13 Pros and Cons of Nurse Residency Programs

Written By: Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN

Nurse residency programs are becoming increasingly popular among nursing students. Nurse residency programs are an opportunity to gain valuable skills and experience as you prepare for your nursing career, but, is it right for you? There are many benefits of a nurse residency program, but there are also some drawbacks that you should know about before deciding if you should embark on this new adventure. Do you know what are the pros and cons of nurse residency programs? Do not worry if you do not. Below you will find the top 13 pros and cons of nurse residency programs.

What are Nurse Residency Programs?

Nurse residency programs will provide you as a new nursing graduate with the skills and knowledge required to be competent nurses through didactic and clinical learning. Nurse residency programs typically last from six to twelve months. If you are selected for one of the Nurse residency programs, it will be a paid job opportunity right out of nursing school. Nurse residency programs are provided at hospitals, public health organizations, psychiatric hospitals, and long-term care centers. You may also find these programs in specialty areas such as intensive care and oncology to name a few.

Top Cons of Nurse Residency Programs

(The following are the top 13 disadvantages of Nurse Residency Programs.)

1. You will have a contractual commitment to the institution.

Nurse residency programs are becoming common among many hospitals. You will enter into a contractual agreement with the institution once you accept the position. This contractual agreement that you may enter into is one of the biggest factors to consider while weighing the pros and cons of nurse residency programs. Hear me out. The hospital will indeed provide you with extensive training during your nurse residency, but this is a sneaky way for the hospital to gain retention of its nurses. Once you have completed your nurse residency training, you will owe the hospital a time commitment of 1-3 years after your nurse residency has ended. This commitment can prevent you from pursuing other nursing opportunities. Yes, you will have a job, but you are essentially stuck in that job. Think of it as a prison sentence.

2. If you break your contractual commitment, you will owe the hospital big time.

Suppose you decide that once you complete your nurse residency, you would like to continue your career at a different institution. In that case, you will owe the hospital a said monetary amount. The amount you would be fined will vary depending on what type of contractual agreement you signed. You will also be unable to be rehired at the institution where you completed your nurse residency program if you decide to leave without holding up your end of the bargain of repaying the hospital in time. You will be assigned a not eligible for rehire status suppose you decide that after completing your nurse residency program, you would like to continue your career elsewhere.

3. You will not have much say about the days you work

One of the top disadvantages of nurse residency programs is that you will have to work the same days as the nurse you are training under. This will give you less freedom in your scheduling. You will have to revolve your social and personal life around somebody else's schedule. This can be a bit of a pain if you like your personal time and have a pretty exciting social life.

4. You will not have much say about the shift you work.

Another one of the cons of nurse residency programs is that you will not have any say in the shifts that you will work. You may find that you will be assigned to work day shifts, overnight shifts, and various times. You may even need to work the dreaded swing shift. Working a swing shift means you may rotate back and forth between the day shift and night shift. These types of shifts are not always easy to manage. You may not have a lot of time in between each shift, which can result in loss of sleep.

5. You may have to work weekends or holidays.

Even though you are technically still training as a nurse, you may have to work weekends and holidays. This means you will be missing a ton of memory-making events in the lives of your family and friends. Think about it all before you take the plunge!

6. You may have extremely long hours.

One of the biggest disadvantages of nurse residency programs is that you may have to work extremely long hours. You may have to work sometimes 12 to 13-hour shifts. This can be exhausting work. Sure, you can try to catch up on sleep on your days off, but there is no guarantee that you will be able to actually make up for hours lost.

7. Your nurse residency program may be pretty long.

The length of the training period required by an institution is one of the important points you need to pay attention to while evaluating the pros and cons of nurse residency programs because it will impact your life either positively or negatively. A nurse residency program can take quite some time till the program is fully completed. Nurse residency programs will vary in length, but they typically remain around the six-month to the one-year mark. For example, MD Anderson’s nurse residency program is 12 months long. Choosing this path means that you have now signed up for the long haul. The downside is that you are constantly living under supervision and never allowed to work independently for fear that you might make a mistake. You essentially are being critiqued on your every action. There is more of a chance that you will become more of an assistant than an independent nurse upon completion.

