Deciding what path to take after graduation can be scary. There are so many options for new graduate nurses. So, how do you know you are choosing the right one?
In this article, we will compare nursing fellowship programs and more traditional preceptor orientation programs to help you decide which path is right for you.
Nursing fellowships typically consist of classroom learning followed by an orientation period in the designated unit. In a preceptor orientation, you are assigned a specific preceptor and work with them directly on the unit.
Weighing a fellowship vs. preceptor orientation
When deciding between different orientation programs, it is important to do your research. For example, looking into different programs online and asking questions during interviews are great ways to help you decide which path is right for you.
Researching different facilities you are interested in and what kind of orientation program they have for new graduate nurses is a great start. The same type of program may vary between different facilities.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to nursing leaders. Many times you can find their contact information on facility websites. Let them know you are interested in learning more about their orientation program. Reaching out directly shows you are interested in their program and invested in your future.
Additionally, during interviews, ask about specific qualifications and requirements for orientation programs. Make sure you are aware of any time commitments or contracts that are required for the orientation program.
It is often helpful to ask to speak to nurses who have recently completed the orientation programs to hear first-hand feedback. This can give you a full picture of the program and how well-prepared their nurses feel.
Pros and cons of a fellowship program
Fellowships are popular among new graduate nurses because they are specifically developed to help bridge the gap between nursing school and career. A new nurse who is nervous about entering the workforce may benefit most from a fellowship program.
- Classroom learning
- More nurturing learning, avoids the “eat your young” mentality
- Often led by a nurse educator
- Often specifically tailored to new graduate nurses
- Typically have a time commitment or contract
- Specific cohort hiring dates (usually 2-3 times a year)
- May have to take prerequesite exams
- More competitive application process
What is a fellowship?
Nursing fellowships are usually focused on small groups of new graduate nurses and typically last several months to a full year. Nursing fellowships can also be called a “nurse residency program” or a “nursing cohort”.
Fellowship programs can vary between different facilities. For instance, some programs may have all of the classroom learning in the beginning. On the other hand, other programs may spread out the classroom learning throughout the duration of the program.
Fellowship programs are typically led by the unit nurse educator and incorporate mentoring with experienced nurses throughout the duration of the program.
Most fellowship programs only accept new graduate nurses with less than 6 months of experience. Since fellowship programs are set up as small cohorts, it is important to be aware of application deadlines well in advance of your graduation date.
There are many fellowship programs that are accredited through national nursing organizations. The AACN and the ANCC both have an extensive list of accredited programs across the country. This is a great way to get more information about a fellowship program.
Pros and cons of a preceptor orientation
A preceptor orientation is considered the more traditional route for new graduate nurses. Preceptor orientation allows the new hire to be more independent and have more freedom with their orientation schedule.
- Typically no time commitment or contract required
- Flexibility with start date
- Assigned preceptors, have go-to resources for questions
- Self-paced learning
- Learning is based on the knowledge of preceptors
- Preceptors may be good nurses, but lack educational experience
- Availability is based on each units’ capacity to hire new nurses
- Requires autonomy and independent learning
What is a preceptor orientation?
A preceptor orientation allows more flexibility and independence than a fellowship program. Preceptor orientation pairs you with a specific preceptor who works on the unit.
You can expect to work closely with your preceptor for a certain amount of time until you are ready to take assignments on your own.
The length of a preceptor orientation varies based on the acuity of the unit and any previous experience you may have coming into orientation. Typically, higher acuity units will have several months of preceptor orientation while a lower acuity unit may have several weeks of preceptor orientation. It is usually a good idea to look for an orientation length of at least 3 months for new graduate nurses.
Being paired with a specific preceptor gives you go-to resources for questions. You become very close with your preceptor working one-on-one with them throughout orientation. The unit educator and unit manager will also be involved in your orientation progress.
Questions from the Incredible Health Nurse Community
- What is your best tip for dealing with a stressful situation at work?
- How do you deal with veteran nurses and doctors who look down, and degrade new grad nurses? Some of them are a little older so it’s hard for me to defend myself.
- I’m 43 and want a new career. Recently I was accepted into a 24 month RN program. Am I too old to start a nursing career?
- What exactly is the role of a nursing union?
- How do I make myself more marketable?
- I want to become a nurse manager in the future. Are there any books or resources I can read to help me learn?
Factors to consider in your final decision
Both orientation programs offer different benefits. However, a fellowship program will be a longer comprehensive orientation while a preceptor orientation will be more hands-on and self-paced. It is ultimately up to you to determine which type of program would best benefit you as a new nurse.
A fellowship might be a good fit if you:
- Learn best in a classroom setting
- Prefer more nurturing learning in a small group
- Want opportunities for mentoring and career advancement
- Are nervous about entering into the nursing workforce
A preceptor orientation might be a good fit if you:
- Learn best hands-on
- Prefer more independent learning
- Want flexibility with your start date and time commitment
- Want a fast-paced learning environment
Only you can decide which type of orientation program is best for you. If a small nurturing learning environment is important to you, then you should consider a fellowship program. If hands-on independent learning is important to you, then you should consider a preceptor orientation program.
New graduate nurses need an orientation program that provides support, comfort, and opportunities for professional development. No matter what type of orientation program you choose, make sure you are entering into a supportive work environment that will help you thrive as a new nurse.
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“AACN Nurse Residency Program”. aacnnursing.org. Accessed May 1, 2022.
“ANCC Accredited Programs”. Nursingworld.org. Accessed May 1, 2022.