What Is a DNP Capstone Project?

The DNP capstone project (most often referred to as a DNP final project) takes place near the end of your DNP program. It  is your opportunity to take your newly acquired competencies (achieved through DNP coursework and clinical experiences) and design a project that is focused on positively impacting healthcare outcomes, either through direct or indirect clinical nursing care. As a culminating project, the goal  is to provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of  newly acquired skills and knowledge. A successful DNP capstone project reflects the scope of the student’s doctoral level work and focuses on a meaningful change to healthcare outcomes.

Note: The term “DNP capstone project” has given way to the term “DNP final project” in recent years due to the AACN’s 2015 call for nursing schools to use a term that distinguishes the DNP project from other graduate-level projects.

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Your final DNP project is an investigation of an area of nursing practice, the healthcare delivery system, or a healthcare policy issue that aligns with the scope of your doctoral work. It’s your time to translate health research into practice, preparing you to make the transition to the role of active practitioner in the delivery of informed, quality healthcare.

Your final DNP project will be unique to you, although all DNP projects should:

  • Feature a systems or population/aggregate focus
  • Demonstrate how it can be implemented into your area of practice
  • Include a realistic plan for sustainability
  • Include an evaluation of the project’s results
  • Provide a foundation for future practice scholarship

How Do I Choose a Capstone Project?

Your final DNP project will align with your DNP’s focus and clinical experiences and be something meaningful to you. What your DNP looks like will ultimately depend on what’s important to you, although your DNP project coordinator, faculty advisor, or DNP program committee will need to give you the green light to proceed with your project idea.

What Are Some DNP Capstone Ideas?

DNP projects are most often focused on quality improvement initiatives, practice change programs, program evaluations, or the translation of evidence into practice.

For example, if your DNP capstone project is practice-focused, it may involve implementing or evaluating a new practice model, a program of care, or a quality improvement project. If it’s focused on health policy, it may involve analyzing, developing, or implementing policy or legislative change. Or if it’s focused on health systems, it may involve using new technology to enhance or evaluate care or analyzing financial models to improve cost-effectiveness in care models.

Examples include:

  • Pilot study
  • Change initiative
  • Consultation model
  • Policy initiative
  • Quality improvement initiative
  • Design and evaluation of a new model of care

What Will the DNP Capstone Involve?

Your DNP capstone will culminate in a final report that includes a scholarly paper that’s suitable for publication. This scholarly paper will include a description of the project, an evidence-based review of the literature, your findings, the evaluation of your findings, and outcomes, and suggestions for its dissemination to the larger nursing community. Dissemination examples may include presenting at a local, regional, sate, or national conference, publishing in a peer-reviewed journal, developing a webinar presentation, presenting to the general public, developing a digital poster, etc.

Once your DNP capstone is complete and your DNP mentor/project chair confirms that your scholarly paper is ready for committee review, you can move onto the final portion of the project, which is a final presentation and defense.

How Will My DNP Capstone Be Evaluated?

Your DNP capstone project will be evaluated via a review process that includes one or more of the following: peer review, academic review, and/or stakeholder review. In general, this review process includes a final oral presentation and project defense that you’ll complete in front of the DNP project committee.

Approval of the final defense of your DNP final project from the DNP project committee acts as documentation that you have passed. This is usually accomplished by vote among the DNP project committee members. If you don’t pass, you’ll have the opportunity to correct any deficiencies and present your project once again to the DNP project committee. Most programs only allow students two opportunities to pass the final DNP project.