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Managing Your Career
Nurse Residency Programs = Happy Nurses

Have you participated in a nurse residency program? Where at? How intense was the competition? And would you recommend it?

Nurse residency programs-geared to ease the transition from new nurse to competent nurse-are increasing in number and popularity. When you take a look at the benefits, you can see why the competition for a spot is fierce.

According to Jean Roberson, MS, RN, BC, who coordinated a new graduate RN residency program beginning in 2005 at Good Sam Hospital in Downers Grove, IL, the program is selective. When she worked at Good Sam, there were hundreds of applicants, and only about 40-50 were likely to be hired in the Summer of 2008.

So what's the hype?

One recent study, co-sponsored by the University Health System Consortium and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that nurses who participated in a 12-month nurse residency program expressed greater confidence, experienced increased competence and mastery of their jobs, and perceived an increase in their ability to organize and prioritize.  (

And according to Roberson, "Our program and many of those that I have seen published results for, show a 90% or higher retention rate at 12 months." New nurse survival is linked to a healthy residency program.

Not All Equal

Not all residency programs are created equal, though. According to Roberson, "A program's success is tied to the content of the program-not so much for its didactic content but how in tune the coordinator is to which nurses are struggling and for what reasons."

Roberson also recommends looking for a residency program that is at least six months long, but preferably 12 months. Anything less is "woefully inadequate," says Roberson, "because the expectations placed upon a new nurse are quite unrealistic."

Other components of a good residency program include a coordinator who stays in touch with the residents, preceptors, CNS, and managers. This coordinator should set a tone of professionalism and not tolerate "lateral violence."

Within a thriving nurse residency program, preceptors usually enjoy teaching and are good clinical role models. However it would be best if the the preceptor's work load was reduced by 50% for the first three weeks, so they can provide adequate training to the orientee.

A good residency program will also allow a resident to extend his/her orientation if he/she doesn't feel ready to fly solo.

So, how do you make sure you get in?

In the State of Illinois, for example, Roberson says that to be accepted into a nurse residency program you must first pass the NCLEX (in accordance with the new Illinois Nurse Practice Act). Other states may vary. And hospitals often favor nurses who are already employed as student nurse techs or unit secretaries-if they meet all hospital standards. Other residency programs have partnerships with specific nursing schools, and give their graduating nurses preference.

So we want to hear from you: Have you participated in a nurse residency program? What's appealing about a residency program? Tell your story.

Read more Managing Your Career articles

7 Responses to “Nurse Residency Programs = Happy Nurses”

  1. Lillian Says:

    I am in the middle of a 12 month nurse residency program at a Manhattan teaching hospital. The program so far has been awesome. It started with 6 weeks of mixed classroom time and time on your unit, after which you complete 2 more weeks solely on your unit, which is the basic “orientation.” The rest of the year-long program, there are 5 separate seminar days where different topics and learning opportunities are presented, including lengthy sessions for us to talk about stress management and vent about any problems related to being a new nurse. We also have to enter data in online questionnaires to be part of the research studies described above about how we feel about the residency program. The level of support offered is why I feel residency programs work so well and make nurse retention rates that much better.

  2. Danielle Says:

    I have just graduated from a 22 week RN Residency Program. There was a lot of competition to get into the program. There were hundreds of applications for 35 positions. I am thankful to be one of them. The program was not as supportive as I had hoped, but that was more of an issue with my department. The first 18 weeks I was working 2 clinical shifts and had 2 class days each week. I found the class days educational and supportive. Having that time to meet with the other new grads in other departments gave us time to debrief and encourage one another. I cannot imagine having transitioned into nursing without the residency program!

  3. Cathy Says:

    I am in the middle of a 6-month perioperative nurse residency for RNs and LPNs at a large teaching hospital. As a new graduate, I feel this is my strongest possible entry into nursing. The first six weeks were mostly classroom and some hours spent observing in the OR. Then I spent ten weeks with preceptors working hands-on in my home service and two weeks with other services, both scrubbing and circulating. The remainder of the program I will be paired with preceptors until they and I feel I am ready to work independently. I was transferred from one service to another during the program so I expect to spend a few weeks longer getting ready, and the directors and my co-workers are very supportive. The classroom instructors also teach new medical staff to comply with facility protocols, educate medical and nursing students to observe and to scrub in. They assured our class that if we ever need a refresher on anything, we can come to them. With support like this, I can’t imagine wanting to work anywhere else. Like Danielle, I found that coming in as a part of a class of new recruits created instant friends to compare notes with- an invaluable newbie resource.

  4. Jean Roberson Says:

    Lillian, Cathy & Danielle, I am so happy for each of you, that you were able to find a supportive program to be a part of. It will give you the best possible start to your career. It is gratifying to see that many hospitals have recognized the benefit of these progams, and have become willing to make the investment in a new nurse’s career!
    Thank you for sharing your experiences, so that new grads coming after you will know that they can try to find a hospital where they do not have to be pushed out onto the unit before they are ready, or without support.
    Congratulations on a great start to a new career!

  5. Cailla Says:

    Where are these nurse residency programs you speak of?

  6. Liz Says:

    I am currently a first year nursing student at the College of DuPage. I am eager to enter a nurse residency program once I finish my A.D.N. I am hoping to go through Good Samaritan’s program as I am currently employed there. I also have found it to be my hospital of preference after visiting many others in clinicals.

    I started off my first semester with B’s, but I am moving back towards A’s. I am trying to become a volunteer with Hines VA and another organization (I am still searching for another). I have also been a PCT at Good Samaritan for a year now.

    I plan to immediately begin working on my B.S.N. and then M.S.N. after passing the NCLEX. Any suggestions on how to improve my competitive edge to enter into any nurse residency program?

  7. David Smith Says:

    I suggest you check out Nurse Residency Programs ( it has a great list of all these offerings.

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