Capstone Projects for Nursing Programs

NurseJournal Staff

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Updated December 2, 2022 · 3 Min Read

Reviewed by

Theresa Granger

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Capstone courses function as a bridge between the end of school and the beginning of a career, allowing nursing students to put what they've learned into practice. As the name suggests, students complete capstones toward the end of their nursing training. Not every nursing program requires a capstone, but those that do generally culminate in a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree.

Each nursing program sets their own requirements. While capstone formats differ between programs, they typically consist of an evidence-based practice formal paper or presentation. Students might complete their capstone projects as team leaders, and BSN candidates may present their papers to a faculty panel. Projects could include case studies, program evaluations, and policy analyses.

The focus on evidence-based practice allows students to apply research and experiential evidence toward solving a healthcare problem. For example, candidates may develop intervention strategies that promote health, improve outcomes, enhance quality of life, and foster safe practices for patients.

Capstone goals center on the application of knowledge gained during nursing training programs, including topics related to leadership , management, research, theories, and evidence-based practice, along with the strategies needed to transition from students to baccalaureate-level nurses.

Choosing Your Nursing Capstone Topic

When selecting a capstone topic, students should evaluate their interests, strengths, and weaknesses, along with their chosen nursing specialty area. Luther College recommends that students with lower GPAs and weaker nursing skills consider a basic medical-surgical topic. Those with strong clinical skills and high GPAs might choose emergency or intensive care medicine, although some students might prefer outpatient topics, such as clinical services, long-term care, or public health. However, this is simply an example of one school's approach, and readers should keep in mind that each school sets its own policies and recommendations.

Asking for guidance from faculty, supervisors, preceptors, and fellow students also helps narrow down capstone topics. Advisors can also provide assistance in choosing an appropriate capstone site, helping with questions of geographical location, facility size, patient population, and care delivery model.

Students develop and learn the skills needed to complete their capstones throughout their training. These include organization and time management, knowledge of evidence-based practice, writing, and critical thinking. They also learn to conduct literature searches, identify research designs, and evaluate evidence.

Completing Your Nursing Capstone

Capstone formats and completion times widely vary between programs. Students at Luther College and Purdue University Northwest complete their capstones in 4-5 weeks, while Ferris State University specifies a timeframe of 30 hours of online classes and 90 hours of applied project work. Case Western Reserve University's capstone spans 10 weeks.

Regardless of the program, most students follow a PICO format for project proposal questions of inquiry: population, intervention, comparison or condition, and outcome.

Some universities allow capstone projects to be completed in teams, in which students develop and implement the project. Capstone components may include defining the project and the team leader's role, selecting team members, and formulating the project plan.

In addition to the skills previously referenced, such as knowledge of evidence-based care, critical thinking, and effective writing, capstone courses hone leadership and management abilities These include mastering therapeutic communication, applying leadership and management concepts, and developing collaborative relationships and working on multidisciplinary teams.

Presenting Your Nursing Capstone

The capstone process culminates in a paper or presentation that measures students' skills in communication, information dissemination, and application of evidence-based practice skills. Members of the public may attend.

Utilizing the poster format, students commonly use three panels to illustrate: (1) the background, problem, and purpose; (2) methodology; and (3) 2-3 key findings and implications. Students who present using PowerPoint on a laptop or other device should pay attention to time limits, planning for one slide per minute, and verify that equipment and internet connectivity are available.

Visuals like graphs, figures, and bullet points are more effective than large blocks of text . Students should practice presenting in front of others to ensure that they thoroughly know their content and can answer questions. Backing up a copy of a PowerPoint presentation and printing out copies or transparencies guards against last-minute glitches.

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How is a nursing capstone graded.

Capstone grading methods differ between programs, with some issuing letter grades and others using a pass/no pass system. Grades typically hinge on a percentage basis of the project's written sections, the final proposal, and the presentation. Faculty evaluate how students execute the capstone course objectives, which may include the following:

Problem identification related to nursing practice, administration, policy, or education

Theoretical research and literature review, critical analysis and synthesis of literature and research findings, recommendations for evidence-based practice, discussion of implications regarding nursing roles, research, policy, and education, professional and civil collaboration and communication, use of the nursing process: assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation, compliance with the nursing code of ethics, including ethical use of technology.

Students' presentation skill evaluation criteria include exhibiting thorough preparation and knowledge of the subject matter, clear and concise communication, adherence to any time limits, ability to answer questions and cite references, and persuasiveness.

What is the Difference Between a Nursing Capstone and a Thesis?

Students complete capstones individually or in groups, while thesis projects must be done alone. Capstone project time lengths span between four and 12 weeks, while graduate students work on their thesis projects throughout their 2- to 3-year programs. Graduate thesis courses generally take place over 1-2 semesters to keep students on track.

