How to Find the Best Hospital to Work For as a New Grad Nurse

How to Find the Best Hospital to Work For as a New Grad Nurse

Posted on May 01, 2024

Whether you’re a nursing student approaching your final year or a new grad nurse discovering your path, finding the right hospital to work for can be challenging. After all, not all hospitals are the same, and you never know what opportunities await until you look around!

Use On Board Virginia’s guide to narrow down your search. We break down the nursing job hunt into 5 core steps, including:

• Thinking Through What You Are Looking For

• Expanding Your Nursing Network

• Talking to Current Nurses

• Shadowing a Nurse

• Asking Relevant Interview Questions

Have a hospital location or system in mind? Browse hundreds of open nursing positions in Virginia with our job board!

1. Think Through What You Are Looking For

To find the best hospital for you, you need to identify what you value most about an employer and opportunity. Identifying these criteria can help you create guidelines when evaluating potential jobs.

Start by asking yourself:

• What are my career goals?

• Are there growth opportunities within the role?

• If not, can the job open new opportunities with future employers?

• What kind of work culture do I thrive in?

• Does this hospital (e.g., location, salary, culture) fit in with the rest of my life?

We’ve also listed a few common considerations below. When initially researching hospitals, we recommend looking at the hospital’s website, reviews on Glassdoor and Google, and forums like Reddit to get a general sense of the hospital. Please note that all reviews should be taken with a grain of salt—you can get a better sense of the hospital when talking to current employees to evaluate your shortlist.

Professional Growth Opportunities

Your first nursing job should be at a hospital that opens career opportunities for you. Professional growth can come in many forms, including mentorship programs, on-the-job training, continuing education opportunities, and more.

If you have a healthcare specialty in mind, it’s a good idea to look for hospitals that focus on that discipline. Being exposed to various disciplines in healthcare can help you become a more versatile nurse overall.

Salary, Benefits, & Retirement

It goes without saying that your salary will vary depending on your location, experience, and education. You should also consider the local cost of living to understand your cash flow. Look for a salary competitive with other hospitals in the area, but don’t let your salary be your main deciding factor. If the work-life balance doesn’t align with your goals, the hospital might not be the right fit.

Additionally, strong benefits and a competitive retirement plan are two top concerns for most employees. You can find benefits information on the hospital’s website and job postings or by emailing the hospital’s HR lead.

Loan Forgiveness & Loan Repayment Programs

Some hospitals offer student loan forgiveness or loan repayment programs or tuition assistance, depending on where you are in your education journey. These programs can substantially reduce or even eliminate student debt related to your nursing education.

Virginia Loan Repayment Program – Nurses and other medical professionals can receive a non-taxed incentive to repay student loans in exchange for a minimum of two years of service at an eligible Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA). The goal of the program is to reduce educational costs for medical professionals while increasing medical services at high-need sites.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) – Medical professionals working for not-for-profit organizations or government programs may be eligible for the PSLF Program. You may apply while working full-time for an eligible employer and after completing 120 qualifying monthly payments under an accepted repayment plan.

Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program – Registered nurses (RNs) working full-time at an eligible critical shortage facility (often associated with HPSAs) can apply for the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program to cover education costs. In exchange, the RN must serve a minimum of two years at the facility.


Location plays a large role in determining career opportunities, salary, living cost, and social life. When considering locations, focus on both your career priorities and lifestyle.

Virginia has several affordable places to live, and many move to Virginia to jumpstart their professional careers and families. Young professionals tend to gravitate toward larger cities for networking and social opportunities while young families may prefer small cities or large towns with a strong education system. Nurses interested in outdoor recreational activities may enjoy locations near Virginia’s many National Parks.

2. Expand Your Network

New grad nurses often underestimate the power of networking. Leveraging your previous connections from your academic institution, residency, or mentorship from an Earn While You Learn Program can give you direction when creating a shortlist of hospitals to consider.

Many hospitals also offer residency programs for new grad nurses. These programs are designed to help first-year nurses transition into a clinical setting while providing mentorship, specialized training, and guided hands-on experience. Look for hospitals with residency programs to apply.

Beyond your existing network, it’s important to find ways to expand your connections. Try meeting new people through professional events, alumni groups, job fairs, and outreach.

Once you’re in a hospital, say “yes” to new experiences, even if it’s not obvious how that experience may help you in the short term. Working in different departments can expose you to new specialties that you might not have considered before. Some skills are also transferable, making you a more effective nurse and improving your clinical critical thinking skills. A strong performance may lead to professional connections that lead to new opportunities.

3. Talk to Current Nurses

After creating a shortlist of the best hospitals to work for, vet hospitals by talking to current nurses about their employment experience. Current nurses can provide an honest, first-hand account of what it’s like to work at the hospital in ways that online employer reviews cannot.

We recommend reaching out through LinkedIn or email to request a quick phone call or coffee chat. Try using these questions to guide the conversation:

• How did you get started at this hospital?

• What qualities have made you successful in your role?

• What are the growth opportunities here, and how have you grown?

