In its first five years, Novant Health's RN residency program for new nurses, a nationally accredited program, helped nearly 3,000 nurses launch their hospital careers. Each receives extra support during what can be a stressful transition from student to professional.

Tracey Whitley

"They get out of nursing school and … they're so excited, and then about six months in, they're like, 'I'm a nurse, it's hard, what have I done?'" said Tracey Whitley, co-manager of the program. "If we can get them to the one-year mark, if we can help them navigate that current, then typically they will soar and do really, really well."

Of note, an independent review of Novant Health's nurse residency program ranks it among the nation's best. It is accredited with distinction as a practice transition program by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Just one other health care system in North Carolina has received this extra vote of confidence.

Finding the perfect fit

Novant Health offers all new graduates a full one-year residency — twice as long as many hospitals.

During this time, residents get regular training on the job and online, and each is teamed up with an experienced nurse preceptor, or mentor, who serves as coach, counselor and cheerleader. The partnership helps ensure new nurses aren't afraid to admit what they don't know and ask for help: For some, it can be harder to be vulnerable with a supervisor.

In addition, residents are invited to rotate every 12 weeks within their specialty area to different units in the hospital or market they are hired into. For many, it's an ideal way to find a perfect fit. Specialty tracks include adult acute care; cardiac; critical care; emergency; behavioral health; women's and children's; and surgical services.

Lindsey Horne
Lindsey Horne

"We're finding that this generation really likes options and flexibility, and this gives them that," said Lindsey Horne, program co-manager. "We want to make it a great experience, and ultimately, to retain these amazing nurses."

And that's smart business. Nationwide, competition for the best and brightest RNs is intense, because more are leaving the profession than are coming in.

The exodus dovetails with a major demographic shift that is straining the nation's health care system: The population of aging and chronically ill Americans is growing fast. Through 2030, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts 194,500 openings a year, on average, for registered nurses.

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That's why "we really want to retain these team members and make sure they're successful," Horne said.

The investment is reaping big dividends, she said.

About 86% of nurse residents hired at Novant Health stay at Novant Health, Horne said. And though that's down some from pre-pandemic levels, when the retention rate consistently topped 90%, it far outpaces the rate across the Southeast, which hovers in mid-70s.

Tools for now … and the future

The residency aims to fill significant educational gaps like those, to reinforce what newcomers have already learned, and then to school them in the "Novant Health way," Horne said. "We strive to make sure that we're giving our residents tools not only to be successful at the bedside, but also to be successful as a nurse for their career. After all, nursing is not just a labor task, it's a profession."