Finally, capstone topics evaluate current issues and theories; thesis students incorporate existing case studies and literature while exploring and arguing for their own original research. Some schools require students to publish their thesis papers in a healthcare journal.

Reviewed By:

Theresa Granger

Theresa Granger, Ph.D., MN, NP-C With over two decades of teaching and clinical practice as a family nurse practitioner, Dr. Granger is an expert in nursing education and clinical practice at all levels of education (associate, baccalaureate, and graduate). She has published and lectured extensively on nursing education and clinical practice-related content. Her expertise ranges from student advising and mentoring to curricular and content design (both on ground and online) to teaching and formal course delivery. Dr. Granger is one of the founding faculty members of the University of Southern California’s first ever fully online graduate family nurse practitioner program . is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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What is a Capstone Like in Nursing School? Staff

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A capstone, often called a "senior capstone," has one essential purpose in any field: that of furthering the career advancement of those who complete it successfully. Because it is often presented as a prerequisite, the final course in a degree program , its value is based substantially on the reputation and accreditation of the institution that makes it available. It is a frequent part of programs in highly technical fields, academic fields (where it may be optional, though no less valuable) and medical fields. Increasingly, in recent years, it has become a regular part of nursing programs throughout the US.

What is a nursing school capstone like, and why should nursing students embrace it?

A Capstone Course Requires EBP Project Design

In many schools, the major focus of the senior capstone is on an EBP project. EBP is short for "evidence-based practice," and the idea is to reinforce a sound best practices viewpoint in the handling of critical situations, of the kind that are replete throughout the modern healthcare industry. Common focal points for projects such as these are on new ways to handle the spread of treatment-resistant infections within a healthcare setting, as well as ways to better organize and administer staffing and scheduling-related concerns. Typically, the student will work with a practicing professional on completing their capstone course, in order to provide practical, real-world experience in designing their project.

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Working in a Practical Capacity

Establishing the necessary networking connections for a capstone project will often begin months before enrollment, as a qualified professional (themselves typically a capstone graduate) must be found to assist the student with completing their work. In itself, this demanding and rigorous schedule, which often corresponds with other intensive coursework occurring at the same time, is also a part of the student's capstone course. They must demonstrate their ability to think quickly, work under pressure, and resolve problems in a timely fashion — without potentially putting patients, their families, their coworkers, or the public at large at risk. There are many ways in which a bad decision made by a medical professional can put people at risk, and the capstone is designed and formatted specifically to help weed out those behaviors.

The Goal of the Capstone Project

Through the completion of their capstone, a nursing student is expected to demonstrate their ability to create evidence-based analyses for critical situations in a healthcare environment. However, there's more to it than that: the student will have demonstrated their awareness of the importance of the field of nursing within modern healthcare, as well as their ability to explain that importance to others. Finally, they will have shown their ability to disseminate knowledge of key issues facing the healthcare industry today, within an academic environment. In so doing, they demonstrate their ability to perform administrative and educational functions, marking them as candidates for assisting future nurses in either capacity. This makes the capstone a tremendous opportunity for promoting career growth, in multiple different directions.

A senior nursing school capstone is intensive, demanding, and is based heavily upon a student's ability to analyze and apply empirical evidence to solving a particular problem. Through their successful completion of a capstone project, a nursing student marks themselves as being capable of thinking on their feet, and of using practical experience to solve serious issues in today's clinical healthcare environment. Such an individual makes a much more desirable candidate for employment, and also qualifies them for additional training and administrative authority.

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What is "Capstone"?

Published Apr 25, 2006


I have heard the term "Capstone" and don't know what it is or means. I asked a nurse, that I know, who has a BSN and has been a nurse for 7 years and she didn't know. Is it some sort of certification or test?


The word "capstone" it's self mean "the high point" or "crownig achivement". As far as other meanings, there are a number of companies that carry that name.



i think it is kinda like a portfolio of all your work you haver done i think it could be a another name for a portfolio but i could be wrong.



at my school it is part of the general ed requirements to get your bachelors. we have to take a "Capstone" class in different areas (humanities etc). It is just a group of specific upper division classes you have to take at the california state universities


At my school it was a final senior project. It was quite involved, research based, and was supposed to address an issue on the nursing unit where we did our final leadership rotation.


daisybaby, LPN

At my school, 'capstone' was a synonym for a 7-credit course taken during the final semester of the BSN program, usually a total courseload of 13-15 credits. In addition to 7 classroom and discussion hours per week, I spent 240 clinical hours over about 10 weeks working with a single preceptor in an L&D unit at one hospital (if your GPA was 3.0 or above, you could choose your area of learning- under 3.0, you got stuck with Med-Surg no matter what). I kept weekly(graded) journals, wrote weekly case studies, gave inservices to the staff in our units, wrote a 30-page paper on evidence-based research in my specialty, and gave a solo hour-long presentation of my research. It was a real----- well, it sure was difficult.

