Capstone Practicum
Important Considerations

CHHS  /  HAP  /  Capstone

HAP790: Capstone Practicum

A Unique Feature of the MS in Health Informatics

The Capstone Practicum provides a unique opportunity for students in the program to spend several months with a health care organization in their area, engaged in the analysis of a complex health informatics or data analytics problem assigned by the host organization.  Students demonstrate critical thinking skills in actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to inform the practicum project. This provides students with a unique opportunity to demonstrate the knowledge and skills they have acquired throughout their program of study in an organization in the field. Performance in the practicum can provide the student a launching pad to pursue opportunities for professional growth and development.

Employment after Graduation

While the capstone practicum provides students with an opportunity to gain meaningful health informatics experience in a health care setting, there is no guarantee that this will lead to employment with that organization.  This will depend on a variety of factors including: the availability of positions; the student’s performance; and the suitability of the student for available opportunities. However, a successful performance will typically lead to good references and a meaningful engagement to place on a student’s resume.

The online track for the MSHI is a mirror image of the CAHIIM-approved campus program. Both matriculation paths are designed to prepare students in the competencies necessary for success in health informatics.  Most of our students are gainfully employed following graduation. However, students should know that a MSHI degree (or any degree) alone does not guarantee future employment.  Equally important is an individual’s experience and track record of job-related performance.  This includes their time in graduate studies where students develop the ability to effectively communicate and maintain successful working relationships with others. During the capstone practicum, students have the opportunity to continue developing these skills, while they earn recognition for their professional competence, technical skills and leadership acumen. This recognition will be important to success in post-graduation employment and career advancement.

Classroom Format

The Capstone practicum “class” is conducted through a synchronous seminar format. Throughout the semester, students can expect to make several live presentations to the class on the progress they are making on their capstone project engagement. The seminar involves dialogue, consultative critiques and other feedback from the course instructor and peers in the class.  Through this process, students apply new perspectives and insights to managing their projects as well as selected aspects of project executions such as analyses, project conclusions, and recommendations.

Practicum Requirements and Eligibility

All coursework must be completed before a student enrolls in the Capstone course. Any exceptions must receive the approval of the student’s academic advisor and course faculty. This is important because the capstone requires the application of the knowledge and competencies students are expected to have acquired from prior coursework. 

Practicum Institution Requirements

Most health care organizations and some businesses will only employ individuals without a criminal background in a position of organization responsibility and public trust.  While there is no universal standard, health care organizations in particular will not usually accept students with a criminal background for a practicum placement.  Most health care organizations will require that students complete a background check, which may include—but is not limited to—law enforcement finger printing, state driving records, credit reports, and a criminal records check. Background checks, blood tests, and other requirements such as HIPAA training often must be satisfied prior to beginning a practicum assignment. The Department of Health Administration and Policy complies with the background check requirements for all healthcare and service organizations.

Background checks, medical exams and pre-employment training requirements take time to complete and can cause a delay in securing a practicum placement. As a result, all practicum placement requirements are worked on and finalized the semester prior to taking the HAP 790 Capstone Practicum course during the HAP 789 Pre-Capstone course.  Students who are concerned about potential background issues must contact the program coordinator to discuss their concern and determine the impact on field placement. The MSHI program cannot guarantee practicum placement or subsequent degree completion for students who do not pass a background check.  Moreover, employment prospects for students are not likely for those who cannot pass a criminal background check and other pre-employment screening typically conducted by hospitals, health care clinics, long-term care, or assisted living facilities.

Students who are not able to pass a criminal background check and are ineligible to take the practicum course must indicate this information at the time of application. If a student is unable to meet this requirement, a determination will be made as to whether or how the practicum course requirement may be met. If a student is not eligible to satisfactorily obtain the necessary health, background check clearance, and agency orientation requirements, he/she may not be able to complete the practicum and therefore may not be able to meet the curriculum requirements for degree completion.

Process for Securing an Approved Practicum

Students are expected to work with HAP 789 course faculty to have secured an approved practicum organization (with a qualified, approved preceptor) prior to the beginning of the semester in which the Capstone Practicum course is to be taken. An approved George Mason University Agency Affiliation Agreement must be executed by the Department of Health Administration and Policy and the practicum agency.  Students are advised to start early in identifying and seeking program approval for a capstone host organization.

Students may elect to pursue a practicum from a wide array of healthcare and health service delivery-related organizations, technology firms, government agencies, and consulting firms. Students may not be approved to engage in the Practicum with the business unit of the same organization where they are currently employed.