8. There will be various degrees of pay.

Not all are created equal when you are talking about your salary in a nurse residency program. Your salary will be different between the different nurse residency programs and possibly specialties. How much you will be paid and what your benefits are will depend on the program. You may actually wonder if completing a nurse residency program was worth it because you could have made more money straight out of college as a staff nurse. On average, a nurse resident will make about $10,000 less than other first-year nurses.

9. Extremely competitive positions

One of the cons of nurse residency programs is that not everybody who applies to a nurse residency program will get accepted. In fact, the number of applicants outweighs the number of spots available at most nurse residency programs by a pretty wide margin. It is incredibly competitive. So, I would not go ahead and put all my eggs in one basket and bank on a position as a nurse resident.

10. You will have to attend classes.

As a nurse resident, not all of your time will be spent focusing on the clinical skills of your job. You will still have to attend lectures and go to mandatory education sessions. This time will have to come out of your already hectic schedule. You will not have time for anything else in your life. Your friends, family, and social life will all be put on the back burner. I guess you thought you were done with sitting in the classroom once you graduated.

11. You will have to do work on your own time

During these mandatory lectures, you will be assigned assignments that will have to be completed. I just hope you do not think that you will be given hospital time to complete this. Oh no, you will have to complete these assignments on your own time and away from the hospital. I wish you all good luck and Godspeed in completing these assignments and lectures to meet your mandatory requirements for all the courses you will need to complete.

12. You can become stressed out

As a nurse resident, you are taking on a very unique role that will come with a great deal of stress. When you are working at a hospital, there will be the added pressure of learning and thinking about how to practice your skills. You may feel that such stress is overwhelming and could detract from the experience that comes with being a nurse. Let's also not forget about the outside work that will be expected from you. You need to be able to complete all your tasks and responsibilities in an orderly manner. With so much happening during the day, you may feel that you are stretched too thin, which can be worrying.

13. You become emotionally burned out

When you decide to take part in a nurse residency program, you will be exposed to some of the most emotionally taxing experiences in your career. You will be around so much suffering, death, and dying, which can cause you to feel depressed, angry, overwhelmed, exhausted, apathetic. Being witness to all of this can cause you to become emotionally burned out. You may want to reconsider your goals or even quit nursing. The enormity of it all can be too much to handle sometimes. Being a nurse is hard enough but being a nurse for the first time takes guts and grit.

Top Pros of Nurse Residency Programs

(The following are the top 13 advantages of Nurse Residency Programs.)

1. You will gain a good amount of confidence.

A nurse residency program will help you become more confident in many different aspects of your life. It will provide you with a knowledge base that nurses without a residency can't compete with. Nurse residency will help you gain confidence in your skills and abilities. You will also gain confidence in your judgment and be ready to make decisions without having a fear of someone calling you out on it. Residency programs will enhance your problem-solving skills and ability to make sound decisions, which can help you excel in your practice and career.

2. You will have a mentor.

One of the advantages of nurse residency programs is that you will have a mentor. This mentor will help you with all aspects of your career. A nurse residency program is a structured program that provides you with the knowledge and skills needed to become an effective healthcare provider. As a result, your role model will teach you how to think critically through patient problems or cases. As a nurse resident, your mentor will guide you to act as a role model, provide support to others, coordinate patient care, and communicate among health care personnel.

3. You will be improving your clinical judgment.

One of the top pros of nurse residency programs is that you will improve your clinical judgment. Furthermore, it will give you the opportunity to improve patient safety by working directly under experienced nurses. You will have a chance to develop new skills and share your knowledge with others.

4. You were handpicked for this role.

One aspect of a nurse residency program that should make you feel pretty good is that these programs are typically very selective. So, if you are chosen for this type of program, you're probably pretty good yourself. Of course, they are selective because it takes a special kind of nurse to participate in a nurse residency program successfully and safely for both themselves and their patients. You were essentially handpicked out of many applicants. This means you are pretty capable, so congrats!

