Nursing capstone projects provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate their cumulative knowledge and skills by conducting an applied research project related to a topic in nursing. These projects allow nursing students to explore real problems facing the profession and test potential solutions through rigorous scientific inquiry. While just student projects, many capstones have contributed valuable insights and recommendations that have helped advance nursing practice.
One major way capstone projects have impacted nursing is by identifying gaps in care delivery and proposing interventions to address them. For example, a 2010 capstone at Johns Hopkins evaluated discharge teaching provided to heart failure patients. Students found many patients lacked full understanding of self-care behaviors and were re-hospitalized within 30 days at worrying rates. Their recommendations for a standardized educational program with reinforcement calls were later pilot tested by the hospital with success in reducing readmissions. Nationwide, many capstones exploring transitions of care and chronic disease self-management informed the development of evidenced-based programs now widely adopted.
Other capstones have illuminated underrecognized patient populations or issues. A 2009 project at the University of Pennsylvania analyzed barriers to primary care access among homeless individuals in Philadelphia. Through interviews, students uncovered many structural obstacles like lack of identification and long wait times that discouraged usage. Their findings supported the city’s planning of a dedicated homeless health clinic. Similarly, numerous capstones on topics like adolescent substance abuse, veteran mental healthcare needs, and the psychosocial concerns of uninsured immigrants brought attention to marginalized groups and challenges within the larger healthcare system.
Technological innovations are another significant area where capstone work has furthered the field. For instance, a 2008 University of Washington project developed and tested a mobile app to help pediatric cancer patients better manage pain and side effects at home through games and guided meditations. Feedback from child participants supported the feasibility and engagement benefits of the app, which was later commercially developed. Countless other capstones have piloted telehealth systems, electronic documentation tools, and virtual reality simulations with useful outcomes assessment applied to refining new technologies in clinical practice.
At the level of nursing education itself, capstones have helped drive curricular improvements. For example, a 2013 research project at the University of Michigan evaluated the effectiveness of a new end-of-life care simulation experience added to their curriculum. Survey results and objective structured clinical exams showed students had stronger communication skills and greater comfort discussing advanced directives afterward. This provided empirical support to expand similar simulation use beyond their school of nursing. Many capstones exploring teaching methods or specific course content applications have similarly supported data-driven enhancements to nursing pedagogy.
Advocacy is one other significant way student research has benefitted the nursing field. For instance, a 2018 project at Duke University presented survey findings on nurse burnout levels and work environment concerns to state legislators with associated policy recommendations. This helped build momentum for new safe staffing ratio bills and workplace wellness resources. Likewise, numerous capstones on topics such as domestic violence screening legislation, paid family leave policies, and provider shortages in rural communities have equipped nurses with research to promote better laws and shape public policy agendas.
Nursing capstone projects provide a valuable opportunity for students to gain applied research skills while making meaningful contributions to improving the profession. Whether identifying unmet patient needs, testing innovations, enhancing education models, or informing advocacy efforts – student scholarship has consistently advanced the standards and delivery of nursing care. Going forward, nursing programs would do well to emphasize the potential social impact of capstone work and strategically align topics with priority issues to further maximize their benefits for the field.