• Do you feel you have adequate support from your peers and leadership?

• Has there been a high turnover rate recently? If so, why?

• How would you describe the average work-life balance here?

• How do you deal with workplace stress?

4. Shadow a Nurse

The best way to experience an employer is to observe how they work over a week (at minimum). Shadowing a nurse allows you to see what your day-to-day might look like as well as asking on-the-job questions. You can set up a shadowing experience by talking to a nurse connection, asking the hospital’s HR lead or department head, or volunteering for a short time.

During this experience, offer to help where appropriate (you won’t perform medical tasks, but you may help with fetching supplies).

Shadowing a nurse is also an excellent way to explore different specialties and departments once you’ve settled into a job. Remember, networking is your ally in any field!

5. Ask Relevant Interview Questions

At this point, you’ve identified your ideal list of hospitals to work for and have started applying. Your final major opportunity to gauge your hospital is during the interview round. Not only is the interview a time to promote your skills, but it’s also a chance to understand the hospital leadership’s perspective of the work culture.

Remember, an interview helps both parties understand if they’re the right fit.

Besides the questions in the “Talk to a Nurse” section, consider asking:

• How would you describe the overall work culture? And what kind of person fits in best?

• How do you prioritize your staff’s well-being?

• What are some of the biggest challenges that your team faces?

• How would my role fit into addressing those challenges?

• How would you describe the overall leadership style?

What to Look for in Good Hospital Employers

When searching for your ideal hospital employer, you might wonder, “What makes a hospital a good fit for new nurses?” While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, we’ve interviewed several nurses to identify common hospital employer benefits that can indicate a positive work environment:

Strong New Grad Residency Programs

By far, one of the leading deciding factors for new nurses is whether a hospital has a strong new grad residency program. Hospitals that invest in new grad residency programs are dedicated to building and retaining top nursing talent. Dedicated hands-on training helps new nurses (and nurses entering a different specialty) build core clinical skills within a supervised setting.

Clear Precepting Procedure

If a hospital doesn’t have a residency program, on-the-job precepting is the next best thing. This orientation period helps first-year nurses acclimate to the hospital environment and general work culture. At your interview, ask for clarity on what to expect during your precepting and confirm that with a current staff member.

Exceptional Staff Retainment Programs

Hospitals that actively listen to and acknowledge their staff are best poised to support the team. Look for formal and informal initiatives that encourage the staff to grow within the hospital.

Formal initiatives could be access to ongoing education, training on the latest medical technologies, clinical ladder and advancement opportunities, and team bonding events.

Informal initiatives could be team members encouraging each other for their high performance, signs that co-workers spend time together outside of work, and other signs of a positive internal culture.

Positive Online Reputation

A quick Google search can help you gauge a hospital’s reputation, from patient feedback on the care they receive to employee feedback on job boards. Having said that, remember to review comments with a grain of salt since this may not reflect the general experience. You will also find information about rankings, awards, and recognition that the hospital has received.

When searching online, you may also discover how your hospital connects with the greater community. Keep an eye out for philanthropic initiatives, awards for patient care or research, and public strategic plans for hospital programs.

Clear Clinical Ladders & Leadership Funnels

It’s always a good sign when a hospital’s staff consists of diverse roles at varying seniority levels because they suggest regular advancement opportunities. At your interview, ask to understand the hospital’s clinical ladders and leadership funnels to envision how you can expand your growth potential.

Clinical ladders directly tie into degrees, certifications, and experience. Depending on your professional goals, you may explore a leadership role or excel as a senior-level individual contributor.

Clear Paid Time Off Policies

Look for hospitals with competitive PTO policies and parental leave clearly stated in your contract. You should also talk to current employees to get a clear sense of the typical PTO process, including how long it takes for PTO approval. Clear PTO can go a long way toward managing your work-life balance. Speaking of…

Flexible Scheduling Options

Many healthcare systems are turning to flexible scheduling to help retain nurses and improve work-life balance. Flexible scheduling allows nurses to choose shifts that work around their schedules and preferences. That can include traditional 12-hour shifts, shorter or varied shift lengths, and even dividing time between care areas.

Positive Work Culture

Positive work culture results from several hospital employer benefits, starting with an inclusive leadership team and coming to life through the staff’s interpersonal interactions. All participants contribute to the culture to determine what kind of values the hospital upholds.

Look for a hospital culture that encourages staff members to reach their potential by matching your professional goals with the hospital’s needs. Pay attention to how high performance is recognized and rewarded. Finally, watch how fellow staff members lift each other and discourage bullying or other toxic behaviors.

Final Tips for First-Year Nurses

Choosing the best hospital to work for as a new nurse grad can seem daunting. But, by understanding your professional goals and doing your due diligence when researching hospitals, you’re sure to find a hospital that matches your needs! Start with a shortlist before gaining first-hand experience through talking to current employees and hospital management. Finally, watch out for hospital red flags that can work against your goals.

Looking for open nursing positions? Use On Board Virginia’s job board to find opportunities at Virginia’s top hospitals!