5. You will provide better patient care.

In nurse residency programs you will be taught by highly experienced nurses in the clinical component and didactic component. This will lead to you providing better patient care. You will have a supportive mentor to guide you through your first role as a nurse, and this is extremely helpful to the learning process of providing exceptional care to your patients.

6. You will be able to be hired into specialty units.

Residency programs are typically offered in nursing specialty areas, including cardiac care, neurosurgery, intensive care units, and oncology. These nurse residency programs are essential because new graduate nurses are rarely hired into these specialty units. One of the biggest advantages of nurse residency programs is that they allow for new graduate nurses to learn hands-on from experienced staff in specialty units. A residency program will give you an opportunity to get up close and personal to practice in these specialty units before venturing off on your own.

7. You will increase your competencies.

As a nurse resident, you will gain increased competencies over other newly graduated nurses. These competencies will benefit your career. You will be viewed as a resource to other nurses once you have completed your nurse residency. Having these increased competencies will allow you to care for the most complex patients safely. You will be able to provide more thorough care to patients due to your increased knowledge through the nurse residency program.

8. You will have a smoother transition from school to the work environment

One of the most significant advantages of nurse residency programs is that these programs will help you transition from your school life to your professional life. The transition from student nurse to graduate nurse is one that can be challenging. A nurse residency program will enable you to gain the confidence and knowledge needed for this transition. This transition will be easier because the nurse residency program will provide you with mentorship and guidance. You will be eased into your career instead of being dropped into your new role.

9. You will get paid to work

As a nurse resident, you will not be working for free. As a nurse resident, you will be paid to attend classes and work clinically alongside nurses and doctors in your facility. Keep in mind that your salary may differ depending on which institution you work for and is one of the important factors that you must pay very close attention to when evaluating the pros and cons of nurse residency programs. In a nutshell, you have the opportunity to better yourself with all the clinical and didactic learning that will be provided to you while getting paid for it! That is pretty great! Most nurse residency programs will also provide you with full health benefits as well.

10. Your resume will get a boost

The fact that you acquired such a highly competitive position is a significant achievement. An achievement that looks great on a resume. You will be viewed as a highly competitive candidate to potential employers and other nurses as you start your search for a future nursing position. A residency program shows that you are committed to the profession and excel at meeting challenges head-on.

11. You will be part of a group

Being picked for a nurse residency program is like getting the ultimate honor of becoming a part of this club. There are different levels of relationships between nurses in these programs, but they all follow an unspoken bond that makes them like siblings to each other. From the first day of orientation, the relationships form, and friendships are made that will last forever. One of the pros of nurse residency programs is that you will always have camaraderie with your fellow nurse residents and it is one of a kind, and you will all never forget how you all started this journey together.

12. You will gain a deep understanding of your job

I'm sure that everyone has a different definition of what makes a great nurse. The one thing that does not vary is the fact that nurses should always be learning, growing, and adapting to meet the needs of their patients. Nurse residency programs are designed to provide you with an opportunity to see your job from a different perspective. This different perspective of your job will enable you to gain a deep understanding of your job.

13. You will have job satisfaction

Another one of the advantages of nurse residency programs is that they will lead to job satisfaction. A study conducted by the Journal of Nursing Education has concluded that individuals who participate in a formal nurse residency program are more likely to be satisfied with their profession than those who do not. If you are satisfied with your job, you will have longevity in the position.

The Bottom Line

So, what are the pros and cons of nurse residency programs? The top 13 pros and cons of nurse residency programs that I have shown you prove that it is no secret that there are many benefits to a nurse residency program. It is easy to see why so many people apply for this position. Many nurses are searching for financial stability and to have a fulfilling work experience. However, if you think about the cons of nurse residency programs and the possibility of these cons being problematic to your life, it may be worth your time doing some real reflection before pursuing this career path. Ultimately, you will need to decide if the pros outweigh the cons and whether pursuing a nurse residency program is right for you.

Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN
Jennifer Schlette is a registered nurse in pediatric critical care in New York City. She is the former Director of Undergraduate Nursing at a college located in New York. After obtaining her BSN from the College of Mount Saint Vincent, she went on to complete her MSN.