This post is part of a sponsored series recounting the incredible experience I had with Capella University’s MSN program in the FlexPath learning format as a sponsored student. Join me as I take you through my MSN journey, which commenced in 2017 and concluded 17 months later — just seven days before the arrival of my son. Together, we’ll explore my FlexPath experience and how it empowered me to achieve my educational goals amidst the beautiful chaos of life. If you want to check out all of the blog posts from my journey, click here. Let’s dive in! 🌟📚
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The MSN practicum project is the icing on the MSN program cake. The practicum is the MSN capstone project that is required to finish up the advanced practice nursing degree. Although it does not have to be directly in a clinical setting, the Capella MSN practicum must add value to your nursing practice and demonstrate your critical thinking skills.
In this post, I’ll share my experience starting my practicum for the MSN program at Capella, along with some practicum project ideas, and insight into my capstone project (which is different from a practicum and I’ll share how below!).
MSN Practicum and Capstone
Because completing a capstone project is a significant milestone in the MSN program, it’s important that you select an MSN practicum project idea that aligns with your interests and long-term goals. You can also add this experience to your resume later, so any MSN capstone ideas you come up with should be relevant to your current or future specialty.
By completing your practicum, you’ll be able to showcase the knowledge and skills you’ve gained throughout your program. Even better, you’ll be able to demonstrate evidence-based practice and make a meaningful contribution to the nursing field.
I’ll talk about my capstone project a bit later, but if you’re considering obtaining your MSN, here are some examples of practicum project ideas you could consider:
- Improving Patient Adherence to Diabetes Management Programs: Develop an intervention to increase adherence to diabetes management programs, evaluating its effectiveness through measures such as HbA1c levels and patient feedback.
- Reducing Hospital Readmissions through Enhanced Discharge Planning: Design a detailed discharge planning process to reduce hospital readmissions, assessing its success by tracking readmission rates.
- Promoting Mental Health in the Workplace: Create a mental health promotion program for nurses, measuring its impact through factors such as nurse burnout rates and job satisfaction.
Those are just a few ideas – and there are many possibilities out there!
My MSN Program Experience
After I had officially completed 12 MSN courses I got to begin my practicum! I was so excited to reach this milestone!
For my practicum experience, I was paired with a nurse educator and her team, who were responsible for the new graduate residency program at a local hospital. It was so great to have my practicum site nearby and work on an MSN capstone that so clearly aligned with my passion for educating and guiding new nurses.
The residency program at my hospital is highly successful, and I actually went through it myself as a new graduate nurse eight years prior to this practicum! The residency program had changed substantially since my time there, and it was amazing to see the operational side of nursing education.
If you’d prefer to watch a video of me describing my experience, click play below. Otherwise, continue reading!
Starting my Practicum: Prep
Before I could begin my hours, I had to go through an approval process. It was my responsibility to find a place to complete my practicum, so I chose to do so at my current employer.
Thankfully, the organization where I completed my MSN practicum had a well-oiled process in place for placing students and preceptors. They even had a preexisting relationship with Capella, so getting set up was a breeze because each side had already vetted one another.
At my hospital, I met with the individual who sets up preceptors for varying levels of degrees. I told her my interests and goals, and she paired me with the perfect preceptor. Then, I filled out the appropriate online requirements with Capella. They needed things like my CV, what I wanted out of my practicum experience, why my preceptor was an appropriate selection, a clear background check, and all that jazz.
One of the common headaches of grad school in nursing you’ll hear about is how challenging setting up preceptors can be. At the graduate school level, it’s up to the student. Not only was the organization really helpful and prompt in completing requirements, but Capella was also awesome.
I was under a tight timeline and had a unique situation where I was expecting my second child shortly after beginning my practicum. My aim was to complete my program before my baby arrived so that I wasn’t worrying about papers and clinical hours with a newborn. I let my preceptor know about this, and they were incredible about working with me to ensure I could meet that goal.
(At the time, I also sat down with my husband and family members who lived in town and they were extremely supportive and agreed to care for my three-year-old while I was essentially completing my practicum hours full-time!)
A Closer Look at My MSN Practicum
As I mentioned, I was with a local hospital’s director of a nursing education program. Naturally, she had a team of nurse educators who worked under her to manage the many responsibilities that come with running a large onboarding program for new graduate nurses. I was able to shadow members of her team to get my mind around their duties.
