Read part I of Theresa Jacobs’ job search recommendations.

Explore Your Nurse Residency and New Graduate RN Options

A nurse residency or new graduate RN program is a fantastic way to ease the transition from school to your first RN job in a hospital setting. Each is designed to support and encourage new graduates to more quickly develop acute care competencies. Most programs include a structured orientation period that includes didactic classroom time, psychomotor skills practice, and mentoring supervision. Studies have shown that residency programs greatly improve the retention rate and job satisfaction of nurses in their first year of employment.

New graduate RN jobs and residency program positions require an orientation and training period of several months to a year while working directly under a nurse supervisor. Some programs are designed to familiarize new hires with multiple areas of practice within a hospital, while others focus exclusively on one unit or specialty such as oncology (Ellis & Hartley, 2012). Medical/surgical positions may offer a rotation in an oncology unit or acute care unit that offers some oncology services; other stepping stones include critical care residency programs and pediatric intensive care.

Use search strings such as “new graduate RN” or “nurse resident” to find these programs. On hospital search boards, you’ll also discover positions for recent graduates who are eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) or who have earned their license but haven’t yet worked as an RN. Some residency programs have a formal application process, while others will require you to apply for a specific job position listed on their hospital job board for consideration. Most will require a one- or two-year commitment to the hospital after the residency is completed; look at this as the hospital’s return on its investment while giving you a fast track into a superior work environment.

Be careful to read the entire listing for eligibility requirements, as some programs are limited to BSN graduates only. Pay close attention to the permitted level of experience; most programs and positions limit acceptance to graduates with no experience working as an RN, although a few will allow recent graduates to apply if they have less than four to six months of RN experience. Most permit you to apply a few months prior to graduation and licensure and sometimes up to a year after graduation.

At the same time, “experience is preferred” for many of the critical-care-focused residencies, which usually indicates that preference is given to candidates who have worked as an LPN, CNA, hospital tech, phlebotomist, EMT, or similar. Note whether the program or position requires you to be licensed in the state of application, especially if the state is not part of the RN compact licensure agreement.

Apply for a Nurse Residency or New Graduate RN Position

With so many outdated links and expired deadlines on the Internet, finding programs takes some effort and persistence. Start your search using the string “residency program” combined with “RN,” “nurse,” or “new grad RN.” Add the specialty area of nursing or state you prefer to work in to further narrow the results. A list of residency programs affiliated with the University Health System Consortium and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is very helpful. You might also research the best hospital employers, starting with the U.S. News and World Report hospital rankings, which are organized by specialty as well as geographic region.

Always look for a search agent option on job boards and search engines, which allows you to receive notice by e-mail whenever new positions become available. Make your search agent specific to new graduate positions by including keywords such as “new graduate RN” or “nurse resident.” If you need more information, send an e-mail to the director of nursing education or the HR representative. Save time for both of you by briefly listing your state of residence, graduation date, and type of nursing degree, or if you’ve obtained your license, how long you’ve been working and in what nursing specialty.

Once you’ve found a residency program or new graduate RN job listing, expect a very short window of time in which to apply. If you inquire directly to the contact person for more information, many residency programs will advise you when they open up their program for applications. Have your references from your clinical instructors and your cover letter/resume finalized and ready to send before the application period opens up. because of the very large volume of applicants that these programs receive, they limit entry quickly. Most will let you reapply, with application windows opening one or two times a year or as new job listings become available. Although it may be tempting to apply to every position that’s available, be selective and thoughtful about what you want.

A few more notes about career planning, education, and certification 

If you have an associate RN degree, start investigating RN-to-BSN degree programs. There is an undeniable trend toward the baccalaureate degree as the minimum educational standard and the preference of a growing number of employers. If your ultimate goal is to become a nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist, the AACN recommends that all entry-level nurse practitioner educational programs transition from the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree to the Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree by the year 2015.

If you already have a bachelor’s degree in any field, investigate your options for obtaining a DNP directly from your bachelor’s degree, which will require less time than pursing a master’s degree followed by a DNP. For more information about the components of master’s and doctorate programs in nursing, including RN-to-BSN and RN-to-MSN programs, I recommend the AACN’s resources on nursing education programs and the essentials of doctoral education for nursing practice. 

Keep in Touch With Your Professors

Despite applying to positions all over the country, some of my best job leads came from unadvertised positions offered by local and regional hospitals who maintained active relationships with faculty at my school. My school has set up a simple Facebook page to post these job announcements for seniors and recent graduates, especially because student e-mails change after graduation. Keep in touch with your nursing faculty or advisors and be sure they have your current e-mail address. They're the foundation to your growing network as you start your nursing career.


Ellis, J.R., & Hartley, C.L. (2012). Nursing in today’s world: Trends, issues, and management. (10th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Theresa Jacobs graduated with an Associate of Applied Science in Nursing degree from Yavapai College in Prescott, AZ in December 2012. While working as a new RN in 2013, she'll pursue her RN-BSN degree online through Northern Arizona University in 2013. Nursing is her second career, and she considers herself a non-traditional student.