What is a Nurse Residency?

What is a Nurse Residency?

If you’re a recent nursing school graduate or a current nursing student, chances are you’ve heard about nurse residency programs. Nurse residency programs are a popular choice for many new nurses and for good reason, but they can also present some drawbacks. This article will break down everything you need to know about nurse residency programs and some of the pros and cons of attending one.


Nurse residency
Sophia M.


June 15, 2022

What is a Nurse Residency?

Nurse residencies are essentially training programs for new graduate nurses that are designed to help prepare them for their first job.

These programs involve additional training that extends beyond the typical training that a new nurse would go through without a residency. Typically, nurses will be working on their designated hospital floor under another nurse for anywhere from a few months to a full year. During this period, they will also be completing additional training in a classroom setting to help reinforce what they’re learning during their hands-on experience.

Pros and Cons of Nurse Residencies

Nurse residencies are designed to help prevent burnout and reduce turnover rates in hospitals. Without a nurse residency, many nurses feel “thrown to the wolves” when they come out of nursing school and begin their first job at a hospital. Although these new nurses will still complete some training, it can just look like shadowing another nurse for around 3 months.

With a residency, nurses will feel like they have a lot of additional support for a much longer time frame. 

One downside to nurse residencies is that they often require nurses to sign a contract with their hospital, given that these programs require a pretty high upfront investment for the hospital. Signing a contract might not be ideal for you if you have a life circumstance that requires you to move or relocate before the end of the contract. In addition, some nurses choose to change hospitals within a year of starting their first job because they want to look for a better fit. Breaking a contract can be challenging and might even require you to pay back the hospital. In addition, not every hospital is supportive of residencies, because they can delay filling staffing shortages because of the longer training period.

How Long is a Nurse Residency?

Nurse residencies typically last anywhere from 6 to 12 months, depending on the hospital. However, most nurses should be prepared to commit to their chosen hospital for a bit longer than this. Nurse residencies require an upfront financial investment from the hospital, because the nurses are also getting paid for the classroom portion of their residency, which requires additional resources. For this reason, most hospitals will require nurses to sign a contract to work for them for an additional year or two after their residency is complete. 

Signing a contract is one of the biggest downsides to a nurse residency because it can be hard to know if a hospital will be a good fit for you, and not being able to change is a little intimidating. Make sure to do plenty of research about the hospital and try to talk to some nurses who work there before you sign anything. Some hospitals are a part of a hospital system that allow you to transfer within the system without breaking your contract. This is a great option for anyone who thinks they may want to move to a new location before their contract has been completed.

Do Nurses Get Paid for Residency?

Nurses who choose to participate in a residency program may need to accept slightly lower pay than a typical floor nurse, but they will still be getting paid. Typically, nurse residencies offer a standard full-time schedule of hands-on work on your hospital unit with additional hours of classroom time. Although this is a big time commitment, you’ll be getting paid the whole time. Your pay may be slightly lower than that of some of your colleagues who choose to take a different route for their first nursing job, but you’ll be getting extensive training in return. You’ll also likely get a pay raise after your residency ends and you know you’ll be coming out of this job with enough experience to go just about anywhere for future jobs.

My Take on Nurse Residencies

I personally did not choose to complete a residency program, because I wasn’t keen on signing a contract. For personal reasons, I wasn’t sure where I would be one year from starting my first job, so I decided to accept an entry level nursing job working as a Med-Surg floor nurse. In hindsight, I’m grateful to have done so because I was ready to change jobs within one year of starting. However, I can definitely see the benefits of completing a residency and many of my colleagues who did so would recommend it. 

I will say that by not doing a residency, I definitely experienced the feeling of being “thrown to the wolves” very early in my career.

My training involved shadowing another nurse for 3 months, and then I was on my own as a brand new nurse. I actually shadowed a couple of different nurses because my unit didn’t have the staff to always pair me with the same preceptor (the nurse who trains you). Some residencies will offer consistency with the preceptor, which I find to be very beneficial. Some of the nurses I shadowed actually didn’t have much more experience than I did, so this was a little scary. 

Given that nurse residency programs are designed to reduce burnout, I sometimes wonder if completing one would have saved me from some of the burnout I experienced. I think nurse residencies are a great idea for anyone who plans to stay in the same area for a few years and doesn’t plan to move anytime soon. They’re also a great idea if you’d like to specialize immediately after coming out of nursing school, since learning the ropes in a specialty setting (such as ICU, labor and delivery, or a cardiac unit) can be more extensive than simply working on a Med-Surg Unit.

How to Tell if a Nurse Residency is Right for You

Some new graduates wonder if they have to complete a nurse residency in order to find their first job. You have no obligation to choose a residency program for your first job, but it also isn’t the worst idea. Everyone’s situation is a little different and residencies work well for a lot of people, but they’re not the best choice for everyone. Below, I’ve listed a few questions to ask yourself to help you determine if a nurse residency is the best route for you. 

Are you comfortable with commitment?

This is one of the most important questions to ask yourself when deciding about a nurse residency program. These programs are beneficial and ultimately are worth it for most people. However if you don’t have the ability to commit to a contract then it’s simply not feasible. If you plan to move within a year or if your lifestyle requires regular relocation (such as being in the military or married to someone who is) then you’ll probably want to refrain from signing a contract for a residency program. Breaking a residency contract isn’t the easiest process and may even result in having to pay the hospital back, so you’ll only want to sign a contract that you’re sure you can commit to. Luckily, there are plenty of great job opportunities for new graduates that don’t require a big commitment. 

Do you want to start out in a nursing specialty?

Nurse residency programs are a great idea for nurses who hope to start their career in a specialty such as in the ICU, operating room, or labor and delivery. This is because the additional training that residencies offer can make it easier to transition into a specialty since they require additional knowledge that you likely haven’t acquired while in nursing school. A lot of nurses who don’t complete residencies complete a year of Med-Surg nursing first before transferring into a specialty setting. 

How do you choose a nurse residency program?

When it comes to choosing the best residency program for you, you’ll want to consider a couple of things. If you’re not entirely comfortable with a major commitment, look for a healthcare system that allows for transfer within that system without having to break your contract. When hoping for a specific specialty, be sure that the hospitals you’re looking into offer that specialty. Pay attention to what the time commitment is before signing the contract and make sure that is something you’re comfortable with — some residencies only require one additional year of commitment while others require two or three.

So, is a Nurse Residency Program Worth it?

As an experienced nurse and nursing school graduate, I would say that nurse residencies are definitely worth it. Assuming you’re able to invest the required time to meet the demands of the schedule and complete the contract without breaking it, there’s no real reason to not do a residency. You will come out of your first few years of nursing with a wealth of knowledge and plenty of support when starting your first job as a nurse. Feeling supported by other experienced nurses is invaluable as a new nurse because the transition into your first job can be quite scary.

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