Students in the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs at Capella University have, among other coursework, a requirement known as practice immersion.
Students spend hundreds of supervised hours in a real-world work environment researching and solving actual health care challenges in their area of interest. John Schmidt, DNP, RN and Marylee Bressie, DNP, RN, CCRN-K, CCNS, CEN, both core faculty members in Capella’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences, offer insight about practice immersion and why it’s valuable.
What Is Practice Immersion?
Practice immersion is an individualized course of study that a student creates and implements in an actual workspace. Students identify areas of interest during coursework and design their immersion experience based on their interest. “Through their instructional courses, they’ll develop that passion into a clinical question that can be researched,” Schmidt says. “In the immersion, they’ll study that question and make recommendations for change.”
Students will research not only the topic of interest, but also where best to apply that hands-on research. They may seek out a previous employer or someplace they’d like to work in the future. “This gives them the opportunity to go to meetings they’d normally not be invited to, like budget, staffing, literature review—the sorts of meetings that will help them learn different aspects of the nursing field,” Bressie says.
Practice immersion is not done in a vacuum. Students will have mentors to guide and advise them through the process, and to answer questions and provide feedback.
Why Is Practice Immersion Valuable?
Coursework can provide a thorough foundation of knowledge and theory, but some of the best learning can take place in the workplace itself, especially when other people—employees and/or patients—are involved. “Immersion offers the online student an important chance for hands-on education,” Bressie says.
Schmidt agrees: “Immersion reveals to students the real-life purpose of what these degrees are all about. Admittedly, the nursing profession has evolved into more of a science, and we need to know the scientific underpinnings for what we do. Yet, the real world is always different than the didactic world, which tends to be more black and white. Students go into immersion without a full understanding of how health care really works, and it’s where they fill in those gaps.”
Because immersion marries theory and knowledge to real-life practice, it also provides tremendous credibility with future employers, Schmidt says. “In the DNP, all candidates create publishable manuscripts for a nursing journal based on their experience.”
What Students Say about Practice Immersion
Denise Shelmerdine, MSN candidate
“The practice immersion course has been a vital component of my graduate education. I liked being able to tailor my education to fit the needs of my chosen career path.
“My advice for future students is to take a proactive and organized approach to this class. Choosing the right preceptor is key and you may want to consider someone you can continue to use as a lifelong mentor.
“Also, I think it’s helpful to consider the goals you want to accomplish (working on areas of personal weakness) prior to starting the class. From the start, lay out what you’ll need to accomplish each week. One hundred hours is a lot of time when you work full-time and have a family (or whatever keeps your individual life busy). Being proactive and organized helped me fulfill all the requirements and meet my goals.”
Minnie Davis, DNP candidate
“I was concerned that, without a DNP, job opportunities might become scarce in the future. I have never considered myself a scholar and was extremely nervous about undertaking a doctorate program. Capella’s practice immersion requirement allowed me to pursue this goal while continuing my bent toward clinical practice.
“This is not to say that it’s been easy, quite the contrary. I could not have imagined the hours and work involved in my immersion project. In the end though, it had just enough flexibility that I managed to accomplish the goal while still balancing the many other aspects of my life.
“The importance of knowing what goes into a research project and how it is accomplished cannot be overstated even for, and perhaps especially for, the nurse practitioner who plans a clinical career. I know that I will never look at a journal article or research study in the same way again, and that has thoroughly enriched my understanding of the medical field and the foundation of medical research on which it is built.”