Nursing students have the opportunity through their capstone project to engage in meaningful collaboration with clinical preceptors and unit leaders. The capstone project allows students to demonstrate their accumulated nursing knowledge, clinical skills, and leadership abilities through a project focused on improving client care or the practice environment. Working together, students, preceptors, and leaders can design impactful projects that benefit both the clinical site and the student’s learning.
The first step is for the student to meet early on with their assigned clinical preceptor. The preceptor serves as a mentor and guide for the student throughout the capstone experience. In this initial meeting, the student should discuss potential project ideas they have in mind and get feedback on feasibility from the preceptor’s perspective. The preceptor knows the unit priorities, resources, and politics better than the student and can steer them towards ideas that have the best chance of success. They can also connect the student to other stakeholders like unit leaders, physicians, managers, and staff nurses for input.
With guidance from the preceptor, the student should then schedule meetings with relevant unit leaders such as the nurse manager, assistant manager, charge nurses, or clinical nurse specialist. In these meetings, the student can further discuss and refine their project ideas based on how the leaders see the unit’s needs. Leaders have oversight of department goals, performance outcomes, staffing models, budgets, and more. They can advise if a project aligns with strategic priorities and help the student understand existing challenges to address. Leaders may also offer ideas the student had not yet considered but could have great benefit.
Collaboration with unit staff such as staff nurses is also valuable at this stage. Direct care nurses have firsthand experience with challenges, inefficiencies and opportunities for practice improvement from the frontlines. Surveying staff to understand pain points or soliciting suggestions through a brief questionnaire or focused group can yield worthwhile project ideas. This gives staff ownership and buy-in as stakeholders in the project’s success from the beginning.
Once a project aim has been agreed upon with input from all parties, a formal project plan should be developed. The preceptor and leaders can assist the student with composing a detailed outline of project objectives, timeline, activities, responsibilities, data collection methods, budget if needed, and anticipated outcomes. This provides accountability and structure as a guide for implementation. The preceptor is especially important for advising on plan feasibility based on their expertise.
Periodic meetings with preceptors and leaders should continue throughout project execution to provide oversight and guidance as issues arise. They can help address barriers, leverage additional resources if required, and keep the student accountable to timelines. Staff should be regularly updated on progress as well to maintain enthusiasm, involvement and transparency. Leaders may also facilitate linking the student to other departments, committees or specialists as needed to advance the work.
At the conclusion, the student, preceptor and leaders should debrief on the outcomes achieved and lessons learned together. Was the aim fulfilled? How was the clinical site impacted? This feedback is invaluable for the student’s learning and professional development. Leaders and preceptors are also positioned to support disseminating the work through presentations or publications benefitting the wider nursing profession. Substantial collaboration at each stage maximizes the capstone project’s value for all stakeholders involved.
Nursing capstone projects provide an excellent opportunity for students to partner with clinical preceptors and leaders. Through open communication, information sharing and shared decision-making, students can design high-impact projects aligned with organizational priorities. Leveraging the expertise and resources within clinical sites allows students to gain real-world experience while also leaving a meaningful contribution to client care and the practice environment. Both the student and organization benefit when all parties commit to active collaboration from project inception through completion and dissemination of results.