified applications (not applicants) were turned away from schools of nursing nationwide in 2023. While AACN mentions that the students submitting these applications may have been accepted and enrolled elsewhere, the report emphasizes that a multitude of reasons stall nurse education, including the lack of infrastructure and faculty. WGU’s Leavitt School of Health and its clinical sites are designed to add capacity and offer flexible, affordable options for nursing students.

WGU expanded the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (Prelicensure) degree program in 2023 to add new competent nurses to the workforce and address the workforce shortage gripping the country. The program is available in 17 states, including Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa, and the number continues to grow. These regional nursing laboratories are easily approachable for students and promote the concept of attaining education within and around community, that, in turn, aims to boost in-community and regional employment. These laboratories will initially serve the university’s prelicensure students, followed by students enrolled in the various master’s degree nurse practitioner programs. With the launch and expansion of these innovative programs, WGU aims to add more than 3,000 newly qualified nursing graduates to the workforce by 2027.

“Infrastructure and faculty shortages are gigantic challenges that cripple the healthcare system and lead to limited student enrollments and, ultimately, result in the lack of competent professionals. WGU is removing these barriers that prevent access to nursing degrees to grow the pipeline of new, highly qualified nurses that are well-prepared to enter the workforce and serve the communities in which they live,” said LSH Senior Associate Dean and Director of Undergraduate Programs Kimberly Kelly-Cortez. “LSH nursing labs are the simulation and learning centers focused on upskilling and reskilling the workforce.”

The establishment of this laboratory will not only serve the aspiring students within and around their communities, but also boost the economy of Missouri. Platte County, where the laboratory opened, is among the fastest-growing counties in Missouri. In collaboration with the state and local leaders and health advocates, the Missouri nursing laboratory aims to address the high demand for healthcare professionals, both nationally and regionally, in the Kansas City metropolitan area. These simulation and learning centers include various simulation tools, models, patient mannequins, and training experts to impart practical, patient-focused education that boosts expertise to yield competent professionals.

Presently enrolled in WGU’s BSN Prelicensure program, Kayla Stroup from Clever, Missouri, said, “I am excited to be able to attend my practical classes at the new nursing laboratory in Missouri. I have been visiting the university’s out-of-state laboratory and that is a great place to learn, but having this location, right within my reach, is such great news. This will not only significantly reduce my travel time and cost, but also enhance the overall experience of learning in my home state.”

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing states that approximately 100,000 R.N.s left the workforce since the COVID-19 pandemic and more than 600,000 intend to leave by 2027 because of stress, burnout, and retirement. Because nurses are leaving the field, increasing access, removing barriers, and expanding innovative, high-quality health and nurse education programs that positively impact society are prime LSH goals.

WGU’s Missouri lab will enhance rural and urban health equity and benefit the health system of the regions served. In 2023, WGU received the Platte County Business Excellence Award for its efforts to positively impact the quality of life and the region’s job market with the establishment of the Missouri nursing laboratory. The university launched its first nursing simulation laboratory in Houston, Texas, in 2019 and opened a new facility last year in Salt Lake City, Utah, with additional laboratories scheduled to open next year.

About Michael O. Leavitt School of Health (LSH): The school, named in honor of the former governor of Utah and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, was established in 2006 with the mission to make a difference in the fields of healthcare, nursing, and higher education through competency-based education. According to the Utah Foundation Research Brief, LSH represents more than 170,000 jobs in the healthcare industry and the school produced a whopping 17 percent of the nation’s registered nurses earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2021. With more than 100,000 graduates and over 115,000 degrees already conferred by LSH, the school presently serves nearly 25,000 students nationwide. Learn more at Leavitt School of Health (wgu.edu).

About Western Governors University (WGU): A nonprofit, online university established in 1997 by 19 U.S. governors with a mission to expand access to high-quality, affordable higher education, WGU now serves more than 175,000 students nationwide and has awarded more than 365,000 degrees to nearly 328,000 graduates in all 50 states. Driving innovation as the nation’s leading competency-based university, WGU has been recognized by the White House, state leaders, employers, and students as a model that works in postsecondary education. In less than 30 years, the university has become a leading influence in changing the lives of individuals and families, and preparing the workforce needed in today’s rapidly evolving economy. WGU is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, has been named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, and has been featured on NPR, NBC Nightly News and CNN and in The New York Times. Learn more at wgu.edu and wgu.edu/impact.



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