What Is a Nursing Residency Program?

Nurse residency programs train RNs in specialty areas. They also offer leadership training and professional development opportunities in healthcare.
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  • Nurse residency programs provide clinical and professional development training.
  • These programs are designed for new graduates and prepare RNs in specialty fields.
  • Residency programs come with a heavy workload and often pay less than entry-level roles.
  • Nurses must decide whether a residency program aligns with their career goals.

Nurses graduating from nursing school face a choice: They can apply for entry-level RN jobs or continue their training with a nurse residency program.

These programs offer clinical and professional development training for new RNs.

But is a nurse residency program right for you? There are pros and cons of applying to residency programs. While the option can help you pursue specialty or leadership roles, it can also mean a heavier workload and lower pay.

What Are Nurse Residency Programs?

Nurse residency programs, also called nursing residency programs, offer focused clinical training for recent graduates.

Most programs last one year and provide specialized training for RNs. Although nurse residency programs typically take place at hospitals, other healthcare settings may also offer these programs.

During a nursing residency program, you'll work closely with a mentor and a cohort of residents. You'll take nursing classes focused on leadership and professional development while also working in clinical settings.

Nurse residency programs pay residents. Some include a contractual obligation to work at the healthcare facility after you complete your residency.

Pros and Cons of Nurse Residency Programs

Pros of Nurse Residency Programs

  • You can gain specialized training while working in a clinical setting.
  • You'll strengthen your clinical skills and can qualify for specialty certifications.
  • You'll work closely with a mentor who can provide career development.
  • You may get to work in a specialty care setting that doesn't often hire entry-level RNs.

Cons of Nurse Residency Programs

  • Nurse residency programs require a big time commitment.
  • Programs can be highly competitive, with small cohort sizes.
  • You may have a contractual obligation to work at the facility 1-3 years after you complete your residency. Breaking the contract could incur fees.
  • Nurse residency programs generally pay less than entry-level RN roles.

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How to Find a Nurse Residency Program: 5 Factors to Consider

Consider the following factors when looking for nursing residency programs to apply to.

1. Accreditation

Nurses should always choose an accredited nursing program. But does accreditation matter for nursing residency programs specifically?

The answer is yes!

In addition to accrediting nursing degree programs, the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) accredits nurse residency programs. These programs meet high standards for training nurses.

Use the CCNE database to find accredited nursing residency programs near you.

2. Program Length

Most nurse residency programs last around one year. Nurses typically enter the program in a cohort and make progress as a group. Many programs admit new cohorts multiple times a year.

Check with specific programs to learn more about their length and admission process.

3. Curriculum

RNs take courses during a nursing residency program while completing clinical training with a mentor. Most programs incorporate classes on nursing leadership and patient outcomes. Residents may also complete professional development training.

Be sure to check the curricula of specific programs to see what they cover.

4. Specialization

Nurse residency programs prepare early-career RNs for specialized roles. Many of these nursing specialties only hire experienced RNs, so a residency program can prepare you for a high-paying nursing career in less time.

Research programs by specialization to learn more.

5. Location

Residency programs typically take place at hospitals. And hospitals across the U.S. offer these programs.

Before applying to residency programs, however, consider location. Completing a residency can help you find jobs within that hospital system, so your program's location can matter for future career opportunities.

Is a Nurse Residency Program Right for You?

Should you apply to nursing residency programs? The answer depends on your career goals.

If you're interested in specialized areas like critical care, surgical care, emergency care, or pediatrics, a residency program can help you reach your career goals. These specialties often prefer to hire experienced RNs. A residency program offers focused training so you'll qualify for these roles faster.

A nurse residency program can also benefit nurses considering leadership or advanced practice roles. Residencies offer mentorship and a focus on professional development.

RNs considering becoming nurse practitioners may benefit from a residency program. Listing a nursing residency on your graduate applications can help you stand out.

That said, many nurses apply for entry-level positions rather than pursuing a residency option. Nurses generally earn higher salaries as early-career RNs versus nurse residents.

Also, keep in mind that a nurse residency program requires a 1-3 year time commitment. Breaking the contract could mean that you will have to pay back the medical center back for the education and training provided. This could mean owing thousands of dollars.

So before you apply to any nurse residency programs, compare your options on the job market with the benefits of a residency program.

Frequently Asked Questions About Nurse Residency Programs

How long are most nurse residency programs?

Typically, a nurse residency program lasts one year; however, some programs run as short as six months.

During a residency program, you'll work closely with a mentor and gain specialty clinical training. You'll also work with a cohort of other residents to sharpen your decision-making and problem-solving skills.

These programs incorporate classes focused on leadership, patient care, and professional development. Nurse residency programs pay nurses and prepare them for specialized roles. Many of these programs are highly competitive and only admit a small number of residents each year.

What is the difference between a nurse residency and fellowship?

Nurse residency programs train recently graduated RNs. Most programs admit nurses after they earn an associate or bachelor's in nursing.

Residency programs often target nurses with limited RN experience. For example, some programs only admit nurses with less than a year of nursing experience.

In contrast, a fellowship normally trains nurses with more experience, including advanced practice nurses. Nurse practitioners may complete a fellowship after graduating from a master's or doctoral program, for instance.

Fellowships may also admit experienced nurses interested in training in a new specialty area.

Are nurse residency programs worth it?

Nursing residency programs are a smart choice for nurses interested in specialty roles. These programs help recent graduates gain specialized clinical training. They also emphasize leadership and professional development.

During a residency, you'll work with a mentor who guides your clinical training and professional development. You'll also get paid for your work and get the opportunity to work at the healthcare facility after completing your residency.

That said, some RNs prefer to apply for entry-level roles rather than pursuing a residency. These nurses may receive a higher starting salary than what residency programs offer.

Does nurse residency count as experience?

Yes, a nurse residency program counts as clinical experience. During a residency program, RNs work in clinical settings under the supervision of a mentor. They also take classes emphasizing patient care, nursing leadership, and professional development.

Many residency programs provide focused training in specialty areas like critical care, emergency care, or pediatrics. Nurses gain experience in these fields while earning a paycheck.

After a residency program, you can continue to work in this specialized role. A nurse residency program can also help you choose a focus area for a graduate program in nursing.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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