New nursing graduates are often eager to leave the world of classrooms and studying behind and jump headfirst into their careers. This eagerness to enter the workforce is essential to the viability of our healthcare system as an unprecedented number of veteran nurses approach retirement. In fact, it is projected that at least one million nurses will retire by 2025. To avoid a sudden staffing shortage, many hospitals are working overtime to add as many new grads as possible to the employment pipeline.
But high turnover rates—especially among first-year nurses—mean hospitals must not only hire new nurses, but also equip them with the skills necessary for success in their new roles. Without comprehensive training and support, many new nurses find themselves falling behind and leaving the field altogether—costing a hospital between $55,000-$85,000 per nurse, and further perpetuating the nursing shortage.
Fortunately, new grad nurse residency programs can help healthcare administrators address these challenges. Nurse residency programs bridge the gap between school and practice through professional development opportunities focused on transforming novice nurses into qualified healthcare practitioners. While many hospitals have embraced these programs with open arms, the healthcare community as a whole must assess the pros and cons of nurse residency programs before they are instituted more broadly.
What are RN Residency Programs?
A registered nurse (RN) residency program, like all other medical residency programs, is designed to help recent graduates obtain the knowledge and hands-on experience they need to successfully practice independently. It also ensures new nurses receive mentorship from more established nurses, providing them with a strong support network they can turn to with questions or concerns. Having access to this type of support network is especially pertinent to retaining new nurses, given that competitive, malicious environments can directly harm an employee’s health and safety and lead to higher rates of employee turnover.
But what exactly is a graduate nurse residency program? A nurse residency program for new graduates is a six to 12-month program typically purchased by a healthcare institution on behalf of their staff. While these programs are often built around a set curriculum to ensure a level of standardization across healthcare institutions, hospitals can tailor programs to meet their unique needs and goals.
During a nurse residency program, new nurses will hone their skills and become familiar with the specific policies, procedures, and technology implemented within their hospital, providing them with a significant advantage once they begin their independent clinical work. In general, the goals of nurse residency programs include:
- Helping new hires confidently make the transition from student to nurse
- Identifying and addressing a nurse’s gaps in clinical knowledge
- Enhancing nurses’ clinical decision making and critical thinking skills
- Fostering continuous professional growth and development
- Minimizing turnover and improving the patient experience through skilled nursing
Are Nurse Residency Programs Required?
No, nurse residency programs are not required. However, nurse residency programs have increased in popularity in recent years as administrators have become familiar with the benefits associated with these programs. In fact, a growing body of research has labeled nurse residency programs an “essential requirement,” prompting many healthcare professionals to petition the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to support these programs more tangibly via pass-through dollars.
What are the Benefits of a Nurse Residency Program?
There are many benefits of nurse residency programs for new grads, including the opportunity to receive focused professional development and build on what they were taught in school. Residency programs also help new nurses address many of the challenges they face when they enter the healthcare field, including difficulty adjusting to a high-stress work environment, prioritizing numerous demands, and managing a surge of diverse emotions, including insecurity and fear.
Other key benefits of nurse residency programs include:
- Increases in Critical Competencies: Once they are hired, new nurses must quickly develop their clinical competencies while simultaneously adjusting to the specific policies, procedures, and routines put forth by their administrators. Nurse residency programs address each of these areas in full, zeroing in on nurses’ critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills and providing robust onboarding sessions that review internal best practices.
- Improvements in Patient Care: Following graduation, many new nurses still feel unprepared to provide patients with safe, effective care. Nurse residency programs help empower new nurses by not only identifying, but addressing, their gaps in clinical knowledge through tailored educational sessions. Many nurse residency programs are also tied to specific units, thus providing nurses with the highly specialized training they need to perform their unique role successfully—something they are unlikely to have received while in school.
- Reductions in Nurse Turnover: While employee turnover disrupts any industry, it is especially problematic in healthcare, where turnover rates are high and the cost of losing a good nurse is even higher. By providing new nurses with the skills they need to succeed in their work—thus increasing job satisfaction and performance—nurse residency programs are helping hospitals combat the 30% turnover rate among first-year nurses.
What are the Disadvantages of Nurse Residency Programs?
While there aren’t many disadvantages to nurse residency programs, there are several challenges hospitals must consider before implementing a nurse residency program. These challenges include:
- Accessing Funding: A robust nurse residency program requires a significant upfront investment. Despite hospital administrators’ best efforts to receive financial assistance from state and federal government agencies as well as philanthropic organizations, securing enough funding to support a robust nurse residency program can be challenging.
- Standardizing Programs: While there is already some standardization among nurse residency programs, more communication between healthcare providers is needed to ensure all nurses have access to high-quality training.
- Measuring Outcomes: The only way to know if a nurse residency program is effective is to measure its outcomes. By instituting third-party assessments that measure clinical knowledge growth and further define learning opportunities, administrators can better evaluate the effectiveness and return on investment of their new nurse residency programs.
Make the Most of Your Nurse Residency Program
It’s becoming more important than ever for healthcare institutions to invest in nurse residency programs as turnover rates rise and thousands of existing nurses plan for retirement. But simply investing in a new nurse residency program isn’t enough. To reap the full benefits of these programs, hospitals must implement robust internal assessments.