And believe me, getting through that semester was indeed my 'crowning achievement' to date. Not sure if I could do it again.


In the ADN program that I completed the Capstone was the last week of school. We chose an area of nursing that we were interested in and then found a preceptor that agreed to work with us in that area. We then worked side by side with that one nurse for a 40 hour week to "see" what that field was like. If they worked midnights then we did also. If they wore professional clothes so did we. The Nursing instructor was available by phone if we needed her. We updated the instructor via e-mail every day. It was the finale of our program. Some of the areas that students worked were Hospice, Wound Care, ICU, Management, ER, etc.. It was the best part of the entire program.

Tweety, BSN, RN

32,688 Posts

The capstone in my RN to BSN program was changed to "Senior Project". It's a semester long "project" and paper. It's the very last course. 3 hours credit.

Thanks everybody!bell47


How funny...someone just said something about this to me today and I was clueless. He said it is the 80 hours we spend in LPN school following around preceptors.


Faeriewand, ASN, RN

1,800 Posts

This sounds like the best "capstone" so far. Maximized learning and real world experience! That beats a research paper any day! Too bad not all professors can't do it this way.


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capstone course in nursing

KU School of Nursing

Capstone orientation and training.

BSN nursing preceptors help students in the capstone rotation build clinical reasoning, management and evaluation skills.

The preceptor will support the student in meeting the four (4) goals. Use the descriptors listed to support the evaluation of meeting each goal. Upon completion of the rotation, the Capstone student will:

Capstone Highlights

The process of student enrollment in the Capstone course is made by matching student interests with available opportunities. Students select their top three preferences for specialty and location. They are then matched to their placement based on their class ranking. Students are ranked according to academic and clinical performance measures. Students who wish to pursue a capstone that is in a population-based or primary care setting do so with prior approval and mentoring.

The Capstone course is a three credit hour clinical course consisting of 192 clock hours which includes orientation, clinical, simulation, and conferences Students receive a pass or fail at the end of the course and not a letter grade.

Generally, it is a good idea to have the student go with the preceptor. This decision is a judgment decision based primarily on where the student has the best learning opportunities.

Students are expected to be on the unit ready to start when the preceptor would normally start their responsibilities. Students need to complete the shift and should not leave until the patients they are caring for have another care provider who indicates they are ready to assume care responsibilities. Students who are ill or unable to be at clinical must contact the School of Nursing (SON) clinical faculty and the clinical unit. The preceptor should notify the SON clinical faculty anytime a student is not meeting these expectations. Time spent by the student on the unit after the end of their shift is not included in the 120 hours of clinical commitment.

The student does not always have to be with the preceptor when they are doing clinical work on the unit. For instance, when a preceptor is sent home for PTO or is ill, we hope that the student would be reassigned by the preceptor or charge nurse to another appropriate nurse depending upon the unit census or nurse availability. Students should not arrange to work with other staff members without the approval or knowledge of the preceptor. If this is occurring, then preceptors should clarify their expectations with the student and notify the SON clinical faculty.

Students are expected to dress in their SON grey scrub top, grey scrub pants or business casual with a KU SON lab coat. All other dress requirements should be consistent with the dress code expectations of the nursing staff on the unit and the institution. The student must ONLY wear the name badge from the School of Nursing identifying them as a nursing student.

Students should be making entries in the medical record as if they were an RN in that department. Refer to institution policy for specifics. Students should sign each entry with: (their name), KUSN. The KU SON recommends that the preceptor sign these entries immediately after the student.

During the semester, the student should have developed enough confidence in their abilities to notify the physician or appropriate medical staff to explain a patient's clinical status. The preceptor should follow the appropriate agency policy of the institution.

Preceptors should expect students to be able to administer PO, IM, IV, topical, eye and ear drops and suppositories competently. Preceptors should expect that the student has a working knowledge of all the medications they are administering. Knowledge of actions, interactions and administration of medications is an ongoing process, and students should feel comfortable interacting with the preceptor to increase their ability but also demonstrate personal initiative. Preceptors should not expect students to be familiar with medications that are unique to the clinical unit or experimental (e.g., chemotherapy). Preceptors do need to verify a student's competency with medications. The preceptor needs to be with the student during preparation, validation and administration of all medications.

