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What to Expect from Your Nurse Residency Program

So, you've found and been accepted into a nursing residency program. The next several months of your work life will be very exciting. Residency programs will differ but you can expect to move through the program in the following way.

First Two Weeks

Usually, the first two weeks of any nursing program are filled with paperwork and orientation. You will likely get a company orientation on day one and then nursing-specific orientations to follow. These provide you with information on the mission, vision, and values of the organization, and you will get a chance to meet executive leaders across the system. You will also learn about your benefits, company rules, and pay practices. You will also get your badge, which is actually super fun to receive because it’s the first official document that has your name with RN after it!

Immediately following your orientations will usually be a combination of skill checkoffs, simulation, and EHR training. These will give you the foundations of the nursing practices and equipment used by the hospital or clinic. Take notes, study, and practice as much as you can in these first few weeks.

Month One

Your first month can be really interesting as a new graduate. You will likely have entire shifts where you are not actually caring for patients but rather learning unit specific practices. Try to use this time to learn about all the unit-specific equipment, practice case studies, and observe the work of nurses to really understand how things work. Near the end of this month you will likely begin to work with your clinical preceptors to take on patients.

Months Two - Six

These months are where you really start to feel like a nurse. You will continue to work with your preceptor to take on more complex patients and get certified in more complex things like ACLS, PALS, and other specialty-specific requirements. In most residency programs, you will also be attending formal classes with other residents around nursing care, professionalism, and career growth. Keep learning and growing as a nurse by taking on new challenges in patient care.

sticking needle into arm new grad nursing skills

Months Six - Twelve

Depending on the length of the program you will be entering the end of residency during these months. Here you will likely have more autonomy in patient care, you've likely finished up your formal course work and are getting ready to get a final evaluation and competency test from your preceptors. This time can be stressful as the clinical preceptorship is very light and you are on your own. Do not worry, you're a badass nurse now, taking care of patients like a rockstar, and giving life-saving tetanus shots with the best of them. 

This is a time to do some reflecting about what you have accomplished so far. You're a nurse, and you have learned a TON. Bask in the glory of these final few precepted shifts. Also, begin to prepare for what lies ahead. You may take a knowledge exam to test what you have learned and to rate the residency program. You will also get a comprehensive review from your nurse educator and residency team about your strengths and areas for improvement. Take this seriously as it will help you develop over the years to come. Finally, celebrate! This is a huge step in your life-long career as a nurse!

How to Succeed in a New Graduate Residency Program

The transition to practice from student to licensed professional is difficult but also so much fun! Enjoy the process, ask a boatload of questions, and employ the same skills you used to be successful in nursing school in the new graduate program. 

Be sure to keep your textbooks and used them as reference material as you learn more and more in the clinical areas, so that whenever you have a patient with an issue you don't understand, you can quickly look it up. Be sure to lean on your clinical apps and preceptor to get all the information you can. Be a sponge and remember that this program will set you up for massive success in the future. 

When preparing to get certified, the standard recommendation is to take your certification exam two to four years into practicing, but this is not a hard rule. If you spend this year learning and building your identity as a practicing nurse, it's possible to pass this certification after only one year in your residency program.

By putting in the effort of completing a nursing residency program, you will be the change we all wish to see in healthcare, our patients, and our profession.

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Dan Weberg, PhD, MHI, BSN, RN
Dr. Dan Weberg is an expert in nursing, healthcare innovation and human-centered patient design with extensive clinical experience in emergency departments, acute in-patient hospital settings and academia. He currently serves as the Head of Clinical Innovation for Trusted Health, the staffing platform for the healthcare industry, where he helps drive product strategy and works to change the conversation around innovation in the healthcare workforce.
Dan has authored over a dozen peer reviewed articles, delivered 100+ presentations, and authored 3 textbooks on innovation.

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