I was given the opportunity to sit in on nursing interviews, which intrigued me greatly. The act of interviews being conducted by skilled individuals and the subsequent discussion of their impressions afterward is something I found incredibly fascinating. Throughout the years, I have participated in some interviews, but I have never had the chance to conduct them myself. It was especially interesting to observe the interview and then afterwards compare those observations to those of the experienced nurse leaders. I was delighted to witness the art involved in this process.
In this educational department, there were several clinical coaches as well. At regular intervals, each new graduate in the program was checked in with them by their assigned clinical coach, both in a private sit-down setting and on the unit.
This was something that was not in place when I completed my BSN program in 2010, so it was truly inspiring to witness educators engaging in discussions with preceptors and preceptees regarding highly specific clinical educational aspects such as time management, documentation, prioritization, and breaks. I recall thinking that this kind of individualized support would have been a game-changer during my new graduate experience.
The personalities of preceptors and preceptees vary significantly, and it was the responsibility of the clinical coach to familiarize themselves with each individual, make appropriate pairings, and consistently follow up to ensure their needs were met. I was also able to observe clinical coaches assist new graduates in navigating their relationships with preceptors, which was somewhat of an unspoken issue in nursing education. Pulling back the veil to see these new nurses receive real-time coaching in how to best approach their preceptors for various issues was extremely helpful in my educational development.
Finally, I got to sit in on the actual new graduate education classes. In addition to the program support of clinical coaches, they also have to go to a four-hour class once per week to provide more background and information on common topics. The curriculum was designed by the nurse educators and supplemented by guest speakers. For example, a nurse practitioner with the Gastrointestinal Team came and chatted about various GI issues like colon cancer, stomas, different GI surgeries, etc. A nurse from the cardiac surgical unit talked about chest tubes, and a nurse from the trauma/surgical unit talked about drains.
I enjoyed the lectures, but I also observed how the students were reacting, how engaged they were, analyzing the applicability of the topics to their current needs, and applied what I was watching unfold to what I had previously learned in my coursework.
Logging My Practicum Hours
Capella provided me with the documentation required to complete the experience, which consisted of completing assessments and meeting with my professor. I logged the hours I completed, my focus during the clinical hours, and how those connected to my predetermined goals or outcomes.
See below for a peek at my log!
Starting My Capstone Project
In addition to physically completing the hours, I also had to complete a capstone project. Many people have asked me what a capstone is and how that differs from a practicum.
MSN Capstone vs. MSN Practicum
In this specific context, an MSN capstone project refers to a culminating academic project or assignment that demonstrates the integration of knowledge and skills acquired throughout the program. It serves as a final requirement or milestone in many graduate programs, showcasing a student’s ability to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world scenarios or research questions relevant to their field of study. The purpose of a capstone project is to consolidate the learning experience, showcase mastery of the subject matter, and prepare students for their future careers or further academic pursuits.
A practice immersion or practicum is different. The purpose of a practicum is to gain practical experience and develop clinical competencies related to nursing education. It involves direct interaction with students, instructional planning, implementation, and evaluation.
For my capstone project, I planned to write a 20-25 page final paper and develop a proposal for an intervention to fulfill a need within a specific population. Because my passion is new graduate nurse support, it would be related to that in some capacity.
It’s natural to feel overwhelmed at the start of any practicum or cumulative learning experience. When I was just starting my practicum, I wrote:
Right now, I’m still getting my mind around the department, its processes and personnel, and all the requirements for the practicum. Much like when I was completing my BSN, I am in a bit of a state of information overload while I’m on site, so I’ve needed a bit of an adjustment period. I have been taking detailed notes of what I’m doing as well as my thoughts, questions, and observations so that when I’m home later, I can synthesize an appropriate analysis of all that I experienced during the shift.
Up until this point in the program, I was working independently online and was able to make my own hours and deadlines. Now, I’m following the schedule of the educator I am shadowing and promptly completing notes, more frequent nursing assessments, and more for the practicum. I’m trying to be really proactive about my time management so I can complete this efficiently while still getting the most out of the experience.
Reflecting on my MSN in nursing education, the practicum and capstone experiences provided me with a behind-the-scenes look at educational development in the real world. It’s not just about identifying gaps; it’s a process that involves thorough literature review, precise curriculum design, cost and timing considerations, and genuine evaluation.
As many of you may know, it’s important to me to not only just provide education, but I need to move the needle for learners and ultimately facilitate a change in practice. This experience was the bridge between the theory presented in class with the reality of practice, which enabled me to truly grasp the intricacies involved in creating and delivering nursing education that does exactly that.