Each time the preceptor interacts with the student, they should be identifying and evaluating how the student is meeting the capstone goals. Structured evaluation conferences occur at mid-rotation and the end of the rotation. During the conference, the student, preceptor and faculty review what the student has done to meet the course criteria. After the evaluation, the preceptor, student and faculty should all sign it.

The determination of a student's demonstrated competency is subjective and varies depending on the type of unit and the expectations of that unit. While we do expect that students will be able to satisfactorily perform most of the roles of an RN on that unit, we do not expect that students will perform at the level of an experienced RN. One criterion that preceptors have used to assess overall student competency is to ask themselves, how comfortable would I feel about this person's ability if I had to work with them every day?

Preceptors who have any concerns about whether the student is meeting the clinical performance expectations should contact the SON clinical faculty.

The ability of all students to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with appropriate professional nurse expectations is expected. Students who fail to treat their patients, families, significant others, preceptors, nursing staff, classmates and SON clinical faculty with respect are subject to not only course failure but also a further review of their activities by the SON administration. This same standard of behavior is expected when dealing with information of a confidential nature.

Preceptors who are working with a student who is not safely delivering care should contact the SON clinical faculty member as soon as deficits are seen to discuss their concerns and to develop a plan of action. The SON clinical faculty is ultimately the one who must decide if the student is performing at a satisfactory level.

Each year a formal evaluation of the Capstone course is completed. Each student is asked to complete an evaluation of the course, their SON clinical faculty, preceptor and the facility where they completed their Capstone through MOKAN. In addition, each preceptor is given the opportunity to evaluate the student, SON clinical faculty and course through MOKAN. The evaluations are standardized but do include areas for written responses. All precautions are taken to ensure that those people completing an evaluation remain anonymous.

American Association of Colleges of Nursing [AACN]. (2008). The Essentials of Baccalaureate Education for Professional Nursing Practice.

KU School of Nursing 3901 Rainbow Boulevard Mail Stop 2029 Kansas City, KS 66160 913-588-1619 | TTY 711 [email protected]

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Ferris State University

Frequently Asked Questions NURS 495 Senior Capstone Leadership Practicum

This final capstone course is designed to provide the baccalaureate nursing student with a leadership practicum experience reflective of a synthesis of cognitive and affective skills acquired in the BSN completion program. Students will integrate knowledge of nursing research, leadership and management, and nursing theories to design, implement, and lead a team project that will improve client outcomes. The leadership practicum will be designed in collaboration with a faculty member and carried out in an appropriate health care or community based care setting.

This is one of the final capstone courses for the RN to BSN program and as such, should be one of the last two courses you complete in the nursing sequence. You must have completed all the 300-level NURS courses as well as NURS 440. NURS 495 is offered every semester: fall, spring and summer.

You will participate in a leadership practicum in your current workplace where you, as a project leader, will develop and implement a team project. You will also participate online for specific course content such as learning what a project is, the role of a project manager, selecting team members, developing a project plan, etc.

You should select a project within your work setting in collaboration with your clinical manager or supervisor. The project should relate to patient/client care and improving patient/client outcomes. This is a very broad approach and just about anything you would do is ultimately going to benefit the patient/client and thus improve outcomes. If you are working in a community based health setting you can focus on a project relating to improving a population’s health.

Select members for this project who can contribute to the project because of their interest, expertise, etc. We will talk more about this online. This is a team project and you are the project leader.

This course is 4 credits for a total of 120 practicum hours. This is further broken down into 30 hours of online class and 90 hours of hands on project work.

First talk with your nurse manager or supervisor as they often have a project that needs to be done. You might also have ideas for a project based on your experience in a particular setting and identifying a specific need or opportunity for a project to be completed. Here are some ideas from past students:

You may want to start thinking about a project and begin a conversation with your manager or supervisor before the class starts, but there is no preliminary proposal required prior to the semester you take the course.

School of Nursing, College of Health Professions

VFS 400 200 Ferris Drive Big Rapids, MI 49307

(231) 591-2259 Fax: (231) 591-2325  

University of Missouri-Kansas city


School of Nursing and Health Studies


Nursing and Health Studies

In your final semester of the BSPH, you will enroll in an Evidence-based Capstone course (PBHL 496).  This course provides an experience-based capstone project for the senior student. Within the context of public health, the student will complete an evidence-based service learning, research, or problem-based project under the guidance of a site supervisor within the agency or organization, and a BSPH faculty member. The capstone will include a seminar session where students and faculty share learning, information, and understanding of their experience in a public health.

Additional capstone fees will be applied to your student account. Click   HERE   for more information.

BSPH Capstone Project Guide

Capstone Objectives

Capstone Student-Supervisor Agreement

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