Pros and Cons of a Nursing Residency

One of my family members just graduated from nursing school, and she is starting the long and arduous process of studying for the NCLEX. She’s also beginning to research job positions for when she has her license, and I was reminded how terrifying and stressful that time in life can be.

She began looking at jobs in Colorado that fell within her realm of interest: surgery, orthopedics, and trauma recovery. At first, there seemed to be numerous options, but as she read each job description, she was dismayed to see that six months (or more) of nursing experience were required for every position.

“How am I supposed to get a nursing position, when every position requires past experience?” she asked me after browsing the job postings.

Good question, I thought.

While it might be different in other states, it is extremely difficult to get an inpatient nursing position right out of college without going through a new graduate residency program. UCHealth is one of the larger medical systems in Colorado, and it has a robust residency program that requires a 2-year commitment: one year as a “trainee” in the program and one year as a full-fledged member of the unit you did your residency on. I would love to share a little more about the program, and also give you a second-hand account of the program from my best friend, Julia, who completed her residency program and graciously agreed to share some thoughts on it.

UCHealth’s new graduate RN program involves a multitude of components: 10-24 weeks of orientation to the unit, mentorship from other nurses on the unit, courses tailored to the specific specialty you are assigned to, and monthly seminars on relevant topics. The program started about 20 years ago, and continues to this day. The focus is to ease the transition into inpatient nursing, from student to employee. There are four opportunities to apply for a cohort every year, and there are over thirty types of units to choose from.

As with anything, there are pros and cons to signing up for a nursing residency.

Nursing Residency Pros.

Being able to work in an environment where you are mentored, precepted, and thoroughly educated is crucial for building a foundation in your career.

Julia said that she was grateful for the lessons she learned. Her orientation time was invaluable as she worked under the supervision of a seasoned nurse. When you become a new nurse, you are technically licensed to perform duties that might seem daunting at first, but with time and proper teaching, it soon becomes easily done.

Building lasing relationships.

Julia built lasting relationships with coworkers and peers during her experience in the residency program. Simply the experience of being a new nurse with others who are also in the same boat was monumental in her nurse journey. Because of the solid trust she established with her mentors, Julia felt comfortable asking questions whenever she was unsure of things. Again, what an important component for a nursing environment! Finally, being a nurse means dealing with difficult situations frequently, and it’s crucial to be able to lean on your coworkers in times of strife.

Low expectations for knowledge.

The final benefit that Julia mentioned about the new graduate residency program was that the entry-level expectation for nursing knowledge is low. They know that each member of the cohort is starting nursing for the first time! You are literally building your knowledge from the ground up. If you start a nursing position that is not an explicit new graduate job, it may be assumed that you know more than you actually do. It may be assumed that you have the skills and ability to perform tasks that you’ve never done, and that can get quite dangerous if there’s a lack of oversight in training.

Cons of a Nursing Residency Program

First of all, yes, it is a time commitment.

It’s a contractual obligation that, if broken, requires the new graduate nurse to pay a penalty. Julia had a coworker leave the program early to be closer to family, and this coworker had to pay several thousands of dollars since she broke her contract. It can be scary to some people to sign a two-year commitment.

Secondly, some nursing graduates want to steer clear of anything resembling school for a while.

The new graduate residency program requires participants to attend regular classes and monthly seminars that pertain to whatever specialty unit he/she is on. While many times Julia did not feel like going to class, she looks back on that era and thinks that it was probably for the best and made her a better nurse.

As you can see, nursing residency programs have pros and cons, benefits and difficulties. As a new graduate nurse, I did not want to pursue inpatient nursing at all, and thus dismissed residency programs right away. However, I can see now from my conversation with Julia that it was a beneficial process in getting her where she wanted to end up with inpatient nursing. Julia no longer works on that unit, but instead is doing something she is much more interested in (made possible, though, by this program).

I’d love to leave you with some more of Julia’s thoughts: “Nursing is super hard. You see a lot of people at their worst, and it can be shocking. I encourage [nurses] to go into difficult situations with patience, listening ears, and a willingness to understand where the patient is coming from. Usually there’s a reason that has nothing to do with you. And make sure to find people to process things with, because it will allow you to grow and not be jaded.”

Such good advice!

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