During their senior years, AU nursing students are not confined to studying in the library on campus; rather, they are encouraged to gain hands-on experience across the U.S. and even overseas.
Nursing capstones take place during the second semester of senior year and incorporate three components.
“Students are put through quite a grind,” said Professor Patricia Kline, who coordinates the clinical experiences. “They complete the highest level of complex patient care. They also complete a leadership capstone, an intercultural capstone and a clinical capstone.”
The intercultural capstone experience is a two-week immersion in another culture, during which students identify a health issue and conduct in-depth research for a paper. At the same time, students have the opportunity to help provide health care for a community in need.
This semester, nursing students will travel to locations including Zambia, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Others will travel to work with the homeless population in the U.S.
Nursing student Rachel Gibbons is looking forward to her upcoming trip to Nicaragua, which will give her hands-on experience in the field she is passionate about in a culture entirely different from her own.
“I’ll definitely be roughing it for a couple of weeks in 95 degree weather,” Gibbons said. “But I will get the opportunity to help out the doctors there and provide health education. I’m also very excited to do a little sightseeing. We get to hike up a volcano and then slide down it, and I’m really looking forward to that.”
Nursing students also gain experience closer to home in the professional environment. The leadership capstone allows students to develop essential skills for the workplace and lasts three to four weeks.
“They will follow a leader, like a charge nurse or supervisor, in a hospital and learn a lot about the skills needed in leadership,” said Kline.
Finally, the clinical capstone offers students the opportunity to seek out a setting to develop their nursing skills that are specific to their interests and desired specializations. The clinical capstone takes two weeks to complete, including 72 hours of hands-on work. During that period, nursing students have no other classes, so they are available to focus their attention on the 72-hour requirement that may take place across the U.S. During the program, preceptors can communicate with the School of Nursing via an online tool introduced last summer, which is an innovation unique to AU.
“We started the clinical capstone program just three years ago,” said Kline. “We are really finding that nurses are needing more of a clinical experience that empowers them to increase their confidence as they are entering the profession.”
Since the introduction of the clinical capstone, the School of Nursing has discovered that allowing students the freedom to choose their own capstone setting has generated positive results.
“In our experience in nursing school, we don’t go into neonatal intensive care units,” said Kline. “That’s a very specialized area, but if a student wants to be a neonatal nurse and can establish a capstone, they do get to experience that.”
Clinical capstones have taken place in a variety of settings and specializations; while many students are attracted to working in a hospital, some have worked with midwives and even prison nurses. Many students remain within the state of Indiana for their capstone, but some spend the two weeks in other states. This semester, nursing students have traveled to Alabama, Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Illinois.
Emily Moseley was among those who remained in Anderson for her capstone, and thoroughly enjoyed her experience in the Intensive Care Unit at the Anderson Community Hospital.
“It was so helpful to be there for full 12-hour shifts so I could see exactly what a full nurse shift looks like,” said Moseley. “It was also cool to be there multiple days in a row and see how patients progressed over several days. I was able to practice a lot of different skills over and over and get comfortable with the ICU equipment.”
Kline has observed that as AU becomes more well-recognized through these capstones, more opportunities for placement have opened in Indianapolis hospitals.
“About one-fifth of the current class has received job offers through their capstones,” Kline said. “I think there is a greater understanding of who AU is because of our students getting capstones.
“It’s a very fast-paced, complex working environment, so our best gift to our students is to get them ready to step out of the university and fly,” Kline said.