Aspen hospital to start nurse residency program |

Aspen hospital to start nurse residency program

Staff report
Aspen Valley Hospital.
Aspen Times File

In the face of health-care workforce challenges, Aspen Valley Hospital announced a new-graduate nurse residency program in what officials called an effort to “grow our own” that will start this summer with four recent graduates from nursing schools.

It is modeled after other nurse residency programs throughout the country, and it is designed to introduce new nurse residents to the profession and the hospital, integrating additional education and support from experienced nurses and other mentors, hospital officials said.  

The program is a structured transition-to-practice program with an evidence-based curriculum through which a newly licensed nurse can continue to gain the knowledge, skills, and professional behaviors to deliver safe, high-quality patient care, according to the hospital. The year-long program includes a clinical preceptorship, as well as classroom seminars, skills labs, and simulation activities taught by diverse, qualified clinical faculty.

“The goal is to support new nurses with another year of intensive learning and professional support that improves patient outcomes, increases the nurses’ job satisfaction, and eases their transition to practice,” said April Roark-Gay, RN, DNP, who is charged with developing and leading the residency program.

The application period runs from April 1 through May 30. Applicants who are accepted will need to commit to two years at the hospital – the first year in the residency program and the second year on staff. 

Once accepted into the program, the nurse residents will initially be evaluated in skills labs to gain an understanding of their level of competence. They will also spend considerable time in the classroom over their first six weeks, learning about Aspen Valley Hospital’s core values, policies, and procedures.

After the initial training, the nurses will spend much of their time in one of the hospital’s departments with their preceptor, learning to practice professional nursing skills and patient care. They will continue their class and lab work throughout the year under the direction of Roark-Gay.  

Elaine Gerson, the hospital’s chief operating officer and chief nursing officer, developed the program, initiated collaboration with Colorado Mountain College, and brought in Roark-Gay to oversee its implementation.

“The residency program is inspired in part by the success of similar programs at other hospitals,” she said, “and in recognition of the changes to the nursing profession over the last several years that have resulted in opportunities for nurses outside traditional hospital and practice structures. Hiring nurses has become more challenging, and the nurse residency program is one way to address that need.”

The program was built around the hospital’s “grow our own” philosophy that focuses outreach toward graduates from area colleges and universities who already have ties to the community, she said.

Colorado Mountain College graduates between 12-24 new nurses each year, and Colorado Mesa University has many students from the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys. At least some may want to work at Aspen Valley Hospital. 

“This is one way we are honoring our commitment to the community — by employing people who live here and want to be here,” Gerson said. “We are hoping they will love their work at the hospital. We want them to stay.”

For new nurses, the program is an opportunity to enhance skills and gain confidence. Studies have shown the first six months of professional practice can be challenging for new nurses, and support in a residency program can be a key to success, hospital officials said. Nationally, 25% of nurses leave a position within their first year of practice. 

“The reality is a lot of new graduates come to realize what they don’t know in their first six months and confidence can drop at that point, which can lead to mistakes,” Roark-Gay said. “After nine to 12 months, they feel much more capable of independent practice. Our program is designed to get them to that place of confidence and competence.”

She was hired earlier this year to further develop and implement the program. She will lead most of the classwork and skills labs with the help of other staff at the hospital. She previously worked at Aspen Valley Hospital from 2009 and 2017 and left to pursue her Doctorate of Nursing Practice at American Sentinel University, graduating in 2020. She was a professor at the College of the Florida Keys and at Chamberlain University from 2017 to 2022 before returning to develop the nurse residency program.

Applicants for Aspen Valley Hospital’s New Graduate Nurse Residency Program must have a degree from an accredited nursing program in the United States and be licensed to practice in Colorado by the time the program begins in early August. Applicants are required to have graduated within the past year and not yet worked professionally. 

The application period runs through May 30. Interviews will be scheduled in June, and offers made in July, hospital officials said. The new residents will begin working in early August. To learn more and apply, visit